Tag Archives: Spinal degeneration

Spinal Decompression Treatment; 6 Months Later

I got asked a very legitimate question a little while ago regarding if I thought my spinal decompression treatment was worth it. Given that I’m still having issues with my back, *I* consider it a reasonable question anyway. 🙂

The very short answer is YES.

The detailed answer, with all the wheres and whys takes a little explaining however.

First, let me start with the obvious caveat that lawyers have none the less made mandatory anymore; your medical professional is the best person to advise you if ANY form of treatment is suitable for you Specifically.

Likewise everything I’m going to write here comes from a layperson. A moderately well read layperson who has put the advice given to personal use and seen benefits, but I am NOT a licensed health care professional in any form. Everybody’s physiology and biochemistry is a bit different too, so results may vary.

A Little Background:

Yes, I am still having troubles, but they’re largely focused on my lower back at this point. The area that I had decompression on was my neck or cervical spine area.

My neck was worse off, which is why the doctor decided to try it first. The degeneration there caused all manner of problems. I had sleep issues, severe headaches that were a mix of extreme tension headaches and migraines, brain fog and trouble focusing, and probably a dozen other issues, including a Parkinson’s-like tremor in my left arm. All that from pinched nerves in my neck caused by the spinal degeneration. My neck was at stage 3 spinal degeneration per the diagram below.

My lower back / lumbar region, on the other hand was at phase 2.

I had the headaches since the mid 1990s also. Since there was no real neck pain to accompany them and the other symptoms, I had NO idea for years that it was actually a spinal issue. Flair ups were bad enough and I was scared enough of addiction to opioid pain killers that I was taking 8 extra strength Advil pills at a time. If I didn’t have a constitution like Charlie Sheen’s, I probably would not have a stomach or liver left at this point. DO NOT do what I did there.

The real breakthrough came about 9 or 10 years ago. I was sitting at the PC, suffering through another severe headache when I heard something on the balcony of our apartment (probably just a bird or the neighbor’s cat). I turned my head to the left, and my neck popped so loud it sounded like a gunshot going off. My pain almost instantly went from an 11 on a 1 to 10 scale down to a 2, and a zero within minutes.

Over the following years, we tried multiple treatment options. Chiropractic treatment was variable. My first chiropractor actually tore a disc in my neck! The one after that was much better, but could only hold the situation at bay pain-wise. Acupuncture did wonders for the pain itself but nothing to fix the actual degeneration either.

By the time I was considering the spinal decompression, my MRI scans showed I was getting close to the point of either surgery or letting the bones fuse themselves together.

Side Note: You can see that process in the diagram above. it’s the body’s answer to protecting itself when it can’t actually heal the compressed disc(s) on it’s own. The vertebrae will literally grow out towards each other and try to fuse together.

Surgery, as I pointed out in previous posts, is expensive and has a very high fail rate over time. Decompression is $4000 vs anywhere from $100,000 and frequently more for surgery that fails regularly, and typically transfers the strain to other parts of the spine. I also saw enough benefit from the earlier alternative medicine that I had legitimate reason to believe decompression could work.

So, LONG story short, I was in nearly 25 year, long-term bad shape and out of options when I tried decompression. It still helped me.

I’ve never told that whole story in 3+ years of time here because I try to avoid personal drama online. It’s toxic and it focuses on the problem instead of moving forward. In this case though, it’s important to understand how bad off I was before treatment.

The Right Doctor Makes All the Difference:

The reason the lower back pain is still there and there are a few minor ongoing neck issues is that I chose the wrong doctor. He was very hands-off, letting his office staff run the computerized automatic decompression table, didn’t communicate well, etc…

We also got off on the wrong foot when we did my initial test treatment to see how I’d respond. The treatment did OK for my neck but he refused to look at my lower back that day, and sent me home in so much lower back pain that I could barely get in and out of the Mustang. I verbally lit him up when I showed up for the next treatment and told him if he did that again, I’d cancel treatments, get a refund for the balance and trash him on every review site I could find.

I didn’t have a treatment problem after that, but needless to say, we were politely cold to each other from then on. My original neck treatment pack was 24 treatments with a review of progress at that point and possible continuation for the full normal package of 36 (12 extra treatments).

He also just gave me the vibe of somebody more interested in dollars than patient well-being, but that is only a personal opinion.

So second long story short, assuming you have options in choice, is to find a doctor you feel comfortable with, will answer questions, and gives the vibe of caring as opposed to wishing you’d hurry up so they can be off to something else. In the case of the greater Nashville area, I had at least 4 other clinics I could have looked into beyond the local one.

My actual progress, combined with my dislike of the doctor meant I never even went back in for the re-evaluation or possible lower back treatment.

The Process Will NOT Be Fun, At First

I wrote about this in my earlier posts. I had quite a bit of subdermal scar tissue along my spine at the neck. Normally this kind of scar tissue only forms as a result of surgery and other “invasive” incidents or procedures. It DOES happen otherwise though, and the longer term your injury is, the more likely the scar tissue is there, or at least fibrous tissue that VERY closely resembles surface scar tissue. In the case of spine problems, the tissue will or may form to try to protect and reinforce the area around a damaged or compressed disc.

Even if you don’t have any subdermal ‘scar’ tissue, keep in mind that you’re still stretching muscles, tissue, etc… that have been constricted and tight for a while. Discs will try to expand to their natural shape also, and nerves will shift. It’s all going to hurt.

With all the scar tissue that broke loose in my neck, I was miserable for the first week. I lived with a cold pack on my neck. I could feel the difference in the type of pain though, and a reduction in the secondary issues I was dealing with. No brain fog, muscle ache pain vs severe migraine pain, etc… The cold packs really did help also and are important for fighting inflammation caused by the treatment.

About half way through the treatments, the pain was minimal, and I was “Hell yeah! let’s keep the ball rolling!”. By treatment 24, my neck felt like it did when I was 20.

Post-Treatment Makes ALL the Difference:

If you want to make sure you get your money’s worth out of treatment, doing the right things afterwards makes ALL the difference. Lead a dumb lifestyle and stress your back, and I’ll guarantee you’ll reverse everything you gained in a matter of mere months. Our forced move away from Nashville (mainly doing it ourselves), and a few other events put a definite strain on my lower back and neck so I’ve felt it first hand.

I’ve also stuck with the therapy and other habits that are undoing that strain and continuing my healing progress.

Here’s the work you’re going to expect to have to do:

Dietary Changes: Simple and sometimes obvious. If you’re overweight, that puts an extra burden on your spine. Sugar causes inflamation. Highly acidic food leach calcium from your bones. Changes do NOT have to be instantaneous. It’s awesome if you can quit cold turkey. If not, work on slowly reducing unhealthy foods while you search for healthy alternatives and ways to cook them where you enjoy eating them. If you’re a sugary drink junkie, like me, slowly reduce them and substitute with water. I do NOT recommend the vast majority of diet drinks as their artificial sweeteners often cause more issues than they fix. Stevia and Monkfruit ‘sugar’ being notable exceptions and natural.

Nutritional Supplements: specifically those designed for bone health and nervous system support. Calcium, Magnesium and Potassium in particular are important, if not outright vital. Get them naturally via food as much as you can. Use high quality supplements otherwise. That means no junk sold at the local drug or grocery store.

Personally, I take Animal Pak vitamins intended for competition bodybuilders. I’m anything but a bodybuilder. However, the vitamins and minerals are top quality and sourced from easily bio-absorbed sources. There are no nasty fillers or binding agents either. Did you know that many cheap vitamins use Plaster of Paris as a binding agent or silicon dioxide (ie sand) as a filler ? Think either of those are good for your digestive system?

Solaray is another good supplement company that I can recommend. Anywhere my main multivitamin falls short, such as the aforementioned Calcium, Magnesium and Potassium, I supplement with Solaray.

At Home Physical Therapy: It will take work to finish rehab of your injured spine. Because my back and neck were in such bad shape initially, I have two home traction units I use (updated reviews on them coming soon). Overall, I think they’re a worthwhile investment if you get the right ones and use them properly and regularly.

If your spine wasn’t in as bad a shape or suffering for such an extended period of time, you can possibly get away with with a massage wand, stretching, yoga and relaxation exercises. If you’re inclined to label yoga as some new age BS for soccer moms, consider that Diamond Dallas Page’s yoga program has literally saved the life and restored the health of some former big name wrestling stars. Scott Hall being the biggest success story.

Bottom line is that you have to maintain flexibility and range of motion as part of maintaining and strengthening your back.

I should include using proper lifting techniques and such as part of the general category of “therapy”. Continue lifting with your lower back instead of your knees and you’re just asking for a return to back pain. Trying to lift more than you safely can; also trouble. Take care of your body and it will take care of you. 🙂

LASTLY; IF You Were Long-Term Sedentary Because of Your Injuries: Remember it will take time to undo all of the muscle loss and weight gain. DO NOT push yourself in some blind determination to return to your glory days overnight. At best, you’ll be so exhausted you can’t do anything. At worst, you’ll re-injure yourself.

Go slow, keep your exercises as low-impact as possible (which is why I like rowing), and progress at a rate your body is comfortable with. Save the macho, “no pain, no gain” stuff for the military, and kids who will end up with their own back issues eventually. You’ll get stronger and more active, it just takes time and a sensible approach to it.

ALL of this should be considered life long stuff also. The biggest mistake that people who injure their backs make is to only do these kind of things until they start to feel better. Inversion tables are a great example. They’re frequently bought by people in the early stages of back pain. They really work too so long as you don’t have bad knees or a couple of other medical conditions that can make them unsafe.

The new owner will use them for a few weeks, feel better, and immediately toss the thing on Craigslist though. Inevitably they end up hurting again eventually too because they didn’t change the habits that got them hurt, or continue doing what they needed to rehab and strengthen their back.

Yes, the exercises and therapy takes time. Quality nutritional supplements cost money also. Consider the alternative of an unproductive, pain filled sedentary lifestyle though.

PAST SPINAL DECOMPRESSION POSTS:

Treatment, Days 1 & 2

Spinal Decompression; Day 5

Where I’ve Been; Grappling with Changing Realities

Spinal Decompression; Day 14

Pronex Traction Unit Review / How I’ve Learned to Use One

Brief Spinal Decompression Update

One Last Spinal Decompression Update

One Last Spinal Decompression Update

At least for a while.

At this point, I’ve got three treatments left in battery of 24. I’ll be done next Wednesday. Things have been really up and down the last week and a half. I suspect it shows in the quantity and quality of my posts too.

Most of the time, I feel great. The decompression treatments have overall lived up to the hype. The problem that I’m having however is that my neck seems more inclined to pop out of joint than it used to be. No doubt that’s from all the subcutaneous scar tissue now being broken up. Everything is more loose. I have greater flexibility, but everything is also a little more prone to slipping slightly out of alignment. It’s caused some pretty severe headaches at points also.

Granted, the situation is also more prone to correcting itself than it used to be, but it still can be a slow process.

Long explanation made short; higher peaks of well being, but more frequent lows also.

At this point, we’ve found a pain management specialist in our HMO. One that also sometimes does spinal decompression, or at least writes referrals… I don’t know. I’m going to try to get an appointment to see that doctor for an evaluation and recommendations on how to proceed from here.

I’ve hit a plateau (using the term generously) with the current treatment process, so paying for further treatment sessions would seem foolish without that consult first.

Granted, I also need to get back on track with the home end of the treatment process. I’ve admittedly slacked off a little there. I need to eliminate that as a potential part of the problem so as to better determine a course of treatment moving forward.

When I know more, I’ll post another update.

I’d still highly recommend looking into spinal decompression for those who are having back problems. Mine is a fairly unusual and severe case after all. And it’s still helped.

Links to Previous Posts:

Personal: Decompressing (contemplating the treatment)

Treatment, Days 1 & 2

Spinal Decompression: Day 5

Spinal Decompression: Day 14

Brief Spinal Decompression Update

Brief Spinal Decompression Update

It’s been a while since I updated here. So, let’s talk progress.

Long story short, it’s slow progress forward, and I’m continuing to improve.

The only real stumbling block at this point is sinus problems keep me tossing and turning all night, which puts my neck in bad positions and I wake up hurting. The pain when this happened used to be much worse, and last longer. I’m worried if I don’t find a fix there that it will undo all my treatment though.

At this point, I’m on treatment #14 with 10 more to go…

Spinal Decompression: Day 14

5 minute read

Time for a treatment update. Monday / Yesterday was treatment number 7. I’m now 25% through my battery of 24 treatments.

Yes, it still amuses me, LOL

Overall, I’m progressing nicely. My neck is feeling better, I have more energy, my mood has improved, and my body is actually wanting healthier food too.

On a related note, the machine that I linked the YouTube video to in my earlier post:

IS indeed the exact model of table I’m being treated with.

My only real complaint at this point is the doctor and his business practices.

My Annoying Chiropractor:

My first annoyance is that he’s still all but completely absent from my treatments. It’s his office assistants setting up and running the machine. Only one quick “how are you doing today?” from the ‘doctor’ in the last few treatments.

Second was that I was supposed to get some physical therapy exercises to do at home to help my progress. That was put off multiple times until I called the staff out regarding it, in front of multiple other clients. What do they give me? Four basic exercises pushing my head against my hand in order to build neck strength. 🙄😒

IF he had listened to me or even examined me closely, a weak neck is NOT an issue with me. My pinched nerves had my neck and traps clinched up tight as a rock literally for years. The first chiropractor I went to in Sacramento had a massage therapist on staff, and the therapist couldn’t even work my shoulders at all they were so tight. I’m not a mutant weight lifter, nor do I look like one, but trust me, I have a damned strong neck for a 51 year old.

Luckily, I still know some flexibility stretches from my martial arts training and my last chiropractor.

Third, I was supposed to be getting some sort of home traction unit, again to supplement my treatment while at home. I got a big song and dance about how it was soooo much better than the Pronex unit I told them hurt me before:

Well, I got billed $169 dollars for THIS:

Ok, so the theory is sound with the thing. Push your neck out (up) back into a proper S curve, correcting posture issues and spreading the vertebrae, allowing the discs to return to normal.

TWO problems though. The first anyone with a basic understanding of anatomy will spot: It’s putting the pressure on too narrow an area of the cervical spine. The pressure needs to be more evenly distributed to get the result they’re claiming. The manufacturer knows this too, because they came out with a newer model with two inflatable areas that distribute pressure along the entire neck. I got an older model that could potentially cause more harm than it fixes.

The second problem is the price. $169. I found it on Amazon for as low as $57.99, although many suppliers were over $100 (barely). I’m still not sure if I’m a much better shopper than he is, or he’s just marking junk up almost 300%

My last issue ties back to number one above: You try to ask this guy a question and despite having a love me wall to put most chiropractors to shame, he either can’t or won’t answer questions.

Most recently I caught him behind the front desk and asked about the treatment plan’s restrictions on carbonated soft drinks… Was there a reason that other sugary stuff like lemonade and sweet tea were not listed? He avoided a direct answer and gave me some line about just recommending what’s best and that an occasional soft drink wouldn’t kill me, it just wasn’t optimal for healing.

Here’s the proper answer:

ALL sugary drinks are highly acidic. Sugar itself is an acid. Drinking them causes inflammation, and keeps existing inflammation from healing. The acid level is also bad for your spine, and skeleton in general, because your body will leech calcium and magnesium from your bones to correct the PH level in your body.

Already knowing that answer, I asked him the question to see if he knew anything further about carbonation potentially causing other issues, etc… Instead I got BS’ed because he didn’t know the answer, or thought I was too dumb to appreciate it. 😡

The Actual Treatment Thus Far:

Progress continues to be good here. My pain level is higher after treatment, but after I’ve put cold packs on my neck and rested a little, my pain is now down to a consistent 2 or 3. The treatments are now up to 30 minutes long also. Yesterday, I timed the machine to see it’s pattern. It started at 15 seconds of tension and 15 seconds of relaxing the pull, and slowly worked up to about 30 seconds of tension followed by 20 to 25 seconds of release.

Overall, I’m pretty optimistic about this working. Any remaining doubts and fears center around it working long term. Time, what I’ve learned the last week, and my extra work will combine to tell the tale there.

So What Have I Learned About My Neck and Treatment?

Primarily that my neck does still have quite a bit of internal scar tissue. 27 years of popping and grinding, and tension induced compression will do that. How do I know? The type of pain and the sensation when I feel the area.

Years ago, I used to have scar tissue on my knee. If you’ve ever had a similar patch (vs a thin line of it), you know the feeling. It’s like poking a gel ice pack in terms of resistance, and there’s a burning, pulsating pain when you bump it too hard (or it starts to tear).

The left side of my neck in particular has that feel from my ear all the way down to my shoulder. So if I want to get my life back, I have to break that scar tissue down.

I’ve also learned that Magnesium is a good deal more important a nutrient for muscle and nerve health than I previously gave it credit for. It’s part of my supplement routine from the chiropractor. Once a day, and it really helps with muscle tension.

The Battle Plan:

The scar tissue realization and the timing of the machine were important insights. They helped me realize that the reason the Pronex was causing pain is that I was using it the wrong way; too long with tension, not frequent nor long enough enough relaxation between tensions. I was tearing up the scar tissue too quickly, and maybe pulling some actual muscles with scar tissue adhesions also. I need a slower, less rigorous use of the device to get proper results.

That’s my theory anyway, and I’m going to be testing it out later. If I follow the machine’s pattern and still get excessive pain, then I’ll just discard the thing. If it works, I’ll keep it up.

I’ll also make use of my inversion table, particularly in an effort to work on my lower back issues. I’ve gotten hold of a few yoga programs specifically for neck and back issue treatment, and will be making use of those as well. Those along with stretching, taking the supplements I got and lots of water. I’ll probably throw in some meditation and Tai Chi as well.

All in all, I believe this is going to work, but it will take doing ALL 24 treatments, (maybe a few more), and doing all the homework and more thanks to having an apathetic chiropractor.

Spinal Decompression; Day 5

My latest update here, and yes, I’m sticking with the pictorial theme because it amuses me, lol. My most recent treatment was Friday. That was treatment #3.

That treatment went better. Maybe I should have been down just a little more on the table, or maybe my neck has just loosened up that much, but I didn’t feel the stretch as much. I was hurting most of Friday however. My neck kept popping as well, which makes me again question if a chiropractic adjustment before the decompression wouldn’t be better, so as to make sure everything is in as good a position as possible before treatment.

As a side note, I’ve kept up with my water, supplements and cold packs as well. We paid too much for this process for me NOT to take it seriously.

Yesterday, however, I woke up feeling better than I have in a LONG time. My tinnitus was diminished significantly, i had a ton of energy, and I was more pain free than I’ve been in years. Even acupuncture hadn’t had this level of effect.

Did I feel perfect? Hardly. Even the level of relief I got felt miraculous though. It was enough improvement that I could see why the doctors worry about people stopping early. That happens with all kinds of treatments; everything from antibiotics to physical therapy. The result is almost always that relief is short term as well.

As if to prove my point, today I woke up a bit more sore and stiff than I was on Saturday. I’m actually looking forward to treatment tomorrow. For once, I’m seeing real hope of reversing all of this. 🙂

The pain in my neck had diminished a great deal on Saturday. Surprisingly fast if it was caused by scar tissue breaking up. I had cold packs on non-stop Friday however. Between that and my body’s ability to block out pain, that may account for it.

Again, so far so good. It’s early yet, so I’m still hesitant to recommend this as an option for folks. Especially if they end up with a cash focused doctor like me. It’s looking very promising however.

This… hope… thing feels REALLY weird too. O_O

Link to Post Considering Treatment

Link to First Post

Treatment, Days 1 & 2

For those who read my recent “Decompressing” post, we opted to go ahead and do the spinal decompression treatments.

Yes, it went something like that, LOL.

That’s the purpose of the post today; to let those who were curious actually know what’s involved. I’ll post updates as I progress through treatment and let readers know if this actually IS effective, or just another scam.

Let’s backtrack a bit though, so as to give readers the full picture.

How We Decided I Should Do It:

We put a great deal of debate and research into the decision. I have to say that we went with it in spite of the doctor also, not because of him. Quite honestly, he comes across as knowing his stuff, but completely devoid of any empathy. Kind of like Dr Strange before his car crash and trip to Nepal.

I only mention it because deciding if you feel comfortable with the doctor IS something you have to weigh when considering any sort of treatment.

At any rate, I’ve tried just about every other non-surgical option. Conventional chiropractic treatment helps, but is only holding the line at this point. Acupuncture was doing great things for the pain, but apparently not much for actual healing. The way things were progressing, it was either this or wait for surgery at some point in the future. Surgery, even laser surgery, has some ugly long term issues that I do not want to deal with.

So, I spent half a day trying to wade through the cesspool of misinformation that is the internet. Everyone out there has their own opinion on treatment, and all others are scam artists. Here’s what I was able to piece together though:

If you cut out all the crap with big pharma supported doctors and sites saying it’s voodoo, and people doing the treatments saying they’re a miracle cure… You’ll find out that the treatments seem to work for 80 to 90 percent of patients. What I could not find is how the treatments hold up long term.

I imagine long term viability would be a difficult study anyway, given that you’d have to see who was taking care of their back afterwards and who was abusing it.

Long story made short; most of the unbiased sites said the odds were good it would help, and it’s far, far cheaper than surgery.

The Actual Process:

Keeping it simple, the idea is to physically stretch the spine, allowing herniated discs to return to their normal shape, and pinched nerves to heal. So, while that picture of the rack at the start of the post was a joke, it’s not TOO far fetched.

The technology today is computer controlled and loaded with resistance sensors also. When the table detects added resistance from your muscles tensing, it backs off briefly and then begins again. As far as what the tables look like now, I found one video on YouTube. It’s an ad, but it’s good in terms of explaining how the table works and showing what it looks like. If you want to see the neck area part of the video, jump to 6:30. They start with lumbar (lower back) first.

This actually looks very similar to the table I’m getting treated on, and I think may be the model before the one I’m getting treated on.

Treatment plans can go anywhere from 20 to 30 sessions. They start out at 20 minutes, and after the first few times, increase to 30 minutes.

It’s pain free also, during the session. My neck was sore afterwards today though. It was the kind of pain like when scar tissue tears and starts to break up. For those who have never experienced that joy, it’s a cross between the feeling of overdoing it at the gym, and pulling muscle. It was muscular though. The constant stabbing pain of the pinched nerves in my neck has diminished substantially. So, overall, it’s a promising start.

The Homework:

Yes, there’s homework. Most of it is simple stuff though. Drink LOTS of water to rehydrate treated areas. Keep ice packs on it to reduce swelling and inflammation also. Five times a day minimum. I was also given some nutritional supplements to help promote healing and nourish the area. I’m also supposed to be getting a set of exercises (most likely basic stretches) to help rehab my neck and some sort of home traction gizmo as well. Hope THAT works better than the Pronex did… Why I haven’t gotten the exercises yet is beyond me also. If I don’t get them soon, I found a yoga program specifically for neck rehab that I’ll be using anyway.

I’m also supposed to stay away from sugary drinks and caffeine. Given that the average can of Coke has more than enough sugar to cause inflammation, I’m reluctantly cooperating there, LOL. I’m taking this seriously because it is expensive and may be my last best shot at getting healthy again.

A classic Henny Youngman joke

The Cost:

No I didn’t forget. I was keeping you reading. 😀

Everything all total, for 24 treatment sessions for the neck and a half dozen adjustments for my lower back, came out to a grand total of $3800 (roughly). Yes, we pressured the doctor down some there also. Crazy expensive, but surgery can run upwards of $150,000.

My Opinion Thus Far:

Overall, so far so good. My only real issue thus far is that the doctor won’t listen to a damned thing he’s told. My back and neck were pretty badly out of adjustment when I started treatment. I think that accounts for some of my soreness also.

After 17 years of martial arts, I’ve amazed every past chiropractor by being able to tell them exactly what’s out, where and by how much. I know my own body.

If nothing else, you’d THINK that part of the procedure would be to do an adjustment before hand so that everything moves more freely. That in turn would logically give the machine better results.

So there you have it; the full scoop thus far… from the rack to the Rock. I’ll just have to hope for the best, work through the rehab and raise hell if the doc doesn’t start listening.

Personal: Decompressing

The last few days were a mess, because I was feeling like hell. Hence no posts.

It was the usual problems with my back and neck. We had new MRIs done and part of my neck is near stage 3 degeneration now. The new chiropractor I’m seeing wants to do spinal decompression treatment:

I did a test treatment yesterday to see how I’d respond, and it seems to have definitely helped. Given that my problems are all compressed and herniated discs, it seems like a good option also.

I have a few lingering doubts here though…

First is the price. All I’ve gotten thus far is “it depends upon the number and duration of the treatments”, and that it’s all expected up front… “to show that the patient is serious about getting better.” Yeah, well… that’s the same line some bad chiropractors use for their regular treatment programs. The proof is in the pudding. If it works, a customer will keep coming back.

The flip side here is that chirorpactic treatment stopped working beyond alleviating severe pain when something is badly out of whack. Acupuncture, based on the MRIs, is helping with pain, but not leading to any meaningful healing. That means the other alternative left is surgery. THAT causes more issues than it fixes and will likely be even more expensive. :\

Second is there’s nothing I’ve seen yet that shows this has long term results. Nuff said there.

Lastly, there’s the issue that I’ve already tried something similar as a home remedy. My Sacramento chiropractor had recommended a gadget called “Pronex” to help with spinal decompression

As it turns out, the angle your neck is at during the decompression makes a big difference. Based on the herniations in my neck, I need to have my head tilted forward some. The Pronex thing only allows for one position, and that actually ended up causing me alot more pain.

I guess I’m nervous about yet another expensive option that may fail or only offer short term relief. I’ve been struggling with this for years now and it’s really wearing me down.

My Life as a Voodoo Doll

I had my first appointment in a second round of acupuncture today… well yesterday now (it’s after midnight here). My first go around was 3 years ago. Given my utter hatred of needles, the only reason I’m doing this again is that it works!

Last go around took my cervicogenic headache pain from a 50 on a scale of 1 to 10 down to a level where I’m normally functional, albeit not at a normal level. It’s been permanent too, with the exception of 1 or 2 instances. Cervicogenic headaches are ones caused by pinched nerves by the way, typically in the neck, but elsewhere in the spine is not uncommon also.

Getting back on track… My back and neck have been acting up again the last month. Being freshly married, I want to be able to contribute to the household as much as possible also. Getting further back on my feet, by any degree will be a blessing. So, here I go again. Did I mention I hate needles??

For those who have ever wondered, acupuncture really is pain free. Most of the time anyway. Last go around, the specialist hit the wrong spot a couple of times and made me screech. 3 or so bad pokes isn’t bad considering how many needles I had in me during that battery of sessions. Usually what’s felt is more like a faint hint of a poke. No bleeding either; the needles don’t go in deep enough.

Results: My middle back no longer feels like I’ve got a telephone pole laying across it. I actually felt three vertebrae pop into place during the half hour I laid there with the needles in me. My neck is hurting again, but I don’t view that as a bad thing. It’s typically hurting, and the mid back issues were simply bad enough to mask the neck ones. We’ve undone one part of the mess, next we clean up part two, I hope.

I experience a couple of interesting things during these treatments. I’m not sure if it’s normal, or due to my exceptional awareness of my body due to my two decades of martial arts training, or a combination of both.

The first one is kind of unnerving (all pun intended). I’d say about half of the needles, I can feel them in me, but no pain to go along with it. I could best describe it as a sensation similar to just having something light resting on you, but I can feel it beneath the surface of the skin too. Either way, it’s kind of freaky.

Second is the sensations I sometimes feel in a ‘needled’ area. Yesterday for example, over the course of the half hour, my right foot went from normal to tingly to warm, to warm with a slight throbbing sensation, then a little under a minute of mild pain, then it felt better than it did when I came in for my appointment. If I were to apply the traditional explanation to this, I’d say it was probably a chi blockage being broken up and released. In a way it did feel like a ghostly copy of a body part waking up after it was “asleep” due to lack of circulation.

Acupuncture theory:

For those who don’t know, I figured it would be fun to spend a moment or two giving a quick overview of the theory behind acupuncture and accupressure. I’m going to try to keep this as simple as possible, so if I ‘err’ on something, it wasn’t intentional, just over-simplification.

Accupuncture, accupressure, and many martial arts ‘vital spot’ attacks are based on the idea of chi or qi meridians:

The chart here shows the 12 main meridians, as well as color coding them according to the Taoist theory of five elements. To put it in Western terms, think of meridians as a second nervous system that carries our spiritual energy throughout our bodies.

Interestingly enough, science has begun to find some evidence to support the existence of meridians, but not their function. I have a personal theory that the little super thin silvery hairs sometimes seen poking out of fibromyalgia victims MAY indeed be meridians. They match the ancient descriptions of meridians. Fibro pain often occurs at key meridian locations also. Just a theory however.

Continuing on… Blocked chi flow means energy trapped on the wrong side of the blockage stagnates and manifests as all kinds of possible physical ailments. It would probably be more accurate to say that physical injuries often cause meridian blockages. Either way, traditional medicine believes if you use acupuncture to free up the blocked energy and restore the flow, that your body will be aided in it’s recovery.

Some of you may be thinking “OK but you have spinal issue and said you had needles in your ankles”. The answer there is that working elsewhere along the same meridian as a blockage can still free it up. In fact it’s often beneficial to “attack indirectly” as it’s gentler on the body than directly “blowing up the dam”.

The previously mentioned 5 elements theory comes into play here also. The short version of the theory is that these five elements are similar to ancient Greek theory of the classical four elements. The spiritual energy of these elements combined in different ways make up everything in the universe. It’s also a big Rock Paper Scissors game, with each element being fed by one and weakened by another. So if you have a “wood blockage” or imbalance, it can be weakened by promoting fire energy.

I’m not saying I buy the whole five elements theory aspect of this. I think that part is simply a framework created by human minds to understand the processes they were seeing.

What I can tell you is that acupuncture works. Before my first round of treatments, I spent an average of one day a week completely bedridden and in horrible pain. That is rare anymore. I’m still frequently in a good deal of pain, but I’m more functional now than I was before.

Being smaller, I took an early interest in chi meridian attacks and other forms of vital spot attacks during my martial arts training. I can tell you they work also, even if not to the same degree as some of the more wild martial arts movies out there show.

Me and Mary Sue Return

I am officially back among the living again. 🙂

Nicholson

I never was really totally gone, unless you count the lack of productivity in my own writing.

So I had an interesting realization while taking that time off.  Mary Sue is a HARD woman to kill, LOL.  She shows up in the oddest damned places too.  For those of you not familiar with the term, a “Mary Sue” is an overly perfect character; super popular, smart, good at everything, super model level attractive, etc…  The archetype is often seen as the writer’s idealized version of themself.  The male version is sometimes called a Marty Stu.

My first City of Heroes character was very much a Mary Sue.  As I studied more about writing and character development, I got further away from that over-idealized stereotype and made characters for writing and games that were more balanced.  Not perfect, but much better.  Up till last night, I thought I’d slain the dread Mary Sue.

Then, as I’m killing time playing Champions Online with a friend, I realize that Mary Sue had snuck back into my life.  This time a bit more of the idealized me than the perfect person scenario.  My character “Paladin” is a power armor character much along the lines of Marvel’s Iron Man.  Maybe closer to War Machine actually.  I can honestly say I made her BEFORE Marvel turned Rhodey into a jet jockey though.

Side note; he was originally an army helicopter pilot in Vietnam.

So, the character is an Air Force pilot that gets into bad dogfight while taking up two rookie pilots for training in the Middle East.  They get jumped by a group of Russian Migs.  She gets the other two away safely and manages to shoot down two of the five Migs, but not before her plane is hit and she takes some shrapnel to her lower spine.

She’s initially told she won’t walk again.  Being a Tony Stark level inventor though, she invents her armor initially as a suit to act as a junction to her legs and let her walk again.  It grows into the Paladin armor over time from there.

Recapping the character’s origin story for an in-game friend, I realized that she was an idealized version (sort of) of me, and that I apparently haven’t come to terms with my physical issues as much as I thought.

I haven’t talked much about my own health problems.  I want to be known for what I do (or at least write or say) rather than my issues.  Some folks whine and milk their problems to death also, to the point that I think most folks are sick of it all.  Just as a another side note, I do differentiate between that and those of you who blog to help others deal with similar situations.  Completely opposite things there.

Anyway, I have stage two spinal degeneration in my entire back.  That means degenerated (herniated) discs, and bone spurs, but the vertebrae haven’t started fusing together yet.  A good portion of the herniation is mild; only a few centimeters.  Other spots, like my lower back (right where I envisioned Paladin getting hit by shrapnel), is pretty bad.  I have a completely torn disc in my neck also, thanks to a crap chiropractor.

The bone spurs are where the real problem is.  I also have a swollen tendon on the left side of my neck, and the bone spurs tend to pinch it when my neck goes out of alignment.  THAT triggers massive Cervogenic headaches.  I also have a tremor in my left arm that the doctors are still debating if it’s related to pinched nerves OR early onset Parkinson’s disease.  So yeah, I’m a mess, LOL.  I’m still mobile though, and there are people out there alot worse off than me.  Being aware of that, I thought I’d kept a pretty good attitude about everything.

Then last night it hits me that Paladin is how I wish I could fix my problems and not feel as useless as I often do.  What makes it hard for me is that I was brought up to believe people should be as self sufficient as possible.  My issues have derailed completely the last couple of jobs I’ve had.  If I’m very sedentary, I do OK.  Activity has everything popping out of joint and me in real pain.  So, I’m OK if I sit around and do nothing.  Blah!

That’s all the more difficult to take because at my peak I was extremely active.  I’ve mentioned my martial arts training a few times.  At my best, I was training 3 hours a day between two different schools, and loving it.  When I was younger, my parents told me I was too much of a wuss to take classes and that I’d only cry and quit.  Doing itfor 3 hours a day was a real sense of empowerment.

So, things are still more of a struggle than I’d like to admit; coming to terms with my condition and feeling like I should somehow be doing more…  It even gnaws at my writing productivity.  Why am I doing this when I should be finding a way to make money, etc…  Even reminding myself that I intend to be published doesn’t help shut up that nagging doubt.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m in a better place than I was even a year ago.  It’s just frustrating realizing how far I still have to go.

There’s also a lesson here that lessons will show up in the darnedest places and ways if you really look for them.