Friday, July 31, 2009

A Tale Of Spinal Torment - Part 3 of 3

There were other treatments I may try next time. One is chiropractic. Dr. Philip Striano of Hudson Rivertowns Chiropractic in Dobbs Ferry suggests a course of stretching on the DRX9000, the latest high-tech device for relieving pressure on the disc. In my case, he said, “The machine is able to slowly stretch the scar tissue to make it more linear, actually remodeling it to allow the nerve more room.”

Dr. Sharma agrees, with a caveat. “That traction can be helpful because it temporarily opens up that space where the nerve roots are,” he says, adding, “But it’s not permanent.” That’s okay by me. Apparently, neither was my surgery.

In a demonstration session, I started with a heat pack to loosen the muscles, then I laid on my back strapped to the machine with my knees supported. Striano explained, “It pulls in an algorithm of pull-and-relax, pull-and-relax, so the muscles don’t go into a protective reflex spasm.” In English, he meant that a steady pull would cause the muscles to pull back—hard. During the session, I felt my torso lengthening slowly as it was stretched, then relaxing as the pull was decreased. It would have been easy to fall asleep. At the end of the session, I felt like an accordion relaxing back to a normal posture under the influence of gravity.

The other alternative isn’t whiz-bang new; it’s an ancient treatment first described in 475 BC in Chinese literature. I’m talking about acupuncture, of course, or the insertion of fine needles into the body at specific points. Dr. Sharma says it helps about two-thirds of back pain sufferers, although more frequently simply by relieving chronic pain for an indeterminate period of time. When I described my symptoms to Dr. Gabriel Po-Jen Lu, a Scarsdale MD who practices the ancient art in a highly scientific and quite modern way, he said, “The acupuncture itself doesn’t decompress the disc, but it will relieve the muscle spasms, decrease cramping, improve circulation, and release endorphins, which is your body’s natural pain killer. It isn’t a cure, but it will make your life better by relieving the symptoms.” A typical session lasts fifteen to twenty minutes and costs $75 if administered by an MD like Dr. Lu. Most practitioners recommend a course of three treatments to evaluate the effectiveness in a given patient.

The docs tell me that I’ll be facing this the rest of my life and probably will have some arthritis problems in the back at some point too, so acupuncture sounds fine to me. In fact, just about any of the many treatments available—body-numbing drugs, endless rounds of abdominal crunches, injections in the spine, sweaty contortions in the hot Yoga studio, machines that pull me like taffy, or needles that re-channel my chi—are better than flopping around helplessly on the tile floor like a fresh-caught mackerel.

Part 3 of 3 (originally published in a slightly different version in Westchester Magazine)

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

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