Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Back Issues 1

I finally feel like I have a little resolution with my back. My back was injured about a year ago, ultimately ending up with me quitting the crew team and laying off back intensive exercises. I got in a car wreck this September and it started acting up big time. To finally deal with that I went to physical therapy after a lot of hemming and hawing.

My symptoms were a history of back injury and strain, none of which went diagnosed or even looked at by a doctor. I never felt it hampered my abilities and so I never went in to see a doctor. Then, after rowing for three years, my back “snapped” and I could no longer do anything. I experienced severe lower back spasms and very limited flexibility. It always felt like if I just “popped” my back into place I would feel fine again. Instead, for weeks I suffered sharp pains in my lower back that eventually died down to a dull background noise that ebbs and flows. I couldn't seem to trigger the sharp pains. I am only able to really elevate the discomfort of the dull pain. At seemingly random times my back does lapse and I find myself in pretty bad pain in the mornings. My entire back tightens up as a response and I can't seem to get comfortable except when lying down; even prolonged periods of that can hurt my back. And those are my symptoms more or less.

Before getting into what I truly believe to be the right diagnosis, let me go over the wrong diagnoses I experienced.

The first wrong diagnosis was by an orthopedist who took a look at me, called it a muscular tear, determined that I didn't have a herniated disk and said I would have some scar tissue for the rest of my life. Well ok. It sort of fit the things he was talking about; the day we were rowing I did row pretty hard but I really wasn't doing anything out of the ordinary. It fit all of the major symptoms but it didn't seem to sufficiently explain my previous history of back discomfort.

The second diagnosis was by a chiropractor. He was recommended by our physical therapists at Skidmore. Although reluctant to go see a chiropractor (my grandfathers were both doctors) I acquiesced when I heard that he was more like a physical therapist. He ran an x-ray on my hip, and called it (surprise) an alignment issue. I actually believe he saw the problem and was able to understand the crux of my issue but I don't think he had the training to really accurately diagnose me or treat me. He gave me some good exercises to generally improve flexibility and strength in my back but I didn't ever go back. And that was because he had me stand up when he took the x-ray of my hip and his diagnosis was that my legs were out of alignment and my last few vertebrae were congenitally hyper extended. That didn't fit with the onset of the first bout of symptoms sometime around my 16th birthday. It didn't quite fit with a lot. But he knew how to tell me to stretch.

Anyways, the stretches worked a little at least. Or maybe they didn't. I ended up doing some hot yoga and quitting the crew team right about that time. I realized that my back was too volatile to be doing a sport that could easily hurt it. To be fair, crew can actually be really good for the back but at the competitive level there are just too many forces and generally too little coordination on my part to effectively contain the impacts. So I traded in a room full of hot sweaty guys bending over and grunting for a bunch of women contorting themselves in an oven. Not a bad trade for anyone into sweaty rooms or the female form.

Soon my back was feeling functional. I spent a lot of time just trying to get it strong again but found little success in making progress beyond everyday functionality. Then I graduated and did all of the crazy stuff that comes with transitioning out of a life with relatively little responsibility. During the summer I was feeling good. I could use my back pretty well. I was lifting medium to heavy weights without major difficulty. I was living an active life, I hadn't felt my back act up for a long time.