Everyone knows that if you have an ache in your back the doctors first want to ship you out to physical therapy. They think if they make you build up your core muscles you will be just fine. If you have been to a session you know that they just give you a piece of stretchy plastic strip and have you do leg and arm exercises with it. They want you to relax and stretch your muscles. They might give you a rubdown with their deep heating ultrasound, they might give you traction. I wonder, has anyone asked these therapists if they have any medical degree? I didn’t think to.
Prior to Surgery
When I went I never saw a medical doctor in the therapy office. The first young lady I saw was really nice and pleasant, but she asked me why I was there. If the doctor sent the order for physical therapy, should she not have sent over records? I had a MRI done and I know there was a report, so I answered that I had no clue what was supposed to happen. Ah, that sent her after my chart. She brings it in and starts reading the report to me. She mentions that there are changes to the L4-L5, a slight bulge with mild facet arthropathy. My thought was mild what? Then I had disc protrusion at L2-L3. That was bound to be causing my problems. No mention of any cysts. I had filled out their forms that showed where my pain was and even told her that I could only sit for about 20 minutes and the pain would radiate down both legs to the heel and toes. I also remembered to tell her I had scoliosis.
As I mentioned in the “My Journey” page, I was ready for that massage! She showed me some exercises to do at home several times a day. They didn’t hurt in the office so I thought I could handle that. Then I got my ‘deep heat massage’. Boy was I disappointed. Why wasn’t I relaxed, aren’t you suppose to feel like jelly? Get home and for a day or two did the exercises and then I go back. Next appointment she gives me more exercises. Joy! Then she suggested traction. I went for it. For over 30 minutes she pulled my hips downward. I did ask why I wasn’t pulled up and she said this was standard. I had a hunch that maybe I should have said “no” to the traction, but did I follow my own brain’s thought? Nope, I went through with it. You are trusting these people to know more than you, right? By the time I got to my car and headed home. Whoo-whee , I thought I was burning from the inside out.
Next visit, I have a new therapist. I let him know, in no uncertain terms, that I would never go through the traction again. This young man starts with new exercises and gives me that strip of stretchy plastic to work with. I did different exercises with it for about 20 minutes. Then he has me lie on my belly with my face in ‘the hole’. As I said before, I am going to get a good massage. But alas, not. All I absorbed was severe pain. He proceeds to try to manually manipulate my back. He told me I had some pelvic alignment that needed correction, but not until I yelled at him. I yelled, in not so nice terms, to get off of me. When he told me what he was doing I asked him if he was stupid because I had scoliosis in the pelvic area, and of course I am out of alignment. You and I know scoliosis means curve. After they had to manually turn me over on my back, they then laid me on hot pads trying to relieve the severity of the pain.
I tearfully leave their building and make it to my car. I had to sit there for over 15 minutes crying. When I felt brave enough to try to drive, I called my husband and told him he would have to get me out of the car if I made it home. I never went back. After finding out about my cysts, I come to understand that what happened to me was typical for Tarlov patients. We are never told about the cysts and sent to therapy. If you have a cyst on your lower spine, why do the doctors send you to something that could rupture the cyst? Oh, that’s right- the cysts are asymptomatic.
Now for therapy after surgery.
I knew I would not go for the type that I had experienced before surgery, so I called the surgeons office and they suggested water therapy. Pool time! I was lucky and the insurance approved it. The only group I could find was one that contracted out of an aquatic center. That meant salt water; heated water! Now that was therapy! I did the exercises two times a week for almost three months. It really did help me regain my strength and some flexibility. The salt water keeps you floating and the warmth of the pool is very relaxing. There were several exercises that we had to nix due to pain after, but most were great. The ones we stopped were the ones that required me to side step. They would cause my hips to burn within an hour of the sessions. Also, we stopped the ones where they had me float on my back. These caused instant discomfort. So, I do suggest this type of therapy even before surgery.
My sister and my husband will leave a comment if I don’t put this tidbit in. I think I provided them with a years worth of humor, – glad to be of service. I am kinda busty, and keeping my feet on the bottom of the pool was a chore. My sister called them my natural buoys. I kept floating upward and the therapist ended up handing me water weights to help keep me down. In my defense, she said with me being short that it was common for women with my shape to have problems keeping their feet on the bottom in salt water. I told my sister she was just jealous.
Now I am not saying therapy is bad, but with my experience I wonder if it did more damage. My suggestion for any therapy session is to review your symptoms and medical issues before each and every one of them. More than likely you will not have the same therapist each session and they have 5 or more patients they see daily. They will not remember you or your medical history. Tell them what you think is a ‘no’ and if they do not listen, refuse to do the exercise. They are not your mother and will not put you in time out if you get stubborn on them. If you are lucky enough to be able to do water therapy, then that is the best in my opinion. The water can support and relax you at the same time. Just remember to grab those weights to keep your feet on the bottom. Oh, on the male therapist that did some of my water therapy, I don’t think he ever knew why I would grab the weights before getting into the pool.
I would love to hear some funny experiences that you may have had with therapy.