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How One Chiropractor Is Treating The Ailments Taking A Backseat During The Pandemic

Hills Spinal Health
Creative Commons
Got back pain? You're not alone. According to Mayo Clinic, it's a leading cause of disability worldwide.

To combat medical resource shortages, public health officials asked people to postpone or cancel elective care. But what happens when that measure creates another health crisis of its own? As part of our @WORK series, we take a closer look at the consequences of delaying care with Oakland-based Chiropractor Dr. Carrie Ousley.

Click the play button above to listen to the story.

My friends and I sometimes joke about feeling like we’re in our 80s, even though we’re really only in our late twenties. It’s mostly an exaggeration — you know, whenever we seem to be forgetting a lot of things. But for me, it’s usually due to back pain. 

You see, while I spend plenty of time in front of a computer working on audio pieces, I also started serving part time in a restaurant at the very beginning of 2020. And that work can be rough on the body. 

Thankfully, I found a chiropractor in my neighborhood who also takes my insurance.

"When we're young and we don't have treatment, the body can heal and maybe the pain is less, but later on we can have issues."

Dr. Carrie Ousley has been providing chiropractic care to Oakland residents since 2007. But her connection to this type of treatment goes all the way back to her youth.

“I was in a really severe car accident when I was 17, where my jaw was broken in a couple of places. My arm was broken and I went to a chiropractor, and that really helped with just getting me moving better and pain relief.”

Dr. Ousley says it's hard to predict what would have happened if she didn't get that care. People heal in different ways and at different speeds. But she does think that skipping out on rehabilitative treatments and preventative care could have lasting impacts down the road. 

"When we're young and we don't have treatment, the body can heal and maybe the pain is less, but later on we can have issues," she says. "So maybe I would have more chronic neck or back pain today. Maybe more limited range of motion, things like that."

"A lot of people didn't realize that chiropractic was considered essential in that we were open."

And, if her accident happened during COVID-19, it’s likely she may have received more infrequent chiropractic care, or perhaps none at all. Some of that has to do with a misunderstanding of the field. 

"A lot of people didn't realize that chiropractic was considered essential in that we were open. And then, you know, some people are like, ‘Oh, I try to hold out.’” Dr. Ousley worries about the long term effects of delaying care. 

"People are sitting even in their bed, working from home or on their couch. A lot of people thought, ‘Oh, you know, I can get by with working like this for a few weeks.’ But then as this has gone on and they're realizing like, ‘Oh, I'm not going back to my office anytime soon.’ And all of a sudden, it's been nine months and their back is in a spasm, or they're starting to get chronic, repetitive issues from it. Then their back pain got so bad that they're like, ‘I was kind of forced to come in.’”

Dr. Ousley is also concerned that people may be postponing treatment because they don’t think the pain associated with muscles and other soft tissues are as serious as, say, the pain that comes with a broken bone. “Even insurance companies look at broken bones as more serious sometimes. But broken bones usually heal up, you know, usually the longest is six weeks’ time. Whereas, like a soft tissue injury can take months to heal and even cause a lot of chronic issues," she says. "Where I had my car accident, even though I had treatment afterwards, those muscles were just never quite a hundred percent afterwards.”

She’s not just worried about people neglecting an injury. She’s also concerned about new injuries caused by people taking care into their own hands.

“I had a patient once who came in because he was at a family Thanksgiving and his son-in-law had put him on the floor and was trying to pop his back. Come to find out, he had actually fractured his rib because the gentleman was older and he had some osteoporosis. And so there's definitely ways that you can hurt yourself.”

She thinks some of the problem may stem from the availability of thousands of do-it-yourself videos on the internet. 

“I had a patient and, you know, I went through his initial workup and I adjusted him and he was like, ‘Well, was that it?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah.’ He's like, ‘What? You're not going to yank my neck with a towel?’ And I said, ‘Oh, you've been watching YouTube, huh?’"

In fact, my partner is one of those YouTube chiro-fanatics. And after a few painful attempts at cracking my back, I’m thinking that maybe it’s a job best left to the professionals. 

Carla Esteves is a 2020-2021 Audio Academy Fellow with KALW. Her reporting interests include environmental justice, housing insecurity, climate change, business and economy.