Whip It

I’m at work Sunday afternoon, setting up the patio. The tables and chairs aren’t exactly heavy but my neck and back have been especially hurting this week, so I must be making some weird movements to stretch and relieve the pain. Caitlin sees me from inside and walks out, laughing. “Are you OK??”

I’m slightly embarrassed because I know what I must look like. The pain has gradually gotten worse over the past ten years. I’ve always thought it was strictly anxiety, but now I just think it’s a sort of constant, with varying degrees of pain. It started mostly in my neck. I’d try to make it feel better by tilting my head from front-to-back and side-to-side. I didn’t even realize I did it so much, until Lmonny pointed it out. She was basically acknowledging that she knew I did it because my neck hurts, but I remember feeling a little embarrassed because I didn’t realize how noticeable it was. I also wasn’t aware that I was doing it so much.

I thought I found my relief with bikram yoga. All the poses stretch my spine and make it feel so good when I’m doing it consistently. I can feel the difference. But lately, I’ve been doing yoga at least five days a week. Mostly it’s on my own, so it’s not in the scorching hot studio, and I’m not doing all the poses, but still, I’m stretching my spine almost every day and the pain is not subsiding.

I tell Caitlin a little about it. She has multiple sclerosis, so she really experiences pain in the spine. She swears by this chiropractor in town.

I’ve always had mixed thoughts on whether or not to see a chiropractor. Some people swear by them and some people swear them off. At one point when I was having some pretty bad pain while living in LA, someone referred me to a doctor in Santa Monica. I spoke with him on the phone and really liked him, but ended up chickening out because I was too scared, and I’m sure I decided that the pain wasn’t so bad that it was worth the money.

Now, Caitlin is talking this doctor up, and I’m hesitant. She tells me a story of when she was younger and her Mom fell pretty bad and went to see a chiropractor. He completely messed her up and made everything worse, so it was a very long time before Caitlin decided to go to a chiropractor. And now she can’t stop raving about him.

I look him up. Not only is he a chiropractor, he does acupuncture and massage as well. I figure I’ll give it a shot. Maybe he’ll decide that I don’t need any cracking. Maybe I just need some needles. Either way, I need something. Yoga and my acupuncture mat are just not cutting it.

I call to make the appointment. His receptionist answers the phone. “Good afternoon, this is Linda, it’s a beautiful day at Dr. Peter’s office, how can I help you?”

I’m not sure if this is awesome or super weird but I decide that it’s awesome, for now, and book my appointment.

Linda greets me when I walk through the door. She’s a sweet, older lady with thin-rimmed glasses. Very grandmotherly. She shakes my hand and introduces herself. Goes over my paperwork that I’ve already filled out. “Oh, a field hockey coach. That’s fun. Not only a coach, but field hockey.”

I fill out some more paperwork, then Linda takes my blood pressure. She smiles at me. “Are you a Charlotte Roller Girl?”

I laugh, surprised by the question. No. (Apparently, Charlotte has a roller derby team.)

“I only ask because all the girls on the team have very muscular arms. And you have very muscular arms.”

I laugh again as I look at the wall to see two Charlotte Roller Derby Girl posters.

“Dr. Peters is a sponsor for the team.”

Oh, that’s cool. I continue looking around the tiny office. There is a framed picture of a guy with a mullet, and another certificate-looking-thing that also seems to recognize mullets.

What’s with the mullets?

Linda takes her time. “Have you met Dr. Peters yet?”

No.

“You’ll understand when you meet him.”

I have no idea what this means. Linda takes my blood pressure, which for my whole life has always been great. Not good; great. It’s weird how people always seem surprised when they take it, like, ‘Oh, very good.’ Linda takes it one step further. “It’s perfect!” She turns the screen to show me, as if the numbers mean anything to me. “Really, it’s perfect!”

Linda says I can pay now. It’s weird to pay before the appointment, but I go with it. As I’m paying, a man walks through the door. Average to short height, dark tan skin and jet-black messy surfer hair under a baseball cap, sporting shorts, a T-shirt, and sneakers. He starts moving a heavy box just inside the office door and I think maybe he’s a physical labor worker for the company.

Linda says hello to him and then to me, “Here’s Dr. Peters.” I haven’t seen his face yet, but now he turns to me and immediately extends his hand; big, charming smile on his face. “Hey…. Tony.”

Hello. I shake his hand, firm and warm. He continues lugging the box – I can see what it is now; a mini refrigerator – into his office. He explains. His son splits time with him and his ex-wife. He lives there with his two step-brothers and they’re always stealing his food – he likes the healthy stuff – so he asked his Dad to get him his own fridge for his bedroom. Totally understandable. (But if I know how siblings are, he might want a lock for that fridge, too.)

Dr. Peters – or I guess I should call him Tony – leads me into his office. I make it very clear that I’m nervous about seeing a chiropractor, so we first talk to go over my history and points of pain.

Then we get right to it. Tony explains that acupuncture is great, but he always likes to be hands-on for at least the first two visits, to loosen up the muscles and tissues, making it easier for the needles to do the work. “More bang for your buck,” he says.

Fine by me. I lay on my stomach first. I’m a little surprised when he starts at my calves, but I guess it’s all connected. It’s not a massage and it’s not a crack fest – although some parts do feel good like a massage and there definitely are some cracks – it’s more applying pressure and rubbing the same spots over and over – “loosening up the fascia.” Some of it hurts, some of it feels good. Tony does a great job of communicating what he’s doing, keeping me in the know. I appreciate it. A lot of spots are trigger points, and can send sensations to other parts of the body. He asks me if I feel it anywhere else. Sometimes no, it’s just the spot where he’s pushing, but some spots, I can feel it start to tingle all the way through to my pinky finger.

Tony finds some really tight spots – one in my mid-back, close to my spine on the left side, but most in my neck. Once I flip onto my back, he finds a lot of these spots on the front of my neck. Everywhere he presses on my neck hurts, but kind of feels good at the same time, like I know it’s relieving future pain.

I also tell him about my ribs. No one ever has any idea what I’m talking about when I say I have pain under my ribs. It’s on the sides, and when I push in, there’s a sharp pain. He touches the spots, and it feels tender. He says he can do work on them, but I’m already going to be pretty sore from everywhere else. For some reason, I’m more hesitant about my ribs than anywhere else. I think I’m afraid that it’s really going to hurt, so we decide to save that for next time.

Then he comes around to the top of my head and picks it up with both hands so that his fingertips are at the base of my neck. As if reading my mind, he tells me, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to crack your neck, just going to stretch it.”

When he presses on my face – near my sinuses, my cheeks, temples, jaw line – I’m surprised how much it hurts. I thought it would feel good, but again, he’s not massaging. He’s pressing. Apparently, these are major trigger points, and because I clench my jaw at night, all those muscles in my face are overworked.

When it’s all over, there’s very good news – my spine looks OK and I’m able to move easily. It seems like whatever is wrong is totally fixable. I’m relieved.

Tony tells me to do a little yoga today, and to keep using my acupuncture mat. He knows I work with Caitlin at a wine bar, so he lets me know that red wine would be good for me, too. You know, all those anti-oxidants, and of course it’s a relaxant. “Maybe not a whole bottle, but a glass or two is OK.”

I really like this doctor.

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