Well, my back just ain’t gettin’ any better so I decided to take action.  I called a chiropractor.

I’ve spent my entire adult life making a distinction between science and non-science and have always been told (and accepted on faith – a very non-scientific concept) that chiropractic medicine is not science-based and therefore worthless.  It was quite a struggle to call one.

But the truth, as usual, is a spectrum of gray with no clear line between the science and the non-science.  I have had many friends and coworkers tell me that a chiropractor can indeed help with lower back pain.  The entire field was invented by a bonafide quack snake-oil salesman long ago but apparently has evolved quite a bit into what amounts to an advanced physical therapist.  I don’t think many (if any) chiropractors would now claim to pop your back and cure your sinus infection or irregular bowels.   Plus, I once knew a physical therapist who claimed that one of her treatments was to shine a helium-neon laser at acupressure points in order to relieve headaches (which is ludicrous to anyone who understands what laser light is).  So there’s a bit of snake-oil on both sides of the debate which is greatly complicated by the well-documented placebo effect.  Some people will get relief from anyone who claims to be able to provide it.

So after asking for recommendations, I called one.  I quickly discovered that the practice had been sold to a different chiropractor and I should have hung up and found the one that was recommended but it’s so close to my office that I decided to go ahead.  Because she has only just opened her own practice (and the other doctor took his patients with him) I pretty much have the place to myself.  The fact that she is recently out of school is a good thing also since she will probably have the best information.

I am extremely skeptical of most of what is said but I was relieved to find that my health insurance will pay for part of this so I guess that at least someone in the business believes there is some value to going to such a practitioner.  Chiropractic medicine has its own vocabulary which I find annoying and intentionally obfuscatory but it does make some sense to think that if you have pain in your lower back that messing around with the spine might bring relief. 

She made X-rays.

I didn’t expect this much science.  I was surprised to note a definite side-to-side curvature in my spine which is due to my posture changing in response to the discomfort.  Whether this is abnormal or not is not clear to me.  Perhaps my spine has always been out of line like that and that this issue is not relevant.  Maybe most people have out-of-line backbones.  Still, she made a recommendation:  a series of “manipulations”.  I was afraid she might prescribe an unending series of visits, but no – only a few.   She began.

I first was told to sit on an ice pack while they attached some electrodes to four points on my lower back and butt and they applied a small voltage to make the muscles twitch for 15 minutes.  I was told that this reduced inflammation and perhaps it does (Wikipedia had nothing to say about this that I could find) but it would make more sense to me to say that the ice simply numbed the area and that the muscle twitching might accomplish much the same effect as stretching before exercise without the necessity of bending (which I can’t do because my back hurts). 

I was then ushered into an office with what appeared to be a massage table.  What followed was a very short series of pokings and proddings with a stick.  This stick was a rather official looking hard rubber tool but still…  it was a big poking tool.  Then, she turned to the use of a tool that I could not see due to my position but which made a sound like a hammer rapping on a chisel.  None of this was painful and some of it tickled.  There was also a series of maneuvers where the table was raised an inch or so and abruptly dropped as she pushed on my pelvis in various directions.  It was difficult to relax because I’ve been married almost 30 years and I’m really not accustomed to strange women putting their hands on my backside even in an obvious clinical setting.  I used to have a female primary care physician but when I got old enough to require the infamous prostate exam, I switched to a male older than me because I’m old fashioned like that. 

After I made it home and into the evening, I got really sore again.  It was like taking several steps back in time. 

But this morning, it actually felt noticeably better.  Is it my imagination or is it real?  I don’t know and I’m not sure if it matters yet.  I guess a few more treatments won’t be unreasonable to see if things improve. 

The long term plan also includes some exercises that are specific to this injury which seems entirely reasonable to me.  There are also some orders to change some habits such as how I get into the car and how I lift things.  I have heard these things before and again, they seem reasonable.  Then there is the ever-present mantra of “lose some weight.”   This is the same thing that I get from the “normal” allopathic doctor that is the godlike “primary care physician”.  The one with the MD degree.

This has all generated a huge amount of thought on my part.  I find that for some things, the MD has very little to offer even though he may have an exact diagnosis of the problem.  In the matter of headaches for example, he has very little to say other than “take Excedrin”.  Well, I already know that – I expect some sort of miraculous cure from the MD and there is none to be had.  Similarly, in the matter of lower back pain I was told “take ibuprofen and wait.”   After all the science is brought to bear, this is all I get – which is exactly what I would have gotten 40 years ago before the MRI was invented.  All we really have is a higher resolution picture of the problem; the pain remains as it would have. 

On the other hand, when Mel was diagnosed with breast cancer, there were a huge variety of things brought to bear on the problem.  Many things were done and we were told some pretty specific numbers as to the probability of success.  In that case, science had much to offer and now she is as cured as any cancer patient can be.  Likewise, when she broke her ankle the treatment there was very specific and worked well.  One could also say that it was blatantly obvious what needed to be done in that case.

But there are many cases when traditional medicine is frustratingly vague.  Mel’s mother had a well-defined problem with her heart and yet never recovered from that treatment and it still isn’t quite clear to me why not.  So is it all that unreasonable to turn to a homeopathic remedy which will do no harm and may indeed help in some as-yet not understood way?  Perhaps not.  At least it’s cheaper than surgery.