About 4 years ago, I started getting headaches. Searing, brutal headaches that actually made banging my head in to a wall feel soothing and healing (I tried it, several times). I had scans of my brain, I tried numerous migraine medications, and I blamed everything from green tea to dairy. The headaches were unrelenting, and often would last for days. Finally I asked my dentist what he thought about it. He sent me to a TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorder specialist who told me to stop chewing my food and to hold a popsicle stick in between my front teeth for two 15 minute periods a day.
I sought out another opinion. I was told to try yoga and not stress so much.
So I finally went to the guy who knows jaw drama better than anyone, the reconstructive surgeon for the Philadelphia Flyers. He sent me to get another scan, this time not of my brain but of my facial bones. He discovered that the clenching and grinding I was doing in my sleep had actually caused the cartilage to slip from out between my jaw joint and my skull. Because there was no protection or cushion anymore, each night was effectively a lot of repetitive bone-on-bone grinding (God, that sounds so much dirtier than I intended).
So it was surgery time! I spent two weeks blissfully drugged while Tai brought me smoothies and frappuccinos. I did weeks of physical therapy with a specialist who looked like Sean Penn and loved to talk about Bruce Springsteen. I started wearing an industrial strength nightguard to sleep. And I was healed!
Only I wasn’t.
The headaches were certainly less frequent, but they were still happening. And now I had a chronic, dull ache in my jaw that no amount of Akaishi facial massage could address. I made an appointment with a fancy “integrative dentist” about 45 minutes away. But before I actually got a chance to see her, my friend Jessica (you know her as my makeover buddy) started talking about chiropractors. She’s had Atlas-level back issues, and while she was skeptical of chiropractic for herself, she got me thinking. The spine…namely the cervical spine…connected to the skull…
People say that chiropractic is mere quackery, and that chiropractors get you addicted to adjustments so that they can go on and buy yachts and Ferraris, but a.) I love quackery and b.) I’d gladly just outright buy my chiropractor a yacht thanks to the relief he’s given me.
The way an adjustment generally works is as follows: the chiropractor surveys the alignment of your spine, as well as the way you stand, walk, move your head from side to side, etc. Over time, the theory goes, the vertebrae in your spine can shift ever subtly, and the disks between the vertebrate can swell, creating what’s known as a subluxation. This then causes a domino effect, where gradually the wayward vertebrate may irritate surrounding nerves, soft tissues, and muscles. If you are used to walking or sleeping a certain way, it can almost lock the subluxation into place, eventually causing crazy amounts of pain. For me, the subluxations were mostly, as suspected, in my cervical spine, the area at the very top of the spine that runs along the neck and into the skull. My clenching and grinding was in fact causing me to sleep with my head in a very wonky, contorted position month after month and year after year, doing awful things to my poor vertebrae. So while the cartilage issue was valid, it was still only half the story.
I couldn’t stop laughing during my first adjustment. I’m a ticklish person, and it was just plain weird. At one point, my chiropractor lifted my head (I was lying on my back), told me to relax, and twisted my neck swiftly to one side. I heard the vertebrate snapping, crackling, and popping, and was sure I’d be paralyzed from the neck down. Yet I was still hysterically, almost drunkenly, laughing. Then he did the other side, before having me flip onto my belly to work on the smaller inconsistencies in my middle and lower spines. The sounds were equally terrifying, but oh, so satisfying. I was so out of whack that first day that he also brought out what’s known as an activator tool, something that feels like an air gun or a staple gun being shot all over the back. In a good way.
Now, I still leave every session feeling as if my head is a light and airy balloon, no longer a bowling ball. I feel grounded and balanced. And while I can’t say my TMJ headaches are completely gone, they now happen every few months instead of several times a week. I’m sleeping so much better. And I’m aware of my posture in a totally new way.
Now that I’m pregnant, however, adjustments have taken on a whole new significance. I can still lay prone, thanks to a table that opens up and lets my belly fall through. Now it’s more about refocusing my center of gravity and relieving some of the pressure the twins are causing all around my whole pelvic girdle and lower back.
And it’s as delightful as ever.