Had a great vacation recently. I was in Cancun swimming with whale sharks. We try to stay active on vacations, and this was another fun adventure. The boat ride out to see the whale sharks took about an hour. An hour of my back slamming up and down as the boat hit every wave on the way. (Pro Tip: Don’t sit near the front of the boat in excursions like this.)
There was a moment when I felt my spine compress. I thought, “that’s not good” and then quickly squeezed into a spot near the back of the boat. My spinal compression was over for the day.
That day, I felt fine. No indication that any damage or injury had occurred. However, the next day I had a feeling like my hamstrings were super tight. I started working on stretching them out, as it seemed like the right thing to do. Only they never relaxed. Not even a little bit. They stayed tight no matter what I did, and stretching them out started causing low back pain.
Overall, my back still did not hurt.
We continued our trip and a few days later decided to go on another excursion. It was on a long van ride to check out Mayan ruins that I started to feel the tingling going down my leg. Still no back pain, but I knew that wasn’t right. I still wasn’t putting it together. I felt tight, therefore I should stretch. I started to hear what my patients have told me over the years.
“I’ve been stretching and putting heat on it.” That’s almost every patient that couldn’t get relief from a back issue and finally decided to try chiropractic care. “The pain continued to get worse, but heat was the only thing that helped.” Telling them that the problem is not in their legs, but in their back is a revolutionary concept the first time I share that with the patient. The wrong stuff was exactly what I wanted to do! I wanted to put heat on my back and I wanted to keep stretching. I even had the most dangerous thought you can have, “Maybe this will just go away.” My body was telling me to do the exact things I know are wrong. I could easily see how my patients have fallen into this trap.
When I tell patients to stop all heat and start using ice, I get a lot of push back. “But the heat is the only that helps!” they say. No, the heat is what’s keeping the inflammation up and keeping the irritated disc swollen. The spinal misalignment and the swollen disc are affecting your nerve, which is why you’ve got the tight muscles and tingling. Telling them that their problem is in their spine and not their legs makes a big difference too. Very often they’re putting therapy on their legs and doing nothing for their back.
Feeling all the symptoms first hand helped me understand even better
I’ve have felt sympathy and empathy for my patients when they have pain. My chiropractic journey started with back pan that left me walking around like an old man while just a freshman in high school. Even before that I had bouts of torticollis (severe muscle spasms in the neck) that left me lying on floor taking muscle relaxers in 5th grade. I don’t need a reminder of how awesome chiropractic is and how much it has helped me.
Feeling radiating back pain was on a different level, though. The pain wasn’t in my back. It was in my legs. I felt stiff, it wasn’t even a lot of pain but it was still intense. I had trouble moving. Sitting for too long made it so much worse and the tingling was a clear sign that things were moving in the wrong direction. I couldn’t wait to get back to Houston to take appropriate action. Turns out pina coladas only mask the pain! 😉
Chiropractic adjustments, ice, spinal decompression, stretching, and yoga
I had to get after it quick. Being a chiropractor does have its advantages when I need to get adjusted early and often. Arriving home late, I added ice to calm things down and then attended a yoga class. The yoga helped maybe 10%, but the ice helped a lot. I still think the yoga was a good idea. The next day I was in the office early to get spinal decompression and get adjusted. At least 50% better right away. While still considered experimental, we still get great results with spinal decompression therapy.
Even though the problem was new, I know the issue most patients struggle with. “Why isn’t it all the way better already?!” I like the saying that “chiropractic isn’t designed to make you instantly feel better. It’s designed to make you instantly heal better.” Your body still needs time to heal and mine did too. I gave myself a few days before returning to exercise and kept up with the in-office treatment as well as the home care recommendations. A little treatment helps a little, while a lot of treatment helps a lot. It doesn’t mean you won’t still need time, but you can help yourself get faster results.
Too many patients do a little treatment and then wait for results
I fell right into that mindset too. I just wanted the pain to go away. Taking medications would cover up the pain and let me fell like I was better than I was. I did all the things I’ve told my patients to do over the years and felt like many of my patients have over the years. I didn’t want to do any of it. I didn’t want to ice, I just wanted to be better. I wanted to use heat even though I know logically that it won’t help me. I didn’t want to make time for myself to get adjusted and use the spinal decompression table, but knew I would significantly improve the speed of my results.
I feel your pain. We just want to be better right away and get back to our schedule and activities. Unfortunately, that’s just not how it works. I can fight against that or realize that sometimes things happen and you can take massive action to make sure you get back to how you were. Thankfully, our bodies do an amazing job at healing us without our help. I’m still glad we can help the process.