A week or so ago, I posted a piece about modern human hips and some of the ingredients that have lead so many of us to tightness and tension in that area. It’s a subject deserving of an entire book or documentary series perhaps but I had a few questions about it, so here is a sort of “Part two”. (For your info, the post was on Facebook, but I edited it a bit and added it as a blog here on this website titled “It’s all in the Hips” (link at the bottom).
Anyway, after posting, somebody asked me why it was that I had had an X-ray. Interestingly, before I was even asked that question, I had been considering my previous post and was keen to follow it up with a post regarding the usefulness/uselessness of pathology when it comes to “diagnosing” chronic and annoying pain conditions that, for the most part, are bound to have very little, if any, underlying pathology whatsoever. (Pathology being the steps we take to confirm/prove and/or rule out/disprove certain medical conditions, such as scans, X-rays, blood tests etc)
Now the reason I had an X-ray 15 odd years ago was because I had “suddenly” (was it sudden?) ended up with terrible pain in my wrists, forearms and shoulders that was exacerbated (and had its roots in), the job I was doing which involved sitting at a desk all day, five days a week. I had returned to work after a holiday and we had all moved to a new work area. With half a million emails to go through, including (apparently) one from HR, but having no real idea about ergonomics (no body niggles in my life thus far), I didn’t even consider adjusting the desk which was probably set up for your average size man, not a teeny, tiny person like me. It’s also possible that my chair had also seen better days.
I won’t go into the ins and outs, suffice to say, using my arms and hands became agony and I was sent off to doctors and for X-rays; standard procedure and protocol for work injuries. I am not sure why since I think it was pretty obvious I had not broken any bones. However, I did discover that I had some calcification at T12, a minor loss of curve to my neck, the lopsided hips and a slight scoliosis.
In other words, nothing on that X-ray had anything to do with what I was experiencing and the current limits to my physical ability. My ego took a real battering. I had been one of the strongest and most able-bodied attendees in my advanced yoga class. I enjoyed practising handstands and arm-balances and all kinds of challenges and now, I could barely move or do anything. It was the one thing that I loved and looked forward to with a passion because it had proved to be a real anchor that seemed to have kept me from falling off the edge at times. Woe is me!!! RSI also became my new, favourite subject and it’s possible I became the most boring person in whole world there for a time. Maybe some people even crossed the road when they saw me coming? On the positive side, I took a deep, breath, swallowed my pride and continued to show up to yoga each week regardless of the fact I felt completely useless compared to my former “self”. I realise now that humble pie can often be very, very good for you! I also learnt that when it comes to chronic pain and “syndromes”, medical science has very limited offerings. There are opinions a-plenty, but nobody can fix you.
The reality is that my X-rays were “normal” being that, sadly perhaps, that kind of pathology is very “normal” for a 34 year old Westerner from a sitting culture who has an office job. In fact, when discussing the results, I was told by the doctor (probably same age as me) that they were pretty good and his spine was far worse thanks to years of footy. Think about this hypothetically though: If I had not had those X-rays at that time, but perhaps a bit later on in my life, say, 10 years ago in 2009 when I really hurt my lower back for the first time ever due to all the lifting and carrying I was doing with a young child, is it possible that everybody involved in “diagnosis”, including me, may have concluded my back issue was quite clearly due to all those obvious wonky bits? I think it’s most definitely possible and this is why I believe that unless you have a clear and obvious injury such as an fracture or break, it is important to take X-rays with a grain of salt or just don’t bother having them at all since they are not very good for you. Put simply, they are often meaningless in the scheme of things.
A few years ago, I was attending one of my yoga teacher’s, Simon Borg-Olivier’s anatomy and physiology workshops and we were discussing the spine and being shown some amazingly clear images of a skeleton using modern technological scanning. Oh my word, the state of this spine! There was calcification in lots of the joints, spurs here and there and some areas where things had quite obviously started to fuse. We were all in shock and wondering what the hey had happened to this poor bloke until Simon confirmed that actually, the spine was his! What we were looking at was the result of years of post-injury spinal trauma (Simon has had many injuries including two broken arms and a broken neck). These images were a few years old though and he was confident his spine would look better now on a scan because of his ongoing research and work and renewed depth of knowledge. Every day, he used (uses) particular yoga related practises to relieve body stiffness – he also suffers from Sherman’s Disease – and to reduce further spinal degeneration.
Yep, he looks like he’s doing okay….
So, my point is, that scans and X-rays may reveal things that have absolutely no bearing on anything day-to-day, but when we are feeling a certain way, like I was, desperately miserable, frightened of not being able to earn money, and in pain with my RSI – it’s very easy to become attached to what we feel and what we think we see and turn it into “our story”. Case in point, I had a lady years ago at yoga who was still doing a similar desk job as I had done. She always felt stiff in her upper body and decided not to return to class when she had some X-rays come back looking similar to mine – that is with calcification at T12. Instead of continuing to manage a fairly normal, modern condition, one that’s caused by chairs and hours of unnatural immobility, with her weekly yoga class, she totally freaked out and left, lest it should get any worse (highly unlikely!) I also have a friend who discovered her scoliosis when she had an X-ray after a rugby ball hit her on the head and she suffered severe back trauma. For months, all she could say unhappily in relation to her injury was, “I’ve got a scoliosis…”. Yes, and it had probably been there for yonks.
Back to me….
The injury I had was chronic. It may have felt as if it came out of the blue, but chronic niggles and injuries, including tennis elbow and frozen shoulder, rarely do. There are many ingredients involved and you can compare the resulting sharp pain to that final, tiny ant or grain of sand that has caused the seesaw to shift position. Aside from lack of movement and micro-tasks that cause tension and therefore limited blood flow to a particular area causing stagnancy in the muscles, one of the ingredients is of course, emotional and mental stress whether caused by life events or tendency to perfectionism. Certainly it should never be discounted. Forget the new desk, work area and dodgy chair, I had had loads of stuff I had no control over go on in my life over the past few years when the pain “suddenly” occurred. I had lost my Dad, my best friend and three grandparents. I went through a divorce, was made redundant and had gone through a year of feeling chronically fatigued. I had taken on a big mortgage by myself, my job was just a dull job, and I was worried about the future. Do you think it’s possible I may have been holding on to a bit of tension in my body when I turned up for work every day? I’d say it’s likely!
These days of course, I have learned and understand a lot more about the body and mind. I’ve seen that connection time and time again and I wouldn’t even bother wasting my time heading to a doctor for a sore back, hip, shoulder or arm unless it was to eliminate something more serious. It is what it is and a doctor or an X-ray is unlikely to help or fix the problem even if there is “something identifiable”. What can a doctor do apart from offer you pain medication? Work through it by changing postural habits and rethinking some of things you do and how you do them. Learn to relax and let go of your high standards or stuff that doesn’t matter. Have some body treatments, move, nourish yourself and always move and stretch (gently). But never give up yoga. It’s good for your head and it’s great for your body.