News

Cook: It’s tough getting old: jelly doughnuts and herniated discs

Taken from the Chattanooga Times Free Press
October 22, 2017

By David Cook

Looking back, I should have seen it coming.

But I can’t look back right now. I can barely even turn around.

It started this spring. We moved houses, and I carried and stacked boxes like Tetris. The new house had water issues, so I was crawling around like a coal miner, digging French drains that seemed more like moats.

All the while, my lower back began to nag, these little sighs of pain.

Hush, I whispered. Have some more Advil.

On the ledger balance of lumbar health, I was overdrawn. Soon, I’d pay up.

“The bill always came,” wrote Hemingway.

It happened two weeks ago. We’d gone camping, and I arrived at the campground vertical, standing on my own two feet. I stoked the fire. Uncorked the wine. Inflated the air mattress. (“You camp lazy,” my daughter said.)

The next day, I was horizontal.

“Can’t walk,” I moaned.

It was excruciating, this fire-rope of back-and-leg pain. For days, I was completely bed-bound, unable to walk. One MRI later, the doctor delivered the news.

“You have a protruding disc,” she said.

Nestled between our vertebrae are discs, sort of like little spinal pillows. Under stress, these discs can swell outward, leaning heavily against the fiber of hypersensitive nerves in our spine. (Hence the leg and calf pain). Sometimes, the pillow breaks. The discs protrude. Bulge. Herniate.

“Like jelly out of a doughnut,” the doc continued.

I would hear this analogy a lot — a bulging disc is like jelly out of a doughnut — and, my friends, it’s simply not true. Jelly doughnuts are pleasant things, like rainbows and kittens. A more appropriate analogy? Lava out of a volcano. Tar out of the pits of hell.

Apparently, many of us 40-something men have jelly-doughnut back. Upon hearing of my woes, they came out of the woodwork. (Slowly, of course, while bending at the knees.)

“I dropped the soap in the shower,” one friend said. “Couldn’t walk for days.”

“I sneezed,” my best bud remembered. “Wasn’t the same for a year.”

I heard one story of a man who coughed. That’s it. Just a cough. And he couldn’t walk for three weeks.

“You have a herniated disc,” the doctor said. “You may need surgery.”

The word “herniated” is Greek for “getting old.” I wish I had some dramatic, manly story about my injury — power lifting at the gym, fighting off wolves — but the tipping point could have happened while licking a stamp. Or lacing up my therapeutic Rockports. Who knows.

It’s been excruciating. (It will soon heal, the doc promises.) The Bible says not to covet my neighbor’s ass, but what about his healthy spine? I was training for a half-marathon. Now, walking to the mailbox is victory.

The pain.

Won’t.

Stop.

“Approach this with kindness,” one wise friend counseled. “Let your back become your teacher.”

Oh, it has.

This pain has increased my empathy for those who suffer from chronic pain. And I now understand how opioid addiction — just make the pain stop — can happen so easily, so innocently.

This pain has taught me the clear connection between immobility and depression.

This pain has reminded me that the body — our gloriously, wonderfully complex bodies — will one day wither and die. Injury is a dress rehearsal for death, teaching what I forget on my healthy days: that all things deteriorate and age.

This pain has taught me gratitude. For small things, like walking.

And big things. Like family and friends.

(Allow me some specific thank-yous: to my English Department colleagues, Dr. Stephen Dreskin and his amazing Tennessee Valley Pain Management staff, Donna Pearson, Dr. Matt Bernard, Dr. Jason Robertson, Debbie Hill, everyone at the Center for Sports Medicine and Orthopedics; most of all, the magnificent and incomparable Jean Rogers and Deeann Cain.)

And allow me a deep bow.

To those of you who are also suffering.

Because life hurts.

Look around. I see friends with cancer. Parkinson’s. Going through divorce. Addiction. Loneliness. One friend’s due for a spinal fusion. All of this makes herniated discs look like pancakes and syrup.

Know the only bipartisan issue in America? Pain management. We aren’t the body politic. We’re the body broken.

This injury has reminded me of our truest job: to love one another out of the pain.

I didn’t understand that so well when I was, you know, younger and less herniated.

Looking back, I should have seen it coming.

“Dad,” my son said a few months ago, looking over at me. “You have crumbs in your ear hair.”

“I have what?” I asked.

“Crumbs,” he repeated. “In your ear hair.”

At least it wasn’t jelly.

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook at DavidCookTFP.


Dr. Jason Rogers on ThisNThat


How You Can Prevent Overuse Injuries: Tennis Elbow

tennis elbowThe most common injuries among athletes are overuse injuries. These injuries result from repetitive movement of a muscle or joint. Without proper stretching or rest, the muscle can become torn or inflamed.

Common overuse injuries: tennis elbow

Caused by the repetitive motions of the wrist and elbow, tennis elbow is often self-diagnosable because of the sharp pain that occurs on the outside of the athlete’s elbow. Other symptoms of tennis elbow include:

  • Elbow stiffness, especially in the morning
  • Gradually increasing elbow pain
  • Elbow pain increases when squeezing an object

Despite the name of the injury, tennis elbow can happen to athletes in any sport. It’s important that you consult with a sports medicine doctor or physical therapist if you’re experiencing elbow pain you think may be related to your sport.

A physical therapist is trained to help you recover from injuries, illnesses, and surgeries. Therefore, visiting a physical therapy clinic in addition to a sports medicine clinic may be in your best interest.

Preventing tennis elbow

As with all sports, it’s important to know how to prevent injuries before you sustain them. Overuse injuries are most often caused by incorrect technique or poor stretching. The following are some of the best ways you can help to prevent overuse injuries like tennis elbow:

  • Talk to your coach and ask for a rundown on the correct movements and techniques for your sport. Your coach is there to help you learn and to help you stay safe on the court or field. They’ll be happy to help.
  • Stretching before and after training or a game. This will help to smooth the blood flow in your muscles and to warm them up.
  • Using cold compression after training or a game. A cold compress helps to reduce inflammation of the muscles and tendons.
  • Use the right equipment for your body and ability. It may be tempting to want to use certain equipment you’re not quite ready for in order to increase your body strength and ability, but if the equipment isn’t appropriate for your body size it can result in muscular tears or injury.

Overuse injuries can be incredibly painful and may result in the need to sit out from your sport while you recover. However, recovery is necessary in order for you to receive proper care.


Dr. Mitchell on This n That


Dr. Jason Rogers Joins CSMO!

Announcing the addition of Dr. Jason Rogers
to our staff effective October 1, 2017.

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Dr. Rogers specializes in Total Hip Replacement, Total Knee Replacement, Total Hip Revision Surgery, Total Knee Revision Surgery, Partial Knee Replacement, Partial Hip Replacement, Hip and Knee Revision Surgery, Orthopaedic Hip and Knee Trauma, Anterior Hip Replacement and General Orthopaedics.

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Join us for the Ground Breaking of CSMO, Ringgold!

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CSMO Welcomes Bruce Weeks, PA-C!

CSMO Welcomes Bruce Weeks, PA-C!

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Bruce completed his training in Physician Assistant studies at Jefferson College of Health Sciences in Roanoke, Virginia in 2004. With over 13 years of experience as a physician assistant in the Chattanooga and North Georgia region, he joined CSMO in June of 2017. He enjoys spending time with his wife, Monica and their two children, Noah and Emma.


Reduce Your Back Pain With These Common Exercises

lower back rehabilitation exercisesResting may seem like the obvious choice for treating lower back pain. However, physical activity can offer you the most benefits to help you recover. We don’t mean that you should go back on the field or court if you’re an athlete — rather, the lower back rehabilitation exercises most often recommended by sports medicine doctors and physical therapists. Read more


Common Causes of Back Injury and How You Can Prevent It

sports rehabilitation facilityIn the United States, back pain is the second most common cause for a visit to the doctor’s office. It’s also one of the most common injuries among athletes. Injuries among athletes are to be expected considering the repetitive movements and physical contact with other players. Read more


Three Common Baseball Injuries To Be On the Lookout For

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