Sunday, November 18, 2012

Chiropractic Voodoo

For most of my life I haven’t really given chiropractors much credit.  Sure they go to school for a long time, but I assumed they were mainly for out of shape people who weren't flexible enough to work out their own aches and pains.  To me they were just expensive better trained masseuses.  I know, this is a massive oversimplification.  Until recently, my only real experience with a chiropractor was an 80-year-old guy who popped my back on a picnic table at an airport after I complained about a hard parachute opening.  It was alright but I likened the experience to popping my knuckles.  After that, I wrote off chiropractors as something I didn't need.  Over the last month, however, I have learned that I was completely wrong about what they do and how helpful they can be.

I developed some serious pain in my left ankle at some point in the middle of the summer.  I didn't remember a specific event to cause the pain but it felt like I had rolled or sprained it.  I probably should have taken a break immediately and let it heal up but I was feeling under prepared for the race I had signed up and paid for, and it was quickly approaching, so I didn't want to take any time off.  I pushed through it.  Runners hate to admit injury.  After a few weeks the ankle pain subsided but I started to develop some issues with the muscle which runs along the bottom of the foot.  In retrospect, I think I changed my foot strike to alleviate the ankle pain and as a result I put extra strain on a different part of my foot.

The pain wasn't debilitating by any means, though.  It was one of those nagging background noises that with enough concentration and diversion you can almost completely forget about, but it was always there nonetheless.  I would notice it most in the mornings when the system was still cold and stiff.  Once I was up and moving around it would fade out again.  During runs it would come and go but it was always manageable.
That was until I pushed myself through the rocks at Flatrock.  31 miles of ankle jarring, pointy rocks to the soles, all day stumbling up and down hills.  I made it through the race but after I stopped running and sat in the car for a couple hours, my ankle and foot were so stiff and tender I could hardly put weight on it.  After a day or so it got a little better and I could handle riding the bike, although it hurt with every pedal stroke, but I definitely couldn't run on it.  After a week, when the ankle and heel were still too tender to run on, I had to admit something needed fixed.  And when I say fixed, I mean I needed to get online and start looking up ways to rehab it myself.  I still wasn't ready to see a doctor.
So two weeks after the race, I was exchanging texts with a long time friend of mine, Christina.  I was telling her how my foot was still too messed up to run.  I can’t remember how long we have been friends now but I met her on the drop zone.  She came out to make a first skydive and I was her tandem instructor.  She was a thrill seeker like the rest of us that lived out on the airport so she fit right in. She ended up married to one of my good friends, Joe Thomas, who was also a tandem instructor at the airport.  I like to remind Joe that even though he married her, I was the one who took Christina on her first jump.  Christina has recently taken up running so we now talk about that quite a bit.  So as I’m telling her how my foot was still jacked up and I wasn't sure what I was going to do next, she tells me she might be able to fix it.

Dr. Christina Thomas is also a chiropractor.  She recently opened up a clinic here in Springfield called Active Life Chiropractic.  Despite her being a close friend, as I am with any person in the medical community, I was immediately skeptical.  For one, it wasn't my back or neck hurting, and two, I didn't think you could pop an ankle ligament or muscle back into place.  Again, more of my lack of understanding about what a chiropractor can actually do.  But I was sick of not being able to run pain free and ready to try anything so I said why not.  Turns out chiropractors do more than crack necks and backs, much more.

Christina told me she would treat the ankle with something called the Graston Technique (in laymen’s terms it means to uncomfortably massage the site of injury with shiny metal alien probe like looking tools).  
Before the appointment I had done some Googling about Graston and it made me a little nervous for the first visit.  A lot of people described it as really irritating and some said it was seriously painful, but it would be worth it if I could be full strength again.  The easiest way to describe Graston would be to say they look for scar tissue by rubbing those tools up and down your muscles and ligaments and when they find some, they then use those tools to dig into it and break up the scar tissue.  She found several spots in the ligaments all around the ankle as well as along the bottom of my foot.  Fortunately, I didn't find too excruciating.  While I wouldn't say it felt good, it was totally bearable. She also used a cold laser all around my foot.  I’m not sure what the cold laser does but like I said, I was willing to try anything to run like normal again.

After the first treatment my ankle felt noticeably better.  I was expecting to be told to stay off of it and rest but thankfully she said moderate activity would be good for the healing process.  After the appointment I got on the bike and rode to work.  My foot was noticeably loosened up and I had improved range of motion.  The most uncomfortable part came the next morning when I woke up and it was crazy tight and sore.  By the second day after the treatment it was feeling much better and it was time for another appointment.  After 3 weeks and I think 7 appointments,  my foot was feeling better than it had in many months.  I had full range of motion back in my ankle and the muscle on the bottom of my foot was to the point I rarely thought about it.

Christina has been trying to tell me for a long time that chiropractors could play a role in keeping athletes healthy and moving more, but her words never made it past my preconceived notion that chiropractors were just witch doctors for unhealthy whiplash victims.  I stand corrected!  I managed 145 miles on the bike and 18 miles on foot this week and my foot feels better than it has all summer.  So next time I might not wait so long to admit I’m injured.  It might be faster to just go back and see if Active Life Chiropractic has any more of that witch doctor voodoo for me.   Thanks, Dr. Christina!


  1. I, too, was a skeptic about chiropractic. After I hurt my lower back during a fatality accident investigation on I-44, I tried traditional disc injections. It helped..but the pain returned.

    When my wife and I moved to Illinois, I finally went to a local chiropractor..and boy, did it make a difference! I always thought chiropractors would keep you coming back for more. But after about 8 treatments, I was pretty much pain free. That, and my hottub did wonders!

    My local chiropractor went out of business. I am good friends with Christina as well. I had just come back from Iraq this summer and my back was hurting from the most uncomfortable bedding we had over there. She adjusted me, and TADA! So much better!

    Being back in Afghanistan..I'm looking forward to some of that voodoo magic as well :)

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  3. You’re not alone, Jim! There are also some people out there who find chiropractic care dubious, but soon found out that it’s more than just healing your back pain. I’m glad you gave it a try, and was satisfied with the results. Chiropractic care is highly recommended for athletes like you. In fact, a lot of famous athletes undergo regular chiropractic care. #Willow Laflamme

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  5. Anyone would hesitate to try something for the first time, especially if they base their judgment on other people's experience. The smart thing to do is always try it for yourself. I am glad you did with chiropractic care. If you haven't tried it, it would have been a lifelong regret.

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