Dr. Backcracker

I had a mysterious pain in my shoulder a few months ago, one whose origin I could not determine. It certainly wasn’t from doing any strenuous exercise, as the most active thing I generally do is sneezing, which seems entirely non-shoulder-related.

So I went to a chiropractor. He told me I needed some chiropractic work done. I suspect this may have been because he was a chiropractor. If I had gone to an optometrist, he probably would have suggested getting new eyeglasses for my shoulder.

Anyway, I went ahead with the chiropractic work, despite the protests of many people, not the least of which was my insurance company. My policy said that chiropractic work was covered; the insurance company, therefore, saw no reason why they should cover it. Far be it from an insurance company to actual pay for something they say they’ll pay for. “Logic” and “honesty” are not two of the insurance company’s greatest friends; in fact, I do not believe they are even on speaking terms.

Also protesting against my visiting the chiropractor were friends who insisted it was pure quackery. I have never understood the charges against chiropractors, saying they’re not real doctors and can’t actually help you. To me, chiropracting makes more sense than medication, because it’s tangible: My muscles are in the wrong places, so the chiropractor puts them back where they go. A regular doctor gives you some pills, which somehow, mysteriously, make the pain go away while simultaneously making you either nauseated or sleepy (or both, as also happens when I watch an Adam Sandler movie). The chiropractic stuff is easier for me to grasp.

Speaking of grasping, that’s pretty much how chiropracting works: The guy, whose name was Dr. Backcracker, would grab hold of my shoulder, yank it around in a thousand directions, some of which even cartoon characters would be incapable of duplicating, and then send me on my way, in worse pain than when I came in. Eventually, this pain would subside, and I’d think, “Hey, that feels better!” When what I meant was, it just feels better than it did when he was pulling on it. My shoulder still hurt.

After a few weeks of this, Dr. Backcracker determined that perhaps some deep-tissue massage therapy would help. If you are unfamiliar with this practice, please do not be fooled by the “massage” part of it, which would lead you to believe that buxom Swedish women are involved. In truth, there are no Swedish women, nor women of any Scandinavian origin. Instead, it was a burly fellow named Dr. Muscleripper, and deep-tissue massage therapy is unpleasant for more reasons than just the lack of Swedish blondes. Basically, the therapist slices open your back, physically removes the muscles from your body, pounds them with a tack hammer, then shoves most of them back inside, leaving some as scraps for the dog to chew on (all chiropractic clinics are equipped with a dog). It’s a guerilla-style attack on your muscles, roughly equivalent to a dentist removing your tooth by shoving a live grenade up your nose.

The massage therapy was pretty effective, though, in that I no longer have any money. (The insurance company never even PRETENDED to cover that.) It also made the pain in my shoulder go away, for which I am grateful. I feel pretty good now. In fact, it only hurts when I sneeze.

This makes two weeks in a row in which I a) mention my health problems, and b) rip on Adam Sandler. An eerie coincidence.

Nearly three years after this was published, I received an angry e-mail from someone:

hey snidey,
chiropractors are the greatest thing around. They about mental and physical health instead of drugs. And they are covered by health insurance, so if your company doesn't cover it, your insurance must blow. And you're a dork for not admitting your back feels better, cuz you know it does. And for that reason, you'll never get any fans, cuz you don't tell the truth. This was my first time at your site, looking up chiropractic research, but trust me I won't return. My brother is a chiropractor, and I wish I could be too, because everyday he helps save peoples lives by helping them get through daily chronic ailments, from little children to elderly people. You blow...

I replied thus:

Hmm. Well, your e-mail was really smart and well-written and everything, but I think you missed some stuff. Like the part in the column where I SAID I liked chiropractic because it's about health instead of drugs:

"I have never understood the charges against chiropractors, saying they're not real doctors and can't actually help you. To me, chiropracting makes more sense than medication, because it's tangible: My muscles are in the wrong places, so the chiropractor puts them back where they go."

There's also the part where I said the chiropractor recommended a massage therapist, and that the massage therapist helped. ("It ... made the pain in my shoulder go away.")

As for the health insurance, take my word for it, not all insurance covers it. Anyway, if they don't, that's nothing to get defensive about, is it? I'm not slamming chiropractors by mentioning some insurance companies don't cover them; if anything, I'm slamming insurance companies.

I'm glad your brother's a chiropractor and I'm glad you're really, really smart and don't get defensive about stupid things.