Sep. 29th, 2005

sarchasmic: (innocence)
I just completed a month's worth of physical therapy for my lower back, thus giving me a shared bond with Larry Bird.

For most of my life I've had this faith in modern medical expertise and technology based on my complete lack of experience with it. Like when I landed on my shoulder while roughhousing with my cousin Rob back when I was 12. Knocked me out of the beginning of Little League season because I couldn't lift my arm up, much less throw a baseball. My parents took me to acupuncture sessions, which didn't hurt as much as I feared, although I still don't look when a needle sidles up to greet my skin. They didn't improve my arm much, either. And for a long time I harbored this grudge that my parents had destroyed my budding baseball career. "A long time" meaning until the next year, when I moved up to Senior League baseball, or whatever it was called, and hit something like .030.

But anyway, I had this suspicion that had I seen a regular doctor, and not some pin-wielding quack at an office that smelled grandma's-house-funny, my shoulder would have been better, and I would have smacked opposing pitchers around like FEMA's reputation. Had the same suspicion when I pulled the other shoulder out of joint trying to tackle somebody 3 years later in a JV football game. Let it heal on its own for a few weeks before returning to the game, and it's never been the same since. My wife, who's training to be a massage therapist, tried doing this shoulder joint rotation exercise on me a month or two ago, and my bones sounded like a pencil in a sharpener.

Back to my back. It had been aching for a while now before I went to see a doctor, who, after sending me to an x-ray to make sure I wasn't suffering from nanobyte gremlins eating my spinal cord, prescribed some physical therapy for me. "At last!" I thought, "Finally I will see somebody who will nurture my overtaxed muscles, and heal them back to a renewed state of vigor!"

So my expectations were pretty high when I first visited the local physical therapy office. They started to sink when I met my physical therapist. I had anticipated someone lean, muscular (but not overly so), with the perky energy of someone whose metabolism will always be six times as efficient as yours. Not the case.

My therapist looked more like a linebacker, with just enough bulk to suggest a healthy Wisconsinite, fed on naught but eggs and sausage and corn since the age of two. He wasn't fat, by any means, but his build, on top of his way of speaking in a deep bark that made me want to do a high-stepping tire drill, "Now, drop and give me twenty!" kind of sort of didn't jibe with my expectations.

Nor did his diagnosis: "Your hip isn't properly aligned."

Beg pardon?

"You see, the right half of your hip is turned downward, making the length of the leg appear to be different from the other."

Ouch. Sounds serious. What's the solution? I'm picturing something like having the thigh popped back into joint, a la Mel Gibson's shoulder in Lethal Weapon.

"Give me some lumbar rotations and some hamstring stretches." That, on top of a few other stretches, nothing really crazy or unusual (think lying on your back, knees bent and stretching to the side, or to the chest), led to my being ready for an "adjustment."

Okay, the real deal. This is going to be hardcore, I'm thinking.

"Lie on your back, knees bent." Check.

He lifts my right foot, pushes the knee up slightly toward my chest. "Now push back." Okay. I do that for two, maybe three seconds. It's unusual, in that I didn't expect a guy who reminded me of my high school football coach to be holding my leg during my therapy, but it doesn't hurt.

He pushes the knee up closer to my chest. "Push back." I do so.

One last time, and he pushes it up closer to my chest. Nothing painful, no distinct clicking into place of the joint, or screams of protest from my nerves.

"That's it?" I ask.

"That's it."

He sends me home, tells me to do the stretches he showed me three times a day, and to take frequent breaks at work to stand up and walk around. When I tell Sabrina about it, she frowns, and says, "Your hip's not aligned? That sounds weird."

I agree, and then she starts talking to me about homeopathic versus allopathic medicine and, not knowing anything about the subject, I agree to that, too. "The real problem," she tells me, "is your posture. Don't slouch like that!"

I try not to, but I was too good a student of it in high school, and having hit the wrong side of 30, I'm feeling far too much like an old dog to learn this trick properly. Oh, and I do the stretches. They don't feel too dramatic, although my wife tells me they're teaching me to stretch wrong. "You have to hold for at least 20 to 30 seconds; otherwise, you're just going to shorten the muscle."

"So I don't do 30 reps of this?"

She sighs. "Don't do them fast."

"I'm not!"

"You call that slow?"

I go back to physical therapy several more times. Each time, my therapist tells me the same thing: don't sit at my desk for more than an hour at a time without walking, and make sure to do my stretches 3 times a day. He introduces me to a few more stretches which I should be doing, one being a wall squat that I can't replicate at home, as it would entail splinters in my back, and this weird belt-looped behind my thigh thing which requires that I lift up my leg while having the other resting against my knee; it's very contortionist, and ends up taxing my arms a hell of a lot more than it stretches my leg, which is the original intent.

After 5 weeks of it, he tells me that I'm looking good, range of motion and mobility are all good, and to keep up the exercises. The pain hasn't quite gone away, but I'm more limber than I was when I first started, so I guess I can't fully complain. "Oh," and he tells me, as he's about to discharge me from his care, "Watch your posture. It's stressing your back."

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July 2009

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