Jonathan Dodd’s latest column. Guest opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the publication. Ed
Hubris. There’s a word I haven’t thought about for several years. It’s all about excessive self-confidence. The ancient Greek tragedians used to delight in the idea of some uppity human getting some good fortune and thinking it was entirely down to his own efforts and talents, and being punished by the Gods for daring to consider himself to be their equal, or beyond their reach. I’ve experienced a bit of that myself these last few days.
I had a bad back, as reported recently, and, blithely, I thought I could just shrug it off. Things didn’t turn out quite how I expected, and I’ve been chastened, and I’ve learned my lesson, and I’ll be more careful from now on. At least until the next time. In my defence, I would like to state for the record that I repeated what worked the last few times I pulled that muscle in my back. I wasn’t to know what was going to happen.
I call it my ‘Shopping Muscle’
For many years I’ve had a small muscle in my back which would give me a twinge occasionally. It’s one of those muscles that aren’t very interesting, because it doesn’t do a very important job, and only occasionally gets called upon to do something major. It’s not previously been twinged hard enough to cause further problems. I call it my ‘Shopping Muscle’. Sometimes, when I’ve been carrying a bag of shopping, and I have had to unlock my car, open a door and swing the bag up and round into the back seat or the boot, whilst in a semi-crouching position, I have felt this muscle being strained, because it’s not always ready to take the weight of that swing.
When this has happened, I’ve usually gone for a swim or a run, and the regular movement has soothed it and given it a chance to sort itself out. This time, it was pulled harder than previously, and exercise didn’t help. Over a couple of days, I found myself completely incapacitated. And it hurt, from the waist down, so much that I struggled to get myself up the stairs, and found that coming down was worse.
That changed my whole mindset vis-à-vis dentists
Now, I understand that pain is very personal, and completely individual. I’ve never laughed at anyone who said they were in pain, and I’ve rarely doubted that they were being truthful about it. I also understand that we can exaggerate pain, or our fears about possible future pain can make it feel worse than it is. I used to have a total fear of going to the dentist. Once I stopped being afraid, I discovered that the treatments I was given were much less painful than I used to remember.
Perhaps I was making it worse, but the fact was that it was really painful. Then one of my neglected teeth started giving me pain that I’d never experienced before, and that was so much worse for a time that I couldn’t get to a dentist fast enough, and they took the pain away. That changed my whole mindset vis-à-vis dentists, and I grew to love them. More or less. So I have experienced some major pain in my day. I remember that the pain was so intense that the only release came from having a mouthful of warmish water. Too cold, and it hurt. Not cold enough and it hurt. Any mouthful was only going to last until it warmed up. I kept swallowing it, and I needed a constant supply of water in bottles, and I couldn’t talk, because that would mean opening my mouth, which would hurt so much that I couldn’t talk anyway. It was not good.
I did the obvious thing, and phoned the nearest Osteopath
The pain my legs were giving me was not quite that bad, although it was getting that way. I understood that I wasn’t going to sort this out by myself, so I did the obvious thing, and phoned the nearest Osteopath. There was a good reason for this action. I didn’t need painkillers, I needed someone who knew what they were doing to look at me and understand what the problem was, and then to fix it. I’ve known Osteopaths before, and I went to one for a minor problem once, and she fixed it immediately, and everyone I know who has seen an Osteopath has good things to say about them.
My Osteopath asked me some questions, and I took my outer clothes off while he watched how I was standing, asked me to bend in various directions, and then I lay on a couch while we had a pleasant conversation and he engaged in what I can only call ‘soft wrestling’. He would move me around, turn me in various directions, and sort of clench me up occasionally, while applying gentle pressure in various places. I felt a couple of times a small clunk, as if some parts were being put back into place. Which turned out to be exactly what he was doing.
Erroneously explaining that my legs and pelvis were severely damaged
Afterwards he told me it was all fixed, and explained what had been going on. Apparently, several of my lower vertebrae had become locked in position, which had caused some of the nerves down to the legs to become a little crimped. Those nerves were short-circuiting, and messages were being sent to my brain, erroneously explaining that my legs and pelvis were severely damaged. So every time I moved, my legs and hips would go into spasm, because I was madly sending messages to them to clench up and try to stop the damage getting worse. Of course, this compensatory behaviour was making everything hurt more, and my muscles were constantly rock-hard with tension.
Once the vertebrae were unlocked and moving smoothly together again, the muscles in my back were able to relax again, and my legs were no longer telling me that everything was broken, although it took several days for the muscles to believe that everything was now all right, and to recover from the frantic efforts they had been making. I’m sure any Osteopath could explain this much better, but there’s only one relief better than the relief of seeing someone who tells you they know what’s going on, that it can be fixed, then goes and fixes it, explains exactly what was wrong, and tells you that it’s all fixed now. The only relief that’s better than that is finding out that they were right, and it is really all getting better.
I’ve renamed that muscle to the ‘Library Muscle’ now
If this had been a religious experience here, I would now be a convert. But it’s better than that. It’s three years of study, followed by many years of practice, combined with a clear understanding of how the physiology works, and lots of empirical evidence of the results. How wonderful is that? Osteopaths have a Charter, which means that you can only call yourself an Osteopath once you have completed your 3-year degree in Osteopathy. Anyone can call themselves a Chiropractic, but it’s illegal to call yourself an Osteopath unless you have the qualification.
My chief thought about the whole episode is that I need to be more aware whenever I’m doing something out of the ordinary. I didn’t think that I was damaging myself while down on all fours adjusting screw-in rubber pads underneath library shelves, but if I had stopped to think, I might have taken it more easily, or let someone else do it. As usual, it didn’t hurt while I was doing that, it only hurt when the damage was done. I’ve renamed that muscle to the ‘Library Muscle’ now, to remind myself.
I was responding to non-existent pain, and making the real pain worse
The other thing I’m still getting my head around is how convinced I was that my legs were damaged, because they were hurting so much. I know now that the nerves were being trapped in my lower back, but I was convinced that it was my leg muscles that were screaming at me. So I was responding to non-existent pain, and making the real pain worse, because my nerves aren’t clever. A kink half-way up the nerve will still tell my brain that it’s the muscle or bone that’s hurting, even though the problem is the kink rather than the bone or muscle, located somewhere else entirely. It still feels like that, and my body is still contradicting my brain about it.
I’ll admit that I was having dark thoughts for a while, about never being healthy again, as you do when you’re in pain, and I’m very glad that such knowledge and expertise exists, so I could take advantage of it. I’m grateful that I can now go up and down stairs again, even carrying things, I can stop taking strong painkillers, I’m able to sleep again, and I’ll soon be able to start running again. It’s a lucky escape, and a reminder of how lucky I have been to have stayed so healthy for so long.
And I have no intention of taking it easy either. Although I might be more careful in future when volunteering to move Library shelves.
If you have been, thank you for reading this.
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