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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

My Aching Back: Frugality and American Medicine

Funny About Money asked how I damaged my sciatic nerve. Well, about a month ago, my very neat mother was coming to visit messy me. I was attempting to get something off a high shelf so I could neaten things up, and I stretched, and I stretched, and I stretched. Finally, a taller person came to my aid. But the damage was done.

Since I am doctor-phobic, I just waited for the pain to go away. I took ibuprofin and availed myself of small quantities of Mr. FS's painkillers (which he takes for a back problem).

Finally, I could stand it no more. I burst into tears and Mr. FS said, "That's it! I am making you an appointment." So he did.

The doctor to whom I was assigned had white hair, a crinkly face, a grandfatherly mien. I told him that I was taking painkillers, but that they weren't working. "Oh," he said, "That's because you're not taking enough." He prescribed various pills. If I had taken the full regimen, I would have been taking more than 20 pills a day!

He said that if the pills didn't work, I could get physical therapy.

Mr. FS did an on-line search and found a bunch of recommended exercises that I can do at home. So I did.

The pain has returned and is now on the OTHER side. My drug-loving doctor has an appointment available tomorrow; Mr. FS's doctor is booked up for three weeks. Does this suggest that drug-lover isn't very good? It may.

Anyway, the point of all this is that the doctor never mentioned the remedy that could be done at home and is absolutely free: a series of exercises. Even though my expensive health insurance allows me to fill the prescriptions and go to physical therapy, frugal me would have appreciated a mention of the frugal choice: exercise.

Do you think I'm being too hard on the crinkly faced doctor?


Budgeting in the Fun Stuff said...

I hate medicines when I don't actually need them, so no, I think you're judgement is sound.

He should have mentioned the home exercises, especially since that is the only thing my husband's doctor recommended. The pain relievers mask the problem.

Surprisingly, my MIL's friend is a chiropractor and that along with the stretching exercises helped his pain go away.

Shelley said...

Nope, I expect better from a qualified doctor. I think I'd be looking for a younger, more up to date person. Most GPs over here tell runners 'if it hurts, don't do it'; I send people to sports injury specialists or to physiotherapists. I'm wary of chiropractors. Any speciality that says you need 'routine adjustments' (for a fee) is a bit scary in my book. 20 pills a day - ridiculous.

FB @ said...

I think he should have DEFINITELY laid out for you the plans of what you could do on your own at home.

But then again, he's a veteran doctor right? He must have been talking blue in his face for many years to many patients about losing weight & exercising to combat diabetes or to stop heart attacks, and they just come back sicker and fatter in most cases.

He's probably cynical and jaded at this point. Or, he just didn't know about it and/or believes that meds are the cure.

As for your pain in your back, here's what BF does

1. YOGA. Lots of back yoga. He has this video about this back doctor showing people what to do. You have to stretch the nerves in the back, not put strain in strange positions and to do yoga every day, 15 minutes a day consistently.

2. Avoid very soft surfaces. That really throws his back out. The back alignment gets all screwed up (one butt lower than the other, and then constantly shifting), on very soft surfaces (couches, beds, chairs)

3. Avoid bad shoes. He wears shoes similar to Birkenstocks. They help align your back as you walk and do your light exercising, and it takes the strain off your back as your heel hits the ground while you are walking. Heels are fine once in a while, but for the most part, wearing not-so-soft, slightly harder, more structured shoes is best.

4. He tries not to put on too much weight. I don't know if this applies to your back problem (he has a different one), but extra weight always puts extra pressure on your back and weighs down the nerves, which causes pinching & pain.

:( I'm so sorry about your back problem! BF has lived with his for many years, and he says he only just recently found out about the above methods 3 years ago, and is now back pain free, which is a miracle for him.

No meds.

simple in France said...

Just a question. . .did your doc ever test to find out exactly if your nerve was damaged? I ask because sometimes they kind of run on theories! I've had back problems for years (urgh). When I went to the DR here in France, she first checked that I didn't have a pinched nerve or some other kind of blockage. In the US, they gave me 2 weeks of ibuprofin, but the doctor said that IF the problem was muscular or due to inflammation that the meds could actually help heal the problem faster. . .but that was not the problem

I personally like physical therapy because they give you exercises to do at home but within the bounds of your injury. For example, for my particular problem, it was not good to do stretches and forward bends, I needed to increase strength, but a different person might need a different type of exercise.

I think PT's are a frugal option because they can teach you appropriate exercises that you can then do for life! That's what I do.

ann said...

seconding the last comment - PT *is* learning exercises to help heal your body - guided exercises on machines at the facility and learning exercises to do at home during the treatment period and after it concludes.

Velma Vex said...

Go for the physical therapy! You will learn helpful exercises you can do at home. Also consider taking some medication--not the hard stuff, necessarily, perhaps just moderate doses of Advil. Using some anti-inflammatories might help you begin to heal up and make proper exercise possible sooner.

see you there! said...

I'll chime in third on the value of a PT. I've had a sciatic nerve problem in the past. A few sessions with the PT and learning the right exercises was just the ticket.


Duchesse said...

Though well-meaning, rx for your back should be done by a qualified MD. For my massively painful back, I was seen by a physiatrist, which is a MD specialty in physical and rehabilitative medicine.

I am disturbed by Shelley's remarks; the world-famous MD I saw was at least 75.

And like her, I am extremely wary of chiropractic. The physiatrist did prescribe a course of physio for me among other treatments. The skills and attentiveness of physios vary but DIY when you are in pain is scary.

Revanche said...

Your poor back! So many reasons he might not have bothered to mention the most simple solution but it's entirely possible that he either doesn't put much credence in functional medicine or doesn't believe you'll be compliant anyway. Many docs are like that.

Then too, it's hard to work the muscles when they're screaming in pain, might have been concerned you'd hurt yourself further.

Donna said...

I bought a $35 Groupon for a chiropractic exam, X-rays if need be and a one-hour massage. Frankly, I just wanted the massage. But the chiropractor did a bunch of range-of-motion tests, X-rayed my neck and then recommended that I completely revamp my work station, get myself an ergonomic bed pillow and start a series of stretching exercises (my quads and hamstrings are tight and that's giving me backaches.
And yeah, he did some cracking noises that kind of creeped me out but have made a noticeable difference.
I wish some medicos weren't so anxious to prescribe medicines. It's my feeling that PT, yoga or whatever are a good first start, as long as it's clear there's no disc degeneration, nerve damage, etc.
Incidentally: The X-ray of my neck showed no signs of arthritis or disk degeneration. "Very Stage One, very easy to fix," he said -- starting with the pillow, the work station and the stretching. I like that better than muscle relaxants.
Oh, and thanks for leaving a comment at my Surviving and Thriving site ( You're only the second person I've ever heard say "I don't like massage." Can I have yours??? ;-)

Anonymous said...

No, I don't think you're being too hard on crinkly face. My mom and my sister both suffer from back problems, neck problems, knee problems, you name it, and they both have the same doctor who will prescribe them any manner of pain pills. The result is that neither of them are really getting any long term relief from their problems and both have what I consider to be serious addictions to prescription pain killers. It's really awful, and has changed both of their personalities. I think these doctors are way out of line to wantonly prescribe people pain pills without making sure that they are getting physical therapy or are following an exercise regimin. I've been thinking about complaining about this doctor of theirs to the state medical board for a number of years, and maybe I will...

vilkri said...

Nope, I don't think you are too hard on this guy. But I also think that the medical professions are all in cahoots with each other. Doctors like to prescribe pills, which gets the patient out of the door cheaply and makes money for pharma companies (and pharmacies), who woo doctors all the time.

Your story shows me yet again why married men live longer. They got a (good) wife who looks out for their health. I am happy for you that you have a caring wife at home!

Frugal Scholar said...

@All--Thanks everyone for all the advice. I called and asked for a referral to a physical therapist. Haven't heard back...