Back Pain 101, or how to injure yourself while putting on your pants

For 47 years (save one humbling incident a decade ago), I was was among those fortunate folks who had only a passing acquaintance with back pain. Friends, relatives and co-workers have complained about various back ailments for years. I always tried to tell them I understood, that, as a former president might have said, “I feel your pain.”

But honestly, I didn’t understand. Not a bit.

Last Wednesday, that all changed. Boy, did it change.

One moment, I was putting on my pants, preparing to head to work. The next, my lower back was in full spasm, and I was surprised to find that I was on my belly, flat on the floor.

But I’m a trooper. Or foolish. Or something like that. I had to get kids to school. And since I’d already made it to the car (putting on socks and shoes took a little bit of help), I figured I might as well head into the office. It couldn’t get any worse, I reasoned.

Let me assure you, I soon learned how wrong I was. And I can tell you exactly where I was when that point finally took hold: On the floor. Next to the printer. With a newsroom full of colleagues wondering whether they should laugh, cry, or call an ambulance.

We settled on laughing. Painfully.

Shortly after that, my bosses sent me home. I’d like to think it was because I was in pain. Upon further review (as they say in the NFL), I realize I might have been ejected from the office because I told everyone within earshot that I’d wouldn’t have been in my predicament if I’d simply chosen to show up at the office without pants.

I had, as far as I knew, history’s first Putting-On-Pants injury. A quick note: In the news business, we are discouraged from referring to anything as “the first,” lest we have to correct ourselves.Therefore, I wasn’t particularly surprised, over the coming days, to learn that at least two other friends had indeed thrown out their backs the exact same way.

The difference between them and me: They had enough sense not to broadcast their own Putting-On-Pants mishaps. Or to write a blog about it. And I didn’t. Or don’t.

On that Wednesday, it took three co-workers about 20 minutes to get me downstairs, into the parking lot, and into a car. They drove me home. I went to bed.

And there I lay, for 20 hours. Eventually, I could stand …. nearly. I could walk (as long as my strides were no longer than six inches). And finally, I broke down and sought professional help.

Now, a disclosure that I hope doesn’t offend anybody: I am (or, more correctly, was) not among those who think (OK, thought) very highly of chiropractic medicine. I didn’t disapprove of its existence, mind you. I just thought it wasn’t for me.

After some spirited cajoling from my co-workers — so spirited, in fact, that I was fairly certain they must be getting a back-cracker kickback — I finally agreed to seek help from a chiropractor that they’d had good luck with.

After all, it wasn’t as if I’d fallen off a roof, or been hit by a car, or had tried to haul a 200-pound deer out of the woods (if you know my deer-hunting history, you’ll realize that I expect you to be laughing right now). I had put on my pants. And my back had rebelled.

So, on Friday, I hobbled into the chiropractor’s office. She quizzed me. She listened to my reservations. She put me on a table with too many moving parts, which alarmed me more than a little bit.

Then she got to work.

Ten minutes later, I walked out of the office with a smile on my face. In full stride. With no pain. And today, after a second visit, she gave me a more-or-less clean bill of health. Just four days after being unable to get out of bed, I’m now allowed to “resume all normal activities.”

Skiing is allowed (though she cautioned against moguls). Running? Sure.

But no matter what my new favorite medical professional says, there’s still an activity that I’ll tackle with great caution. I’d avoid it if I could. Alas, I can’t.

For some reason, my bosses still demand that I wear pants to work.

John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.