Friday, July 25, 2008

Osteopathic manipulation is cool!

Lame title, I know. It sounds like a junior high kid is writing my blog when I pen silly titles like that. The thing is, though, that's the phrase that keeps going through my head. Actually, it sounds more like this: osteopathic manipulation is COOL!!

Ever since one awful trauma to Scott's tailbone back in college (a nasty fall on the ice during intramural broomball), Scott has had intermittent back spasms around his L5 vertebrae. He's now seen a total of five doctors about his back, and all have said without pause that the problem is spasms. After one especially cruel spasm episode in the week surrounding his thirtieth birthday (maybe his body's way of saying "you're getting old"?) we started seeing a chiropractor. The chiropractic treatment was successful in dealing with that particular episode and has kept Scott from having another episode for the past year and a half, so we were really pleased with the progress he was making. Until this month. He's had two episodes this month and both were longer than they used to be. Both were brought on by small, seemingly insignificant movements of twisting the wrong way at the wrong time (one while getting out of the car, one while catching a football). Both kept him from doing things he wants to be able to do, like...sit at the table during dinner, sit in an office chair during work, drive my speedy little manual transmission car, go to a movie, go backpacking, climb Mt. Yale, clean our toilets, go for a get the idea. Life was interrupted and moving was painful. Somehow in between the two episodes, he did manage to run the thirteen-ish mile Barr Trail Race -- halfway up Pike's Peak and back. Lucky guy, eh?

Once the second episode of the month started, I made an appointment with Dr. David Furrow, a local DO (Doctor of Osteopathy) who specializes in a musculoskeletal treatment called Positional Release Therapy. Our next door neighbor told me about him. She'd heard that other DO's in town say he has "the hands of God." That was about all I needed to hear. In order to not be a slave to insurance companies, Furrow runs a cash-only practice. You pay for your visit up front and if your insurance provider offers out-of-network coverage, you might be able to get reimbursed for some of what you spend. The first visit lasts up to two hours and costs a maximum of $310. Follow up treatments are shorter and cost less. This approach fits my I-hate-insurance-companies-and-pharmaceuticals mindset, so I was more than happy to pay cash for Scott's treatment. Luckily, we've been disciplined enough to maintain an emergency fund just for times like this. Honestly, thank God for Dave Ramsey who taught me to keep an emergency fund.

When we arrived for Scott's appointment, we were greeted by Dr. Furrow, a sweet looking short little hippy guy, Birks and all. We followed him back to his office where it was so dark I had to stop myself from reflexively reaching for the light switch. Then I realized that the dim lights, I mean lack of lights, were part of the mood. Relaxing music filled the cool air and I almost instinctively took a deep breath and slipped into a black hole of meditation. Dr. Furrow started talking and pulled me back to reality. He spoke brightly but carefully, was quick to smile and make a joke, and was genuinely interested in what was going on with Scott's back. He took Scott's medical history and talked with us for the better part of an hour about not only Scott's back, but about how osteopathic manipulation differs from chiropractic care, about the demise of the American medical system, about the problems with insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies, all the while giving us insight into how Scott's muscles play into the problems he's having with his back.

Once he had a thorough grasp of Scott's medical history (and Scott's family's medical history), he had Scott get up on the treatment table. He had discussed with us what parts of Scott's body were probably causing his back problems -- tight hip flexors and tight hamstrings, mostly caused by sitting to much, seemed to be the main culprits. He checked out his legs to see whether or not they were the same length and then moved on to the hip flexors. Here's what osteopathic treatment looked like to me, a totally untrained witness: Dr. Furrow palpated Scott's body to find spots that were tight. He would push on them lightly until he found a spot that was painful, then he would position Scott like a pretzel. While Scott was twisted around like a pretzel, he'd put pressure on one of Scott's limbs and have Scott apply a small amount of counter pressure in order to have his muscles pull his own bones back into alignment. I'm not sure that I just gave you an accurate description, but that's what it looked like to me.

Furrow worked on Scott's whole body, each time finding a spot that caused Scott pain, doing a manipulation on it and then having Scott say, " doesn't hurt anymore." When you witness this happening over and over again it's honestly difficult not to break into tears. Tears of joy, of amazement, of excitement that we might be making some progress on Scott's back issues. When Furrow started manipulating Scott's sacrum (the upper part of the tailbone), Scott had an "ah-ha" moment, realizing that he fell on the ice during college broomball and has had back problems ever since. Furrow said that of the fourteen positions that his sacrum could be in, Scott's was in the worst one. By the end of the manipulation, the bone was in the least bad of the fourteen positions. Furrow said that for a few days after his treatment, Scott might be really sore. It could feel achey like he has the flu or like the day after a tough work out. Some people's soreness is nearly unbearable while for some it is almost unnoticeable. What's interesting to me is that Dr. Furrow's touch was very light. He wasn't putting much pressure on Scott's body, and he wasn't asking Scott to apply very much counter pressure. It was light touch in the right places that caused the manipulations.

When we got home from Furrow's office, Scott was feeling his tailbone and saying, "I don't remember it ever feeling like this before. It's always been lopsided and I never even knew it. Now it's straight." As you can imagine, his tailbone sitting straight is causing some stretching to the parts of his body surrounding his tailbone, probably a lot like the stretching those same muscles and ligaments experienced in the months after Scott's fall on the ice when his tailbone was knocked out of position. Only, now his soft tissue is stretching back into the proper position.

Scott is scheduled for another treatment next week during which Dr. Furrow should get an idea of how Scott's body is reacting to yesterday's treatment and then know how much more treatment Scott will require to get his body back to normal. Once treatment is finished he'll probably be prescribed some sessions with a pilates coach to improve his core strength, something Scott's known for a while he needs to do. He says that when he was a kid he excelled at every part of the Presidential Physical Fitness exam except the sit ups. He struggled with the sit ups and he could never figure out how he could beat all of his classmates at the shuttle run, the flexed arm hang, the mile run, and the sit and reach but barely do a few sit ups. That lack of core strength is rearing its ugly head again, but now Scott's motivated to deal with it.

It's so exciting to me to witness medicine being practiced, especially when it's medicine that works with the body's natural healing mechanisms. Our chiropractor tells us all the time, "The power that made the body heals the body." I really believe that in most cases, that is true. Yes, sometimes drugs are necessary, but a lot of times, if we're patient and thoughtful about how we treat the body, the body can heal itself. After all, the human race has survived for who knows how long, thousands of years? Hundreds of thousands of year? I'm not sure...anyway, the point is that we were around long before sophisticated drugs existed. And somehow we've survived this long. If we take care of our bodies, our bodies will take care of us.


carrie said...

I have a good friend at work who has had chronic back pain for years. She went to our office osteopath (yes, we have an osteopath who comes to the office once a week) among other doctors without much help. But she got the name of a supposedly really great osteopath with 'the hands of God' back at home in Germany so she went. One treatment much like you described and she was fixed! He rearranged a few things and readjusted a few others and voila! She was back to normal. Amazing how these kinds of things work. I hope Scott continues to have good luck with this guy!

Hillary Dickman said...

First of cool is it that an osteopath comes into your office every week? That's amazing.

But, more to the point, it's interesting that your friend wasn't able to be fixed by the office osteopath but was fixed by a different one. It sounds like there aren't a lot of DOs around these days who have the sensitive hands necessary to perform subtle manipulations.

Dr. Furrow told us that years ago, when there were fewer osteopaths, the type of manipulation he does was the core of osteopathy. It was practiced by all DOs. Now only a tiny percentage of DOs are trained to do what Dr. Furrow does. It requires an extra five years of education, plus with so many DOs practicing side-by-side with MDs, they've picked up some of the bad habits that MDs have. They've also been influenced by drug companies and by HMOs who essentially pay doctors more when doctors spend less time with patients.

carrie said...

Keep in mind that osteopathy (is that the word?) is huge in Europe. They're a dime a dozen. Actually, in being here a year + I can probably only count seeing one chiropractor. I have a feeling that the chick who comes to the office isn't nearly as good as some of the rest.

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