I’m crowd sourcing my back problem

November 20, 2016

2016 has been a particularly rough year for many reasons, including but not limited to, the loss of many of my idols (Bowie and Prince among others), a death in the family, a rotting pumpkin this country elected to the presidency… and my stupid back. I’ve lamented about my spine in previous entries, but it’s just so, so annoying. It’s hard not to write about.

Being physically active isn’t something I do to maintain weight or out of other health related necessity. Running, swimming and cycling (and the occasional strength training session) is something I do out of pure joy. The reward of athletics far outweighs any of its inconveniences. Being active is how I maintain clarity, stay positive and give my life meaning. The problem is when I can’t be a whirling dervish… well, I haven’t quite figured this out yet.

As it stands, I am fucked. The back attack is back with a vengeance.

I am suuuuuper cranky as I can’t do anything active beyond walking to the T station to get to work. Unfortunately this has left me with a lot of time to freak out.

I had a nerve block scheduled this past week but at the very last moment my lovely health insurance denied the authorization, delaying the procedure for five weeks. So, I am potentially out of commission for MONTHS. I wasn’t able to see much of my friends during Ironman training; additionally, I am wrapping up the year by not seeing much of my friends because I can’t leave my rickety Victorian apartment.

And then it occurred to me that maybe I need to take my problem to the wilds of the interwebs.

As a designer that paid off college student loan debt (over the course of a few decades) and has spent my career continuously honing my craft, I’m routinely insulted at seeing my profession cheapened by websites offering $5 logos or, worse, corporations crowd-sourcing design. What’s crowd sourcing? It’s essentially asking professionals to provide free service thinly veiled as “exposure and experience” in lieu of compensation. (For example, Starbucks crowd-sourced the design of their Christmas cups this year.) And then it occurred to me, why just logos and design? Anything could be potentially crowd-sourced! This is America! Free market economy, baby! 

created “by YOU!”

So listen up doctors! Trust me, this is going to be great for your resume! I’ve spent a lot of time and money on a problem that has yet to be solved. My back. If you can solve a riddle that no one has been able to figure out for the past 20 years, you will be some kind of medical genius! Think of the accolades! The kudos! Who wouldn’t want you as part of their practice? You are getting real-world experience! You should be thanking ME!

However, there is a catch! I am only going to pay the candidate that provides the most conclusive, comprehensive and completely 100% proven solution that rids me of this plague forever. (It would seem the going rate is $5.) Now I know what you are thinking, “Well, of course I will need you to come into my office to complete a comprehensive examination.” Well, unfortunately, that’s not how this type of thing works. See, I just give you some information and you give me the solution. We never meet. Also, in the event the first solution isn’t satisfactory I get at least two revisions.

But don’t worry! I am going to give you all of the information you need. First, my favorite, a tap of the knee to test my reflexes–yeah that’s fine. Touching the toes? Yeah, that’s tough. Twisting to the side, etc., “not painful, but not comfortable.” Here’s the MRI:


You can view the full MRI in action here.

Frequently asked questions to help you get started:

“Well, you’re not getting any younger.” True, I am in my 40’s but this has been going on routinely since my 20’s.

“Maybe you are not active enough?” I regularly train and compete in both running and triathlon endurance based races (I just completed my first Ironman and qualified for the Boston Marathon.)

“Maybe you are too active and should just stick to slow jogging.” My training and athletic endeavors have actually reduced the amount of episodes I have experienced.

“Maybe your core is weak?” Core workouts are a routine component of my workouts. Gratuitous core picture:

summer 2016 – my core, demonstrative purposes only

“Have you tried yoga?” Yes, it is a routine component of my stretching regimen.

“Have you tried acupuncture?” I would be really surprised if a doctor if asked me this, but yes. I live in Jamaica Plain, it’s almost mandatory.

“PT?” I have an amazing physical therapist that I see on a regular basis. (Thank you Trader Joe’s insurance.)

“Have you tried injections?” Yep. I have had the following injected: L4/L5 disc, facet joints and SI joints.

“Have you seen a chiropractor?” Two, this year.

“Massage?” Multiple.

“Have you taken anything for it?” Um, what? Like, drugs? Ibuprofen? Naproxen? Wine? Yes.

 Some History

As I mentioned this has been going on for a long, long time. The fact that things have been relatively stable up until this past year has made things just that much more frustrating. In 2015 I had exactly zero back issues despite carrying a heavy load of triathlons and road races including the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC.

2016 has been a complete shit show (in general). Although I trained and completed a half and full Ironman it wasn’t without it’s challenges; however, I persevered and even a few days after my race I was back to my regular running routine. No problems. And then about month ago I was putting on my socks and became suddenly paralyzed.

This year alone I have seen two spine surgeons, my GP, two massage therapists, my physical therapist, an acupuncturist and two chiropractors. To put this into perspective that’s five doctors for a grand total of nine medical professionals. For me. Just for my back.

Check the MRI.

My spine health is stable. In fact, this most recent MRI was compared to images taken three years prior and exactly zero change has taken place. In three years, no change in spine health. “Some normal disc degeneration and onset of arthritis.” I was told a sample size of 100 persons could reveal much, much worse and said sample size could never report any pain. No evidence of nerve impingement. Nothing.

Here’s some more shit for your diagnosis:

No pain shooting down the leg.

It’s not a muscle thing. There is zero muscle pain. It feels like a nerve thing. But who fucking knows.


It’s as if there is a ball bearing floating around my lumbar region occasionally protruding crazy spikes. It’s never one specific area. The ball bearing moves all around until it decides to protrude it’s spikes. And then it impairs all movement. And then, the ball bearing hibernates for a year, or six months, or whenever it decides to rear its ugly head.

Let me walk you though this once more…

My back issue did not happen during an Ironman. My back issue didn’t happen during a ridiculous training session. It never does. Shit went awry as I was putting on a sock. “Maybe you twisted in some kind of weird way while you were donning your socks.” No. No I wasn’t. I was putting on a fucking sock while sitting on my fucking sofa. I was not break-dancing while putting my sock on. I was not competing in a fancy competitive sock-off. I was not socking off. I was doing nothing… nothing, other than just putting on a sock and consequently could not move. The shit I do during a race is emphatically a million times more intensive. Explain. 

Biking 100 miles? Fine. Running a marathon directly after? Fine. Running a few days later? Fine. PUTTING ON A FUCKING SOCK–IMMOBILE. Really?!

How does that happen? What’s going on? I hate to get all Kanye CAPS LOCK but HOW IS IT POSSIBLE NO MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL CAN EXPLAIN THIS PHENOMENON. I know, for fact, I am not the only one that experiences back pain in this way.

So, think you got this? Let me know where to send the $5.

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1 Comment

  • Reply JP November 21, 2016 at 7:17 pm

    LOL. Great post. My sister. A super active acrobat and dancer “shook up” her spine issues with vibration therapy. There is whole body vibration and there is also a special one (Her doctor is in Montreal) that vibrates each disc individually via a vibration gun similar to those novelty vibration sticks for massages.

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