Saturday, January 24, 2009

Meanwhile, Back in the Lumbar Region ...

100% of us will die someday, unless somebody comes up with a science fiction cure. Only slightly fewer of us will suffer back problems. We obviously didn't think about that when we decided to stand up on our hind legs. (Or our Creator made three mistakes -- the other two being mosquitoes and Teamsters ...)

Bobbe got his MRI done and to nobody's surprise, has a ruptured disc low in his LS spine. Armed with this diagnosis, he should be able to get surgery, having gotten by the Catch-22 that kept him from the diagnostic test. His story of how arcane the process has been is scary. Suffice it to say that if you have health insurance, best you keep it paid up, and if not, consider getting some, even if you have to scrimp elsewhere to afford a high deductible. The insurance card gets you in the door. Without it, the process can be awful. 

My son-in-law is home day before yesterday from the hospital, post-op his discectomy. He walked around with a cane, doped to eyeballs and in major pain for months because his medical insurance wanted to try PT first before they spent the money on an MRI. When they finally realized the treatment wasn't going to work, they did the test, and lo, a ruptured spinal disc, which also surprised no one. Worse, because he had a fair amount of scar tissue involved, microsurgery wasn't enough to do the trick. 

Insurance companies are all too often pennywise, but pound foolish. What is cheap in the short run might cost a lot more later.  Somehow, they never seem to catch on to that.

Yeah, yeah, the conservative treatment first, because a lot of minor disc problems do resolve on their on that way, but if it is long-standing and obviously more serious a problem, there is no reason to allow a patient to suffer. 

Offhand, I know half a dozen other people who have had the same back malaise. Some suffered for months, even years, with severe pain, numbness or tingling in the legs, the inability to put on their pants and socks without lying down on a bed.  

The U.S. medical system ranks 37th in the world. And people fall between the cracks of the system every day because we don't have universal health care. That is a shame. Richest nation on Earth ought to do better than that. When people die because they can't afford treatment, there is something terribly wrong. If we can afford wars, we can afford to pay for Granny's meds so she doesn't have to go to Canada or Mexico or simply do without. 

Early this week, I  strained my own low back.  I don't think I blew out a spacer so I can't bitch too much; still, it hurts enough so that picking up a shoe requires a full, and carefully-done, squat, and even so, if I tilt port or starbard whilst doing it, I get the two-by-four with a nail-sticking-out-of-it whack across my lower back. If you have felt this, you know what it is. If you haven't, you might be one of the fortunate 15% or so who never has back problems. You won the lottery and you should feel blessed. 

Yesterday, trying to hurry it up, I used one of those rolling-up-and- down-the-back massage pads you can sit on, and let it run too long. I also pushed a few stretches a bit too far, the result of which is that this morning, it hurts worse than it did the day before. Clever, hey?

Normally one of those people who does well physically, I've had a shoulder, knee, and now my back giving me grief in the last year. Doesn't whoever is in charge realize that this isn't supposed to happen to me? Don't they know that I'm supposed to be healthy, fit, and save for a few wrinkles, immune the ravages of time until I fall over dead at the age of a hundred and nine?

(For some reason the story of Muhammad Ali, the boxer, on an airliner comes to mind. The flight attendant passed by him. "Sir, you need to buckle your seatbelt," she said. Ali said, "Superman don't need no seatbelt!" To which she responded, "Yeah, and Superman don't need no airplane, either.")

So, it's off to the hot tub and one of those little pills they gave me for my knee that I never needed, and a lot less activity today. 

Somebody kicks in my door looking for trouble, I'm going to have to shoot them. Be their own fault for picking the wrong house on the wrong day ...


Worg said...

"I also pushed a few stretches a bit too far"

This sounds inauspicious to me.

Consider what the geometry of the spine is, and consider what actually occurs in a disk injury. Then consider whether you really want to be inducing pressure to those disks with stretches.

One thing that I get a great deal of mileage from is psoas stretches. For some reason they really seem to straighten things out and they don't put any pressure on the lumbar.

If it were me, I would want to let it heal for a good while before doing any stretches that bend the spine. Personally, I WANT to be fairly inflexible in that region because that gives me a buffer space before a bad movement can get to the place where it will do real damage. If my lower back muscles and tendons are flexible like rubber bands, there is less to stop my spine from bending to a degree where pressure is being put on the disk.

If you feel any kind of spongy painful places in your lower back when you touch them, that is a severe warning sign.

I feel like the Cassandra of back trouble, but this stuff is extremely insidious.

Steve Perry said...

Yep, I stepped over the line from help to harm. It's a thin line for back spasms. If it's just muscle, as I believe mine is, then lying about for days while it gets better might not make it better. Ditto too much activity.

A little moving around is good.

Save for the pain, I'm not having disc symptoms -- there are several ways of sitting, standing, or lying down that alleviate the pain -- usually sitting makes things worse if its in the vertebral column.

I've done this before a few times, though it has been a while, and it feels the same. Once it gets better, I'll get back to the core-condition exercises.

I see flexibility as a good thing here, though. If the muscles stretch and give a little instead of tearing, that forestalls the problem.

Strong and flexible is usually better than just strong or flexible.

Worg said...

"If the muscles stretch and give a little instead of tearing"

Probably true.

If your spine hasn't blown by now with all the punishment you've given it over the centuries, you probably aren't at much risk for it happening.

I'd baby it anyway however, just for a while. A week or two off from stretching and fucking with it isn't going to turn you into the Tin Man. Trust me, it's worth it.