Putting my back into it

Anyone remember the case of British Chiropractic Association vs Simon Singh? The former were suing the latter because they alleged his critique of the claims they made for chiropractic had crossed the line into defamation. Personally I was for Simon Singh, on the grounds that (a) the plaintiffs were big enough to take it and (b) science is not determined by running to the courts boo-hooing because the nasty man said something rude. If you’re rich enough to hire enough lawyers to sue the other guy into the ground, that’s probably a good sign that you don’t actually need to.

Let me be clear that I also dismiss some of chiropractic’s more outlandish claims,and I’m not alone. But in so far as the clear and obvious benefit of having your internal support structure correctly positioned so that all the wear and tear on your body is distributed evenly goes, I’ve no doubt about it at all, and I speak from experience.

This weekend was a significant anniversary for me. On 17 March 2002 I took the train down to London to visit the London Book Fair at Olympia. I only remember the exact date because it was a friend’s birthday. I took the Tube from Paddington to Earls Court and then Earls Court to Olympia. We came to a halt, the doors opened, I stood up.

I felt something snap painlessly at the base of my spine – it was as if someone had twanged my belt for a laugh. And then – oh dear Lord, then the pain struck.

I’d had bad backs before, on and off, always set off by small things, usually picking something up. They would last no more than a day, maybe two, and I could get through them. This was worse than any of those, but precisely because I’d got through them before, I did the worst thing possible – I went on with my intended business at the book fair. That wouldn’t have been so bad if I could have just got into a decent stride for a decent time to stretch those twanging muscles. At the London Book fair, one does not stride. And so it got worse and worse and worse.

By the end of the day, when I was back at Paddington and asking the assistant in the health shop there if she had anything that could possibly help – any kind of ointment to rub on – I was almost in tears. I came even closer to tears when she admitted that no, she didn’t. On the train back home I found that if I screwed my coat up into a ball, wedged it into the small of my back and leaned against, it, it gave me a modicum of support that made life a little more bearable. Somehow I got home and lay as flat as I could for the next few days. Costing myself money, because at the time I was freelancing and being paid by the hour.

Finally I went to a chiropractor. He prodded, poked, massaged and jumped up and down on me to make things go creak and crack. He xrayed me and I could barely believe what I saw. My whole pelvis was visibly out of alignment, and had been for years. Thank you so bloody much, ten years of playing compulsory rugby every winter term. Thank you so much, second row. Thank you so much, everyone who didn’t believe me when I told them about my aches and pains!

I’ve been going back at regular intervals ever since and life is so much better. There have been recurrences of back ache, though never quite so bad as the Big One and usually when I really should have known better – picking something up at an awkward angle and twisting at the same time, or (most embarrassingly) within thirty seconds of starting a game of squash with my stepson-to-be. At 10a.m. one Saturday morning, thus writing off the entire weekend at Center Parcs. Other aches and pains, though, seem to have been banished forever. One that I frequently got throughout my teens was a grinding feeling in one hip or another, like something was slicing into the joint whenever I walked. Maybe something was. That’s gone, and I’ve never again got backache simply by standing around, which also had always been a problem.

No, chiropractic won’t cure my hayfever, grant me the power of telekinesis or enable me to time travel, and anyone who finds those harsh facts offensive is welcome to sue. Fortunately my chiropractor is one of the sane ones who makes no such claims, and when faced with something beyond his expertise – e.g. the strained muscle in my arm that just won’t get better – he has no hesitation in telling me to talk to a GP. But I owe him 10 considerably less painful years than I might otherwise have had and I look forward to plenty more.

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