Monday, April 28, 2008

Bras Are Bad for Your Health

(Or, never wear an underwire bra to the chiropractor)

As I wrote my last blog, I've only been seeing this new chiropractor for a few visits, and from past experience I know that it takes a while to develop a working relationship with the body care worker. Especially a chiropractor, because you spend such a small amount of time with him or her at each visit. Snap, snap, and you're done.

The first couple of visits he did gentle, manual manipulation. But I've been curious about this machine that he uses called a ProAdjuster. When it's used on you, it looks like you're sitting in a typical massage chair, and the chiropractor uses an implement that looks like a large tuning fork, and using computerized models, he adjusts your back with a series of pulses coming from the tines of the fork, and supposedly, this works to put the spine back into alignment without upsetting the surrounding musculature. My father goes to this chiropractor, and uses this machine and finds it very helpful.

So after my first couple of visits, to "get my feet wet" so to speak, I wanted to try sitting in the chair.

The first visit was odd. When you're outside of the treatment room (the treatment rooms are closed off only by hospital type curtains, so you hear everything) and someone is being adjusted, it sounds like either very loud manual typewriting, or the rapid fire of a nail gun. Being under this gun, I felt like I was being gently jackhammered. But I believe in giving any kind of treatment at least a couple of tries (my PT always says to try things three times, but I have less patience), as sometimes it gets better, and I don't want to give up on anything that might offer long-term benefits just because of a bad first experience.

But the second time I felt like I was being less-gently jackhammered, and I was good and sore for about five days afterward.

It was back to manual treatments for me.

And that's how we proceeded. The first one back on the table went smoothly. The second, I came in feeling like my sacrum was all jammed up and twisted, and I knew that I needed an adjustment. After his usual stretching me around, it was clear to him to that we had to be a more aggressive this time, and he positioned me on my side in order to do a "standard" adjustment. This was not his bread-and-butter preference for treatment for me, as he didn't like to do this kind of twisting adjustment on people who've had disk problems (although my physical therapist contends that this is perfectly safe), and he said he would do it "once in a blue moon" when it was clear that I needed it.

So anyway, back to me on my side on his table. He positioned my legs around and got me ready and started to push on my hips to do the adjustment. When he hit with enough force to get the release, I felt this wonking pain in my ribs, and realized that my elbow had been pinned beneath my rib cage, and between my elbow and my rib cage was the underwire of my bra. I think I laughed and groaned at the same time, because of the pain, and because it was such a ridiculous "side-effect".

He asked me if I was all right and that the time I thought I was. But he was very quick to tell me that we got a really great release just at the point where I needed it. Which I apparently failed to notice, being distracted by my underwire's attempt to become a part of my rib cage.

Three days later, I'm still having pain. I've talked to a couple of people who have had broken ribs, and from what they said, if I had one, I would know it. This one only hurts when I cough or sneeze or laugh too loud, or when I turn over onto my side. Unfortunately, I'm in the midst of my allergy season, and on Saturday, I would alternate sneezing and swearing.

Hopefully, this is only some kind of muscle or bone bruise and will get better on its own. But let this be a warning to you ladies: take care where you wear your underwire.

It could be dangerous.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

There Ought to Be a Protocol for This

Since last fall, I've been seeing a massage therapist who specializes in myofascial release and realignment, particularly a type called structural integration (which always sounded to me like he was in the business of building bridges). The fascia is the bag of membranes that holds our muscles, ligaments and tendons together, and through accidents, poor posture and other trauma can become twisted and knotted, resulting in chronic pain and limited range of motion. Our aim was to go past what I was doing in physical therapy and make me more flexible, and integrate the use of my muscles against gravity (the technical explanation), or, basically, get me to the point where I could bend down and pick things up and get back to where I was before my back injury.

He is a soft-spoken man, very professional, very focused, and very good. I've seen so many body care workers that I can almost tell immediately, just from the touch of their hands on my body, if I can trust them or not. Marilyn, my late former massage therapist, was like this. As was my physical therapist. And so was this guy. His office space is clean, and open, and sparse. The treatment room consists of a sheet-covered rigid massage table, a bench, and a hook on the wall. A fan spirals overhead, into a white skylight. His personal self is just as minimalist - a white oxford shirt left untucked over jeans, clean-shaven, slender, hair cut close to his scalp.

He didn't like to say much during our sessions -- said he didn't like extraneous conversation -- so I kept my usual chatter to myself, and reserved any speech for technical questions and anatomy lessons (which he was very eager to give, like he'd been waiting for someone to ask.). When he gave me explanations about anatomy -- many of them involving how intricate the human body is and how everything is connected to everything else -- he tended to keep it in medical terms, speaking quickly in that soft voice of his, and often I had to ask him to repeat himself. I would nod along as he spoke, understanding bits and pieces and then more bits and pieces and then almost all of it. I tried to be in the moment during all of our sessions, absorbing what he was doing, and at times, just watching him work, with complete focus. At one point he apologized for talking in such a technical manner, but then I told him that I actually did understand everything he was saying. And this got me one of the few smiles that I ever saw on his face. And I'm all about trying to make people smile. I have to deal with enough serious crap in my life, so it's important to me that my medical team have a sense of humor. It's kind of been my test for everybody that I ever met. If I could make them laugh, then I'd know if they were human, and if any kind of relationship we had would go any further. Getting my physical therapist to laugh is easy. Getting this guy to laugh felt like one of my greatest achievements. I mean, during the course of our professional encounters, as part of the way he had to do the massage on me, we must've looked like some kind of combination of limbs or a clothed Kama Sutra position or like we were playing some bizarre game of Twister. Yes, it was all above board and professional and clinical, but come on. It's so ridiculous you just have to laugh, somewhere, sometime.

I went to him for a good few months, once a week, for hour and a half sessions. And during this time, while he had his hands, knuckles and elbows all over me (some releases need greater leverage), we knew virtually nothing about each other as people. I mean, guys who've gotten not nearly as far have had to buy me dinner first. It just seems so bizarre.

Anyhow, the sort of therapy that he did with me was never designed to be something that you do forever. An offshoot of Rolfing, it was designed to be done in a series of 10-15 weekly sessions, then stopped, and followed up on six months later.

That's for the average person, and because my body is a virtual cash cow for any kind of physical therapist, I had to go to him a little longer. But the time did come for us to have "the discussion." I expected this, and we both kind of came to it at the same time. We worked out a plan where we'd stretch the visits out to two weeks, then three weeks, then once a month, then whenever I needed him.

But a few weeks ago, we reached a wall. I was doing all of the movement exercises that he asked of me, working on my flexibility, working on integrating my muscles together, but even with all that, fibromyalgia at times speaks with its own voice, its own demands. It can grab onto a group of muscles and not let go. I would go to him one week with the same pain in my butt -- for lack of a more descriptive word -- and he would work on loosening all the fascia all around it and it would feel better for a little while, but then the next visit, it was still there.

We were going in circles. At that point -- I always seem to recognize that point, when what I'm doing isn't working, when I keep doing the same thing and expecting different results -- I decided to give chiropractic a try. After all, if one muscle is always annoyed, there could be some kind of nerve impingement involved, or a trigger point, or something that might benefit from having one bone moved away from another.

I told him about all this at our next visit. And he nodded, and said in that quiet voice that he didn't want to muddy the waters, that I was already spending enough money , and perhaps he should just back away for a while so I can see if this protocol would work. And I got this twisting feeling in the pit of my stomach, like I was back in high school and he was breaking up with me. I was already having an emotional kind of day -- with my raging hormones this happens fairly frequently -- and now I had to fight the urge to cry. He wrote a name down on the back of his business card and pushed it across his minimalist glass desk. It was the name of a guy in Manhattan he rarely referred anyone to except for special cases (meaning, I gathered, people he couldn't help any longer). He did the same thing that this guy did, except this one was more of an osteopath, and he said that he might be able to fix what I had with only one visit (which I sincerely doubted). Not only was he breaking up with me, but he was pimping me over to someone else. At least that's what it felt like to me.

I left his office, walked down the long flight of stairs to the street, and exited into blaring sunshine which made me feel a little queasy, and off-center. I felt rootless, homeless, cast adrift. Dammit, I thought, why do I let myself get so attached to these people?

Later on, when I shook some sense back into my head and put this back into perspective, I puzzled over why I have such abandonment issues. Seeing a body worker means putting yourself into a professional relationship. Unless it's something ongoing, like your doctor, your dentist, or your hair stylist, the relationship is going to end at some point. And that's a good thing, because either it means that you're better, or you realize that this person can't help you and you're moving on to someone who might be able to.

About a week passed, and it didn't bother me as much. I was getting chiropractic treatments, and the two of us were starting to feel each other out, so to speak.

Then I ran into my minimalist structural integrationist in the health food store. He was in the vitamin aisle, balancing a baby on his hip. She was dressed in a yellow checkered sunsuit with a matching bonnet.

I didn't even know that he had a baby. In fact, I sort of had the feeling that he was gay. Nothing specific that I could point to, just a sort of feeling. (Not that there's anything wrong with that). And hey, just because you're holding onto a baby doesn't mean you're heterosexual.

I said hello, and he said hello, and I said some other innocuous greeting-type-thing that people say, then the professional veil went over his face and he moved on. I would never know if this was his baby. He could've said, "Oh, hi, this is April, and we're just out getting a few things. Boy, it's hard to find anything in this aisle." Or something like that. And I continued on my way, and he continued on his, and we passed each other again in the produce aisle, and he said, "well, have a nice day," and left. End of conversation.

And I just stood there, staring after him. It didn't seem right. This man had had his hands all over my body. We'd been twisted up together like pretzels, so close that I could, during several sessions, smell the tobacco on a shirt (the only clue I had that he was a smoker) Yes, it was all professional and clinical. I know that we'd only entered into a professional relationship and outside of the office, he only owed me so much, actually, technically, nothing at all. But still. I felt like he owned me a few more words.

Even if it was only introduced me to his child. I would've liked to know her name.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Going Green or Going Crazy?

I've been spending the last week or so doing research for a web article about toxic chemicals in cosmetics. We've already heard about the prescription drugs in the water, the plastics leaching from baby bottles, and this is going to be the next new thing. Apparently there's a lot of buzzing about it in some of the minor press avenues, but it hasn't really hit the mainstream yet.

The big deal is that from cradle to grave, everything that you slather on your body is chock full of chemicals that the FDA does not have to approve as safe. What they basically do, as with tainted meat, poisoned gluten in dog food, and "questionable" medications coming from other countries, is either wait until people get sick or even die to issue a recall and a warning. And still, the recalls can only be voluntary.

The main chemicals that I'm researching are parabens, which are used as preservatives, and phthalates (pronouced "thalates"), a plastic-derived ingredient which can hide in cosmetics as "fragrance."

A small study was done a few years back that showed that parabens have been found in breast tissue. Unfortunately, the study was not large enough or comprehensive enough to show a strong link between parabens and breast cancer, but women who are survivors have been encouraged to use products that do not contain parabens. And some savvy cosmetics manufacturers, sniffing this trend in the wind, have removed parabens from the products altogether, so they can print in large letters on their packaging that they are "paraben free," and look like they are some kind of green heroes, even though those products came in plastic bottles, and probably have all kinds of other chemicals in them that nobody knows about yet.

The phthalates are more insidious. Like the BPAs, the chemicals that are in the news because they are leaching out of baby bottles and are being banned in Canada, phthalates are used to make plastics more flexible. They are also used to make fragrances linger longer, (hence the FDA's allowing them to hide phthalates under the word "fragrance") and they are also used in lipsticks. Several studies have shown that phthalates mess with your hormonal system, especially when used on children and when they are passed on to developing fetuses. Male fetuses can be feminized, and many tests have highlighted the anatomical differences showing up in babies who have had this exposure. And these babies grow up to make more babies. Tests have also shown that babies upon whom certain lotions and creams have been used have tested positive for phthalates in their urine.

The powers that be (for example, the manufacturers of these products, the FDA, and the American Chemical Association) claim that these products are used in such minute amounts that they can be called "safe." But the problem is not single exposure. The problem is that the average woman uses about 16 different products on her body every day, totaling an average of 168 different chemicals, some of which do not have to be named. It's this lifetime of exposure that we don't know about.

And might not know about until people start getting sick.

After all, people once used to think that cigarettes were safe, too.

If you want more information, check out the Environmental Working Group . Or check the safety of your cosmetics at a database they've set up.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Just having that kind of day...

"Take my kibble! Take my catnip!" Just LEAVE ME ALONE!!"

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Something to sharpen your creative edge

I found this in Writers Digests' "101 Best Websites for Writers." Give it a try... what you come up with may surprise you.

let me know if you come up with any good ones. My favorite was "Middle children slept beneath the radar."

Friday, April 11, 2008

Weekend fun...

I couldn't resist pointing you toward this. Enjoy. But don't put anyone's eye out...