Monday, September 25, 2006

A visit to the chiropractor

I went to a chiropractor today. I wasn't in immense pain or anything, but my lower back was still bothering me, and my biggest fear is that it will only get worse. Now like I said before, I am very skeptical of chiropractics in general. But I figured that it should be my first stop, to see if there really is anything serious going on in my back. So I made an appointment with an office recommended to me by several coworkers.

I was told to go to their website to fill out some forms ahead of time, and then when I arrived, I filled out even more. I was familiar with some of them, because I'd seen them in my days as a disability claims administrator. One of them had me rate on a scale of 1 to 5 how how impaired my functionality is during different tasks, such as driving or walking. I could not justify circling any number higher than 1 on all the tasks.

After I turned my forms in, I was taken back to meet with a "financial consultant," who goes over the payment options. I could pay cash (hoping for a reimbursement by Geico), go through my own health insurance which would necessitate pre-authorization and 7 more pages of paperwork, or just get a free consultation today until Geico approves my treatment. I opted for the free consultation.

I was taken to a small room where an assistant asked me questions about my pain and explained the basics of subluxation. She was friendly enough, but I could tell she'd given the speech hundreds of times. Then I was taken into a separate room (not private) where the doctor came in to examine me. He started off by saying that he will let me know if there's anything he can do to help me, and if not, he'll refer me to the correct type of doctor. (Three guesses on his conclusion!) He had me stand up and then started recording his comments while the assistant took notes. He fired away all his observations so fast that it made me wonder if he was really evaluating me or just working from memorization. And of course none of it made sense to me. I did catch something about one shoulder being higher than the other, and one hip being higher than the other. At one point he poked my lower left back and it really hurt, whereas when he poked my lower right back a) it didn't hurt, but b) he didn't poke it nearly as hard. (Mind you, I had just told the assistant exactly where I was hurting.) Afterwards he said oh-so-reassuringly, "You're in the right place, we can help you," and he also said, "Are you sure your pain level is just at a 1? Let me test your pain threshhold." That's not generally something you want to test, now is it? He put his hands around my skull and applied pressure, asking me to rate the "pain" on a scale of 1-5. I said a 1, because it was barely anything. He said, "Oh yeah, you definitely have a high tolerance for pain, most people say that's a 3." At first I was kinda proud, but then I thought, "There's no WAY that was a valid test!"

After he left, I was taken back to the small room, and I asked what exactly the doctor had found wrong with me. The assistant was clearly avoiding my question because her answer was, "You have issues that chiropractics can help." I don't know if they hid the specifics of my condition from me because it was a free consultation, or what. But I didn't like the feeling of them knowing what's wrong with me, but keeping me in the dark.

I was given tips on how to help my back feel better (surprising: no heat packs!) and the assistant had me try on a lumbar support thingie that she wrapped around me and secured with velcro. It felt like a corset, and it didn't really make my back feel better. If anything, it was worse, because it was pushing on the sore spot. So I took it off, and that was about it. The assistant encouraged me to attend the free spinal care class tomorrow at 6, and sent me on my way. She said she would try to get authorization from Geico to proceed with the treatment, which would entail X-rays and such.

I don't know if I'll go back or not. I mean, it feels a little smarmy, but there's not much of an alternative. An MD would just prescribe pain pills because the next step up (which is certainly not warranted in my current condition) would be injections or surgery. So I understand the appeal of chiropractics, which involves no drugs and no knives, as a kind of interim solution. Clearly the service fills a need, because the office was quite busy. But I can't help but feel it is just a money-making factory where the doctors suck you in just to collect payments from insurance companies. Seriously, the doctor looked just like the Acura car salesman I met on Saturday!


  1. That is a very interesting story indeed...I have always had mixed feelings about chiros. Smarmy is a good word to describe what you experienced.

    Sorry we got cut off yesterday. We had no phone or internet for the rest of the day and my cell phone only charges when it feels like it. I LOVE modern technology!! Someone is coming on Wednesday to check things out with the internet. We will have to continue catching up... much to tell you.

  2. Oh no! That sounds smarmy, indeed. I've heard people rave about chiropractors and I've often been tempted when my back goes out but eventually it gets better so I haven't taken that step. Some are probably better than others but for my intents and purposes, a massage works just fine. :)

  3. This is not in defense of or to "hang them out to dry" but perhaps you should check out what it takes to become a chiropractor. Far be it for me to even know which is better, chiropractory or medicine. It's possible if you went to a MD with the complaint of back pain that he/she would prescribe a MRI, possibly medication and possibly physical therapy. I have heard in the past that manipulations were good for certain people. Of course, the choice is yours. One thing I do know, however, is that it's a good thing that Geico will know that you are not 100% and they need to know this.

    Don't have to sign off on this, you know who this is!

  4. You know, I think some are good and some are bad. But it sounds as though you do need some kind of therapy. You could start yourself, with gentle stretching. I went to a chiropractor here for my leg and she really freed up my back and hips with massages. Nothing aggressive. I'll need to go to someone else for the knee but she was a good place to start. Luckily, here all I paid for 10 sessions was 88 euros-the rest was covered by the health system.