Woo versus Science: Back Pain

I have a bulging L5 disc, which has caused me immense pain since the start of 2009. I’ve tried several methods to alleviate it, which I’ll compare and contrast below.


My first choice was a chiropractor fellow in Lamar. Now, I knew beforehand that chiropractors were quacks. In every article about chiropractic, however, there is this disclaimer that goes like this:

“Chiropractors are goofballs; but they may be beneficial if you have back pain.”

I took that disclaimer to heart and tried chiropractic out. After a few months of treatment, I feel confident in saying that that disclaimer is wrong wrong wrong. Chiropractors are not good for your back!

All this guy did was put electrodes on my back for 15 minutes, and then came in and cracked my back. Sometimes this got rid of the pain for several hours, other times it lasted only 30 minutes. He ordered an x-ray but reported nothing wrong with it; when I was x-rayed later by a real doctor, they told me what my problem was.

And! This guy was as expensive as a real doctor!

Chiropractors are quacks, period. Do not go to them for any reason, especially for back pain. Go see a real doctor.


CONS: Any benefits will last only an hour or so. He may have even done more damage to my back. Huge waste of money and time.

Chiropractors get -9000 points.

Some off-the-clock massage therapist I shanghaied in the park.

One of the cool things about being friends with a massage therapist is free massages.

PROS: Free, lasts the rest of the day, happy ending jokes.

CONS: Bug bites from lying face down on the grass, happy ending jokes.

Free massages in the park get 6 points.

Physical therapy

After the chiropractor, I decided to do what I should have done in the first place, and saw a real doctor. Right out the gate, I was told I probably have a bulging disc. An x-ray, MRI and appointment with a back specialist later, I was enrolled in physical therapy at Barton County Memorial Hospital. Turns out, all I need to do is strengthen my core muscles.

You want miracles, forget the church, go to a hospital instead. 30 minutes of exercise obliterates my pain for days.

CONS: Expensive. I’ll save you cash and tell you: if your lower back hurts and you suspect a bulging disc, do core exercises.

PROS: The only treatment that actually works!

Physical therapy and straight science gets 1,000,000 points.

Prayer performed by super nice fresh-faced youth

And now, a very special postscript:

I was walking around on Third Thursday with a friend, and we came across “Free Spiritual Readings.” I slapped my palm on the table and demanded my future be read. Ah, but this isn’t a palm reading, they said, they were going to read my heart.

The “Free Spiritual Readings,” are basically New Agey, hip, Christian cold readings. New Agey Christians are fun, because they’re so great to debate. Anyway, I was told I was adventurous, outspoken and unorganized. There’s NO WAY she could have guessed that!…unless you looked at how I behaved or how I dressed or how I interjected smart-arse rebuttals whenever she made a claim about the spirit world.

At one point, I mentioned how I couldn’t sit down for long periods of time because of my back (I hadn’t been exercising). This piece of small talk was to set some very curious events in motion. When I sat down to crack my back a little, she asked if the guy in the corner could pray for my disc.

Why not? I asked myself. I’ll just be put on a prayer list. No biggy.

I agreed. The next thing I knew the guy had me standing up, with his hand on my middle back (not the lower), asking Jesus to fix this L5 disc RIGHT NOW!

When he was done, I told him I didn’t feel any difference. So he recruited two more youth as I lay flat on the ground, and repeated the process. I was lying on the sidewalk, with hands on my back, and a crowd encircling me asking Jesus, beseechingly but firmly, to fix my back RIGHT NOW!

I stood back up, and nope, I was still out of whack. A dreadlocked dude stroked his chin, like a doctor, and wondered if maybe one of my legs was longer then the other. The doctors at the physical therapy offices never noticed anything but I always suspected my right leg was a smidge shorter than my left. I sat back in the chair, they aligned my legs and EUREKA! “Your left leg is a little shorter than your right.”

“Actually, it’s my right I thought was short.”

A quick re-alignment and EUREKA! “Your right leg is a little shorter than your left!” Hooray for scientific rigor!

They then proceeded to magic my leg into an instantaneous growth spurt. I shoddily captured this part on my cell phone camera. Watch (or rather listen since you can’t see anything) my leg grow!

When they were done, my back still hurt, but they informed me that indeed, my leg had grown. They saw it happen. Um.

Hey scientists! Missouri bongo players have discovered a radical new way of regenerating human tissue at a rapid rate! You might want to research that.

CONS: Doesn’t work, awkward as hell.

PROS: Makes a good story afterward.

Laying of hands gets 0 working points, 10 fun points.


5 Responses to “Woo versus Science: Back Pain”

  1. 1 Calvinist of the Ozarks
    August 21, 2010 at 12:50 am

    How do you manage to run into these strange people? You must be a weirdo magnet.

    Oh well, I can’t type a comment now, the last 10 minutes of Wifeswap is on and I have a bag of Candy Corn Pumpkins calling my name.

  2. August 21, 2010 at 1:33 am

    Great work. A chiropractor can be helpful with some things, but they grossly over-exaggerate their worth. My back is messed up, and I had a few months worth of tension built up in an aggregated area of muscle and a “realignment” fixed this. Now I just have a friend do it every few months to keep it from getting to bad. Nothing special, and nothing a person would have to go to school for, but heh, I’m sure the faith healer went to med school too, and that actualy made you leg grow, because they SAW it grow. Get in touch with your own body and you would know your leg is different!

    • August 21, 2010 at 9:09 am

      Randy, someone told me they also lengthened your leg at the park. Apparently the “leg lengthening” trick is a staple of their act the world over. James Randi dedicates some ink to it in The Faith Healers; we need to read that book.

      Does anyone in the group have an amputated finger or something? We should make a return trip. If their powers are genuine, they should at least be able to make a crude substitute of a working digit. Or! Get some guy who wants his *other* leg elongated, ifyouknowwhatimean…

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