Friday, March 16, 2012

Back to backs

This morning I was walking across the kitchen toward the computer when I was suddenly seized by incredible back pain.  I shuffled towards my chair and just stood holding on to the back of the chair for several minutes not feeling like it was feasible to sit down - anything but standing at ~10 degrees off of vertical was simply impossible.  Finally the pain subsided enough for me to sit in my chair and eventually I lay down on the couch for awhile.  Over the course of the day things have improved so that now I just have a stiff back and move around slowly with a bit of sporadic pain here and there.  I have had back pain before, though never anything serious, and this really gives me a new appreciation for why so much unnecessary intervention has been performed on backs over the past few decades.

If my leg hurts I can just avoid using it, same for most other body parts.  Generally with local pain it is possible to soldier on and do things differently but back pain is utterly crippling.  When the pain first arrived I just could not move nor even think particularly clearly and although there is no reason that the pain arrived nor any sign of what caused it I was completely helpless against it.  If this was something that happened regularly I would certainly be desperate to get rid of it and I am sure my doctor would feel the same.  Unfortunately for the great majority of otherwise asymptomatic back pain there generally isn't much anybody can do about it.  Rest sometimes works, normal activity sometimes works, painkillers sometimes work, but we just don't have any magic bullets.

I used to be surprised that people were willing to go through surgery for back pain since it clearly wasn't endangering their lives and recovery from surgery isn't fun, never mind the actual cutting itself!  Most people suffer from back pain at some point or other and everybody wants there to be an understandable reason and a cure.  Unfortunately we relied heavily on scanning people's backs and trying to surgically fix their imperfections without really registering that everybody has back imperfections and they don't especially correlate to pain.  It is easy though to make these sorts of decisions when you are far away from the problem and much harder when you see people paralyzed by their pain who are desperately hoping you can provide a solution.  Here's hoping my little episode is a singular one as I sure don't look forward to having to live with it on a regular basis and I doubt very much there is any relief medical science can offer aside from painkillers.

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