I had just met my physical therapist, and it’s like she’d known me my whole life

(The picture above is what I assume to be a chemistry experiment, probably involving necromancy. Which means I think she might be dead. I don’t know. I found it in a free stock photo library.)

I recently started seeing a physical therapist for my back problems. I’ve put up with the various issues my whole life, but it’s time to finally face the fact that these symptoms are not normal:

– Yearly shoulder paralysis that lasts several days and renders me unable to function as a human being

– Constant upper and lower back pain that varies from day to day

– One of the only thing that has helped for years is to lay on my stomach, press my upper body up with my arms like half of me is doing a pushup, and hold there for a bit. My spine cracks a little, I feel everything stretching out, and then I start to get lightheaded. Sometimes to the point where I am pretty much on the verge of passing out, only I’ve done it so many times that I can stay in control of my body while I’m passing out so I don’t hurt myself.

– I sometimes do it on the edge of a chair by draping my back over it and cracking it, making me pretty much black out. Again, done it so many times that I can keep my leg muscles intact so I don’t collapse to the ground.- Sometimes I have a co-worker (the heavier the better) literally stand on my back and crack my entire spine while I’m laying on the floor. As soon as they crack the right spot, I cry out in pain, “tap out” on the floor like a wrestler, then lay there for a minute or so. They ask me if I’m fine, and I assure them this is all normal.

– Sometimes I have a co-worker (the heavier the better) literally stand on my back and crack my entire spine while I’m laying on the floor. As soon as they crack the right spot, I cry out in pain, “tap out” on the floor like a wrestler, then lay there for a minute or so. They ask me if I’m fine, and I assure them this is all normal.

Well, it’s not.

And it’s been getting worse in the last several months, to the point where I needed a cane for an entire week while I was in Washington DC earlier this year.

America, as a country, seems to be looking to every other developed nation with excellent healthcare for advice on what exactly not to do. So I don’t have any expectations that I’ll be in any position to get this shit fixed when I’m out of the military. Time to start taking advantage of that free healthcare while I’ve still got it. Plus I’m pretty sure the military has made it worse, in that my job is entirely desk work.

My physical therapist informed me that what I’m doing with my back to “help” it is called “hyperextension.” If you Google it, you’ll get a very specific exercise done on some sort of backwards chair thing, but the concept is to stretch your body beyond what’s normal.

She went into an explanation that was very helpful for me, but would bore you. The short version is that ‘extensions’ do help my skeletal, muscular, and nervous system increase movement, space, and blood flow, the three things nerves love. However, ‘hyperextensions’ might help movement and blood flow, but are probably constricting the areas around my nerves, reducing the ‘space’ part of the equation. This is likely leading to a lot of the strange things my muscles and nerves have been doing in the last few months.

She showed me about six different stretching exercises to do over the next few weeks, NONE of which I’ve done yet because I’m a terrible patient.

While she was showing me some of them:

Me “So, now that I understand the difference between ‘extension’ and ‘hyperextension,’ I can tell you that, while the hyperextensions are what really helps, especially quickly, the regular extensions work as well, especially over a period of about 10-30 minutes. One of those is actually something I do already occasionally.”

Therapist “Yes, a regular extension for a period of time is going to be much better for your body. It gives your body time to adjust to the position, and your muscles time to relax.”

Me “Then why do hyperextensions…” [I kinda trailed off, not knowing exactly what I was asking.]

Therapist “Why do they feel so good?”

Me “Yeah!”

Therapist “Because you’re a drug addict.”

Me [laughs] “What do you mean?”

She explained that the lightheadedness that I feel, and the pain that I don’t feel, is because the body is releasing hormones in response to the situation. If you stretch a muscle too far, you feel a bit of pain. But pain is just a nervous system’s way of telling you to stop.

During a ‘hyperextension’ the body releases endorphins to combat the extreme pain that is likely to follow due to flexing your body beyond what it’s supposed to be.

Therapist “Those endorphins can even be a bit addictive. It’s essentially a drug. Some people access the medicine cabinet their heads through meditation, or through sports, or dangerous activity. You do it by stretching your body beyond what it should be doing. Just because you are that flexible with your back doesn’t mean it’s healthy for your ligaments and cartilage.”

She had me down to a science.

Me “That… makes a lot of sense.”

And now that I understand what’s happening, I do it even more. Like I said, I’m pretty much the worst patient. In fact, I did it just now after writing this story, almost passed out, and felt like I could touch the universe for a brief moment in time.