Rant 24 April 2005: Say yes to crack

95% science
5% woo-woo

“I like those odds.” –Homer Simpson

Regular readers will recall from my last rant that there are nasty sciatica gremlins in my ass. Yes, my low back and hip are grumpy things at the moment, forcing me to do a little butt wiggle every time I get up from the couch, in order to try to remove my femoral condyle from my sphincter, or whatever the hell is actually wrong in there.

I started seeing a chiro.

After a lengthy diagnostic visit, during which I was thoroughly poked, prodded, bent, measured, weighed, observed, x-rayed, stretched, folded, spindled, and mutilated for a total of nearly two hours, they arrived at a diagnosis.

I’m fucked.

The chiro and I went through the x-rays together. The good news is that I was correct in that the SI joint is involved. The bad news is that C1, C2, C5, T5 thru 9, and L5 are also a problem. My spine makes a gentle side-to-side S-curve, like the Hippocratic snake wrapped around the staff. Some degree of asymmetry is pretty normal, but I am lopsided as hell – 10 lbs of difference when each foot is placed on a separate scale, nearly 10% of my bodyweight. My left leg is 1/2″ shorter than my right because of my habitual carriage of my left side and pelvic misalignment. My hips are level, thank heaven, which is about the only thing right with me. My cervical spine should have the curvature of a banana — it’s flattened with the lovely E.T. posture one develops from years of desk work, and protective calcium deposits are grinding into one anterior vertebral connection already. My neck has the mobility of a bag of wet sand. I’m kyphotic up top and lordotic down below. My pelvis tips forward like a drunk about to throw up, which is grinding the facet joints of L5-S1 together.

I asked the chiro whether she thought weight training was an issue. She said she thought the weight training was probably what had been holding me together relatively pain-free for so long. Apparently I should feel worse than I do (I’m not exactly sure how to respond to that).

Finally, after an enumeration of my spinal sins, I got cracked in cervical, thoracic, and lumbar areas. This was a bit gross and unnerving, pardon the pun, but quick and painless. After a few crackings I got to like it and started pestering them to do more. And so began my new relationships with CrackPeople: Cracky the chiro, CrackDad the office patriarch, and CrackSon the young upstart who will, presumably, eventually kill CrackDad in order to assume supremacy.

According to CrackDad, spinal degeneration has a multitude of sources, generally consisting of the crimes of our sedentary culture, but one of the causes caught my attention: Birth Trauma. I giggled to myself, considering the psychoanalytic implications of that — Otto Rank would be proud.

Oh yeah, they hate it when you say “crack”. The term is “adjust”. But somehow, “Adjusty” just doesn’t have it for me. Chiros are a sensitive lot and any whiff of the sentiment that they are not “real doctors” gets their back up. Har.

A few weeks later, I cheated on CrackPeople. With JockDoc. And it was so, so good.

It began innocently enough. A site reader, alerted to the plight of my ass, suggested I try Active Release Technique. I’d seen it demo’d years ago at a SWIS conference, and heard legendary tales of its greatness (as well as its excruciating painfulness) that paralleled Pilgrim’s Progress-type narratives of biomechanical enlightenment. But I never got around to giving it a try.

I wasn’t unhappy with CrackPeople, nor the occasional ministrations of Tammy The Best Massage Therapist in the Universe, nor the happy and extremely tranquil Yoga People on the So, Your Spine is Fux0red DVD who gently urged me to rotate my spine ever further into the great super fun happy ether. I was diligently stretching and strengthening and twisting this way and that. I had combed the nutritional literature and was jamming various healthy pills into my pill-hole. I was eating my leafy greens, flossing, and breathing deeply. Things seemed to be getting better, more or less, but not spectatularly so.

After what I calculated was approximately the 75th morning of crawling out of bed and doing the little butt wiggling dance, I decided that it was time to bring out the BFG on this biznatch. Athletes are wont to bust themselves up good, so I found myself a sports medicine clinic with a chiro who also does ART. And that’s how I met JockDoc.

JockDoc is an affable young guy who could almost be one of my students. So, what’s wrong?” he asks, pen poised in muscular forearm. “Idiopathic sciatica with lumbar flexion,” I sez. He puts the pen down. Looks at me. “You’re not an undergraduate student, are you?” It’s sweet that there was even a remote possibility, I have to concede.

He’s not much of an assesser. He is more of a seat-of-the-pants kind of flier. He doesn’t waste much time with muscle testing or checking my range of motion. His bedside manner is not unlike being pushed out of a plane. He plunks me into a standing position and grabs my ass. “Oh yeah,” he says, with both hands wrapped firmly around the sacroiliac crest of my pelvis, “I’m going to manipulate your hips. Hope that’s OK. Bend over please.”

I can hear the existential crunching sound as the last crumbs of my dignity are devoured.

He folds and unfolds me, immobilizing various segments of my spine till he decides he’s going to focus his zeal on the SI joint (right again! hell yeah!). He wraps one arm around my ribcage, progressively immobilizing segments of the spine upwards, and making me bend, bend, bend. I hope desperately that nobody is filming this, because it’s approaching blackmail material. My performance bending over is miserable: I can get my hands about midway down my shins, if I’m sneaky, until my sciatic nerve tells me to knock it off.

He plunks me on the table. “Ever had acupuncture?” He gives me five seconds to say yes while he unwraps the needle and into my ass it goes. This is no groove salad out of body experience, like my previous acupuncture was. This is full on fuck-yeah-there’s-something-stabbing-my-dermatome kind of action. Tweak-tweak-tweak goes the needle. I’m not brave enough to sneak a peek at what he’s doing. “I had acupuncture before and it didn’t do anything,” I warn him. “Who did it?” he asks. “A naturopath.” He snorts derisively. Chinese medicine by naturopaths is good for old ladies. Not for those of us who are strong like bull. “Are you OK?” he asks, solicitously.

“For someone with my ass hanging out and a needle in it, I’m great,” I respond.

“Well, it’s not like I was looking,” he offers in a tone of hurt politeness.

He flips me like a steak. “Ever been adjusted?” I get the requisite five seconds to say yes while he’s climbing on top of me and jamming my knee into my shoulder. Snap-crackle-pop goes my lumbar spine, deeper and funkier than CrackPeople have ever done it. This man means business. My vertebrae are his bitches and they are dancing for him like a bunch of freaked-out jungle house rave kids. In between all of this he keeps up a running patter about injuries, spines, and his upcoming wedding. Big family. First grandkids to get married. Honeymoon in the Caribbean. Stab stab crack.

Then, suddenly, his knuckle is jammed in my jejunum (or is it my duodenum?) and he is flexing and extending my knee. Shit, people were not kidding when they said this was not fun stuff. He moves on to drive his thumb into my hamstring while he rotates my leg, which is not unlike cycling while having an enema. Okay, there goes the last of my dignity. Right about… now.

Flip again. Knuckle in the hip joint. “Ah,” he says, “you’re a cheek clencher.” I suppose self-knowledge is ultimately the point of the healing process, isn’t it? I’m a cheek clencher. CC for short, I suggest. He cackles.

And then, it’s over. He plunks me into a standing position and makes me bend over again. Holy jesus fuck. It’s a fucking miracle. My palms are on the goddamned floor. “Come back next week,” he says. “We’ll have you all fixed up soon.” CrackPeople, I was drunk at first and JockDoc meant nothing to me, but now… I think it’s love.