Monday, September 6, 2010


A week ago Sunday I hurt my back. I was sitting in my kitchen reading the newspaper and I sat up. WHAACK! I felt the pain like an electric shock and I froze. This my body’s instinctive reaction to that sort of hurt. Additional movement might make it worse. I have two friends with horror stories of back operations, one of whom tried to tell me, helpfully, that her troubles had started exactly the same way, so I put my fingers in my ears and went LA LA LA LA because I do believe that sometimes hearing something can make it happen.

Pain, according to the National Institute of Health, “is a feeling triggered in the nervous system. Pain may be sharp or dull. It may come and go, or it may be constant.
“Pain can be helpful. Without pain, you might seriously hurt yourself without knowing it, or you might not realize you have a medical problem that needs treatment. Once you take care of the problem, pain usually goes away.

“Back pain is one of the most common medical problems, affecting 8 out of 10 people at some point during their lives. Back pain can range from a dull, constant ache to a sudden, sharp pain. Acute back pain comes on suddenly and usually lasts from a few days to a few weeks.”

It turns out most people will have at least one backache in their life and the most common area affected is the low back, because the low back supports most of the body's weight.

Low back pain is the number two reason that Americans see their doctor -- second only to colds and flus.

In my case, I was probably sitting in one position for too long, but the NIH website gives a plethora of reasons for the pain, including:

• to the spine from osteoporosis

• Muscle spasm (very tense muscles that remain contracted)

• Ruptured or herniated disk

• Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal)

• Spine curvatures

• Strain or tears to the muscles or ligaments supporting the back

• An abnormal aortic aneurysm that is leaking

• Arthritis conditionsCancer that involves the spine

• Fibromyalgia

• Infection of the spine

• Kidney infection or kidney stones

• Problems related to pregnancy

• Medical conditions that affect the female reproductive organs.

I decided it was safe to disregard the last two possible sources of the pain.

The first few days I walked gingerly. A friend gave a car-seat cushion and that helped. I found that staying in any one position too long aggravated any movement, so the more I moved the better I felt. I was told to use ice; no, heat; no, ice. I used the latter. In my fridge I found a bag of frozen peas dating from the last millennia. It fit perfectly in the small of my back bringing sweet, if numbing, relief.

I guess we’re fortunate our bodies do not remember pain all that well, otherwise we would live our lives ensconced in soft surfaces, and no woman would ever have a second child. Of course, if we did remember pain, we also might drive more carefully, not have war, and never have to watch Last Year at Marienbad again.

Because here’s the bottom line. Peanuts’s Lucy is right: Pain hurts.

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