Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Oh, my achin’ back!

If you know me well, you know I’ve got chronic back issues. Actually, I’ve had issues since high school. And since it’s been causing me quite a lot of pain again this last week it’s been at the top of my mind again.

A side note to any of you I’ve had direct contact with in the last week+ … sorry if I’ve been snippy. I try not to let it affect my behavior and attitude, and it’s not so painful that I’m groaning in agony from morning to night, but it’s constant. And sometimes it spills out into my attitude, making me a little more abrupt than usual.

Historically, it started as a small and easily diagnosed issue. During high school I went though a period where I was feeling chronic pain in my leg. It was identified as a degenerative disc issue, and after a period of daily traction at home the pain disappeared. Simple. Precise. Nice. All fixed, and ready to get on with my life.

Skip forward several years, and I collapsed while walking up a set of stairs at college. Apparently somewhere in my back a perfect storm had brewed, and the act of walking up the stairs caused some major feedback with the nerves in my legs. Scariest thing ever, and I had no idea that anything was awry until I was sitting on the ground. If I’d been paying attention to my body I might have felt warning signs. But I was happily lifting weights and adding running to my fitness repertoire, working as many hours as I could, and taking a full load at college. Maybe I was too busy and stressed to be grinning ear to ear, but I took it for granted that everything that I was doing was necessary, and I was doing the best I could. And that made me happy-ish.

Since then I’ve been having bouts of back pain at least once or twice a year, and much more in years of high stress. For poor college students, medical care can be pretty hit-and-miss. I ended up going from doctor to doctor. Getting X-rays taken, being diagnosed by physical therapists. Nobody could decide what the issue was. There was visible degeneration in one of my lower discs (L4-L5), but it was the consensus that the degeneration just wasn’t enough to cause the symptoms I was having. And that was the consensus for years. “We don’t really know what the problem is, but we can see a small amount of degeneration, and for lack of another diagnosis we’ll treat it as though that’s the problem … even though we don’t believe that it is.” In several cases this seemed to take the form of “we don’t think there’s anything wrong at all, and it’s all in your head.”

So for many years, and nearly as many doctors and specialists, I continued to pursue conservative methods of dealing with the pain: icing the area, “resting” my back, doing exercises provided by various PTs, and visiting chiropractors, massage therapists, and acupuncturists. In the short term the methods help, but the help was usually VERY short term.

Finally, just before leaving Denver, I found an amazing PT, Beverly Parrott. She identified the issue as being related to my S-I joint. I’m finding that it’s difficult to find exercises I can do to ‘fix’ the problem when it comes up, but she’s great at Manual Physical Therapy and could fix me up in no time. I’ve been told (by her and a couple of other PTs since) that one of my SI joints locks up, which causes the other to compensate by being overly mobile. I’m no expert, and I’m sure I’m explaining it poorly, but I can't tell you what a relief it was to have an answer that wasn't along the lines of "we don't know what it is, so we'll pretend it's X". I've also since gotten more possible clues ... Psoas muscle (among others) get's over-tight and causes an imbalance, and/or my foot pronation causes stress not only on my knees, but also in my lower back. Every expert has a slightly different observation, and it's possible they all contribute or are related in some way.

But after all this time, and a fortune spent on medical experts, I STILL don’t know how to completely avoid the problem or deal with it on my own when it comes up. And right at this very moment it HURTS LIKE HELL, and I wish I could do something about it. But since the next available appointment with the local PT who specializes in manual therapy is nearly a month away, I’ll just keep icing my back, taking Ibuprofen, lying on my back … and griping and moaning to you, dear friends.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m going to get out there and start riding my mountain bike again. Not precisely because I should, but because no matter how ill-advised it may be I just cannot, will not, refuse to allow this to prevent me from getting out and doing what I want to do. Of course I’ll try to exercise some caution. But after 20 years of getting laid out by back pain over and over again, and more than a week of grinding my teeth over this current bout of pain, I’m mostly just angry and agitated, and need to do something physical.

But in the meantime, check out this pretty picture of the SI joint.

You can see where the Sacrum and Ilium meet at the SI joint. And if you look just a bit above the Sacrum you can see the disc right above the L5 (5th lumbar) vertebra.

Cool, huh?

The next post will be more positive … I promise. Maybe I’ll write about how I’m finally singing again!!!

1 comment:

Heidi Swift said...

Ugh. I hope you feel better sooner rather than later. I could even pick up in your pain from your email tone - if you can believe that!

Good luck and chin up. It is so incredibly hard to live with chronic pain like that!