During the World war, a genial old physician who was the head of the department of orthopedic surgery in our camp, used to show me how he treated backache due to sacro-iliac dislocation. He put the patient on a hard table, gave him a light anesthetic, and then gave the legs and spine such a pull and a twist as I have never seen.
“What does that do?” he was asked one day.
He paused a long time, very deliberately, before he replied. “When the kitchen clock stops,” he drawled in answer, “I take it up and shake it and it usually starts running again. I don’t know exactly what I do to the clock but I know from experience that it works. I don’t know exactly what I do to these backs when I pull them, either, but I know from experience that they usually get well.”
That seems to be about the best wisdom on the subject. Manipulative gymnastics and massage are the mainstays of the treatment of backache. In spite of my old friend’s disclaimer of purposefulness in his manipulations, it is well to have it done by someone who knows what he is aboutan expert masseur or orthopedic surgeon.
Most of my friends who have backache appear to go to osteopoaths. This is probably due to the fact that most regular physicians do not take enough interest in massage to give them thorough treatment. It must be confessed that the osteopaths, while I do not believe one bit in their general theory of the causation of disease, give my friends such a thorough “manipulation” that they get relief.
Sometimes harm is done, however, in those cases which need rest rather than movement. Strapping the back with adhesive plaster or fitting a brace, or even putting the patient in a plaster cast will, in proper cases, often give instant relief. The decision whether rest or manipulation should be used is one for expert judgment.
Heat is still a sovereign remedy for the pain of lumbago. The old domestic way of applying heat was for mother to make the patient lie face down, spread a layer of flannel over the painful area and iron it with an iron as hot as the sufferer could stand it. If the sufferer gets burned, as occasionally happens, blame mother, not the doctor. But really don’t blame anyone, as the burn consists of a spot of counter irritation and will probably drive away the pain.
Modern medical science has invented far more effective methods of using heat by electricity, especially the form called diathermy.