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September 10, 2010 / Katie

fatties in (back) pain

I’m a fatty and I’m in pain.  Lower back pain, specifically.

The first time I noticed it was about 7 1/2 years ago.  I was 21 and my mother had just died of cancer, four months after being diagnosed.  It was a very aggressive type of cancer that was caught late–she underwent virtually no treatment; straight from diagnosis to hospice in under a month.

So, I attributed the lower back pain to stress and eventually it went away.  But occasionally it would come back, making it difficult for me to stay in one position for long periods of time, or to bend over and pick something up off the ground.  Usually it would go away.  I tried to ignore it, or attribute it to stress, to avoid facing the possibility of the terror that I felt: what if my back pain is caused by being fat?  I am an apple-shape with most of my weight carried viscerally—surely that was putting undue pressure on my lower back?  I was terrified of getting the “lose weight, fatty” response from a doctor, and even more terrified that they might actually even be correct.

A couple years ago, some really heartbreaking stuff happened to me in grad school.  Perhaps I will write about that at a later date, but suffice it to say I experienced sexual harassment by another student followed by a faculty/administrative system that just wanted to “handle” me so that nothing was ever resolved and I ended up having to take a class independent study because I was starting to have panic attacks at the prospect of walking into classrooms with particular students and professors.

I experienced the worst pain I have ever experienced when that was going on, and all in my lower back.  It was to the point that I was trying not to cry sitting still in class for hours at a time.  It loosened up a bit over the course of the rest of the year, but I was still having to go to school and work on campus on an almost-daily basis so I didn’t expect it to completely get better, after all, I again attributed it to stress.

And yes, I think stress was a factor.  It just obviously was not the only factor, as you will see.

So anyway, for the past two years, the pain has cycled from a 10 to about a 2, from really inhibiting my mobillity to not having much of an effect at all.  but it has been with me ever since.  After a flare-up this summer, I finally began to feel like I had to go in and see someone.  Even if they told me it was because I was fat, I am now well-researched and know myself—weight loss cannot be a healthy goal for me, so any doctor that says “lose weight and come back in the morning, fatty mc fatterson” isn’t going to have as devastating an impact on my emotional/mental health as it would have years ago.

I still put it off and put it off though, until I ran across the recommendation for this guy, a massage therapist specializing in permanent pain reduction, that I realized that maybe I didn’t have to go to a doctor, who may or may not know what to do with me besides meds/steroids/surgery anyway, after all.  I made an appointment and saw him within a few weeks.

It turns out that I have something called “pelvic torsion.”  The pelvic bone is/was rotated relative to my spine, causing all kinds of problems.  Now it all made sense—why I could bend one way but not another, why it felt that one leg was shorter than the other, why sometimes certain positions sent me into excruciating pain.  I’ve had a handful of appointments and already feel a MAJOR difference.  I still have some pain but nowhere near what it used to be.  My flexibility is returning, and I can feel my pelvis going back to normal.

In our most recent appointment, he discovered that my pelvis had been torqued for so long that my back muscles have responded and therefore one side of my back is shortened tightly and the other is stretched too far.  He said now we will need to focus on fixing that because my pelvis is basically back in alignment now.

This is one of the reasons I get so angry about simplistic arguments about fatness causing health problems.  My fatness caused my back pain to be way worse than it needed to be, but not because TEH FAT IZ BAD! rather because my fatness caused me to ignore it, try to deal with it, and be (really, legitimately) fearful of going to a doctor about it.  Fatness is related to health problems, you will never see or hear me deny that.  But this issue is WAY more complex than, “lose weight and it’ll all be fine.”

Because as it turns out, my weight probably has nothing to do with this back pain from a causal standpoint; yet social oppression as a fat person has everything to do with me suffering in silence for so long and not seeking help for it sooner.  And rightly so—I’m not even berating myself for not going sooner.  If I had gone to a doctor about it, she probably WOULD have said “lose weight and come back in the morning.”  It’s too bad I didn’t find this massage therapist earlier is what’s too bad.  And it’s too bad that I live in a culture that requires me to be so choosy about the care professionals I find due to their ongoing prejudice-caused maltreatment in the first place.


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  1. tigerlily / Sep 10 2010 2:07 pm

    Wow! I think I have a somewhat milder version of this. At least now I know what it is called! I’ve had it since my son was born 25 yrs ago. I was told my pelvis was out of whack and to walk more and lose weight! I was way thinner then than I am now.

    I finally got someone to believe me that my leg was shorter than the other and I wear a lift in my shoe so I can walk more evenly and that has helped with my pain which is mostly in my groin. Sometimes I have back issues which I believe are related to this. I’m not sure if that’s the best thing to do or not but it is the only thing that has given me relief.

    Thanks for posting about this.

    • Katie / Sep 10 2010 2:16 pm

      you’re welcome! If you’re in Seattle, get thee hence to Mark Pearlscott! (the massage therapist I wrote about).

      Likely you’re probably not in Seattle, but there may be a massage therapist in your area who also specializes in this sort of thing. Seriously, mine was completely out of whack, and four sessions later it’s back. So you CAN get this fixed, if you can find someone who knows what they’re doing! You don’t have to just “manage it” forever :)

      • tigerlily / Sep 10 2010 2:19 pm

        Alas, I am not in Seattle. I hadn’t thought of massage therapists being able to deal with this. I will have to look into that.

  2. notblueatall / Sep 10 2010 2:22 pm

    I am so happy to hear you have found a wonderful & knowledgeable therapist! My husband is a CMT and has wowed me and my cynicism every step of the way. I can almost guarantee a regular GP would have most certainly told you to lose weight and probably would not have even looked into it too deeply. But who knows? I might actually recommend acupuncture as this has helped me greatly with back pain. I’m not into needles, but you can’t feel them, well, not all of them. I went to five branches university (a school for acupuncture) and it was mega-cheap. And fabulous! Good luck to you sweetie. So glad to read this post.

    • Katie / Sep 10 2010 2:51 pm


      Acupuncture is actually something I have considered trying but just have never done yet. If the massage alone doesn’t eradicate the pain I will consider trying acupuncture too… and also trying it for other issues too. I tend to really hold emotions in my body and I would guess that acupuncture would really help in releasing that.

  3. The WellRounded Mama / Sep 10 2010 5:29 pm

    Chiropractic is what helped me the most. I was in some minor car accidents in my 20s and while they weren’t serious enough to cause broken bones or major wounds, they did put a lot of stress on my pelvis. The 3-point restraint of a normal seatbelt means there is some degree of torque in your body in an accident and if that goes unaddressed over time, it can lead the muscles and other soft tissues to compensate, and eventually you get back pain.

    Mine didn’t really present very badly until I was pregnant and all those ligament-loosening hormones exacerbated the problem. So in pregnancy, I was in MAJOR pain and it got worse each time, esp since I was an older mom.

    I finally saw a chiropractor late in my 3rd pregnancy and WHAT a difference!! But of course, it’s not just the bones, it’s also the patterns the muscle and fascia etc. have gotten into to compensate, so it’s incredibly helpful to have massage or myo-fascial release as well. Acupuncture is excellent for loosening up muscles and helping with pain too.

    But for me, the big improvement really came from chiropractic care and THEN massage etc.

    I think multiple modalities of care really enhance the healing for many people, so check around and see what works best for YOUR body.

    • Katie / Sep 10 2010 5:36 pm

      thanks for the tip! I was kind of lumping chiropractors in with doctors in the sense of worrying that they would harp on about weight… part of what helped me go in to this massage therapist was that I scoured his website and there was NO mention of weight anywhere whatsoever.

      I think that if I need more after this, I will definitely consider chiropractors, but I need to do some research to find one who is size-positive. Even though I’ve started to finally cultivate a “fuck off” attitude about doctors who harp on about weight, I am still not in an emotional state where I am willing/able to subject myself to it…

      • Heidi / Sep 10 2010 9:24 pm

        Katie – I have a FANTASTIC chiropractor up here in Shoreline that is completely size-blind, so far as I can tell. I think she, herself is trying to lose weight, but she has never once implied to me that I should (and I only know she’s dieting because she mentioned it to my mother – she knows that weight is an off-limits topic for me).

        She is absolutely wonderful and I promise you, size would not be an issue at all.

        I would definitely like a rec for your massage therapist – I know that my own lower back and shoulders/neck/scalp would really benefit from some deep massage. What the chiro does helps the underlying issues but some of the muscle soreness needs massage, I think (and she’s suggested as much herself).

  4. Juliet / Sep 11 2010 3:23 am

    I had a doctor tell me I had plantar fasciitis due to my weight. She didn’t respond when I pointed out that I only have plantar fasciitis in my left foot, and I’m just as fat on my right foot.

    Anyway, I’ve had astonishing pain reduction from lessons in the Feldenkrais Method, which looks at bodies in some ways very similar to what you’re talking about the massage therapist doing. That therapist sounds like a real find.

  5. The WellRounded Mama / Sep 11 2010 2:55 pm

    Chiropractors don’t just work on backs; I ‘ve had help with plantar fasciitis, knee issues, and carpal tunnel via chiro too. My kids have had help with ankle and foot issues as well.

    There *are* some fat-phobic chiros out there, though, so you do have to scope them out, just as you would any other healthcare professional. Just make your position clear from early on.

    I’ve also heard good things about Feldenkrais Method, though I have never experienced it myself. There are many types of bodywork available and each bring something unique to the healing spectrum. Sometimes it’s a matter of experimenting to see what works best for your particular needs and which therapist “gets” your body best.

    I’ve been to some chiros that didn’t “get” my body and weren’t that helpful. But when I’ve hit on a good one, it’s been AMAZING. Definitely worth searching for a good one!

  6. meowser / Sep 12 2010 12:58 pm

    Aw man, back pain is teh suxxor. I hope you feel better.

    For whatever it’s worth, I had some of the worst back pain I ever had after I lost weight (while off antidepressants). And it wasn’t rapid weight loss either, it was very slow. And when I asked my doctor (a D.O.; they tend to have more of a clue about such things) whether the weight loss could have thrown my back out of balance and led to the pain, he said yes! I wish they all had a clue about this stuff.


  1. “Wow, you really are healthy!” « Kataphatic

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