Why My Back Looks Like Something From a Horror Film (And Maybe Why It Feels Less Bad Than It Did Earlier)

Was it the time I fell down climbing out of the tub at the public bath, sliding down two stairs onto the hard stone floor, brusing the small of my back in the process?

Was it the heavy bag I carried around yesterday during a walk Lime and I took together?

Was it the result of a month of stupidly sitting many hours in a row, writing and writing, without walks or much in the way of breaks away from the computer?

Or was it the result of a long period of unhealthy living, not exercising because I felt exhausted from all the illnesses I got from my damned infected wisdom tooth, combined with an already weak gut and an already susceptible back (which gave me trouble last winter, as those who read about my trip to India may recall), combined with all of the above?

Probably the latter.

But anyway, all the way through today’s seminar for new professors (conducted primarily in Korean, as I expected, though Chullsung’s translations and more importantly his wonderful commentaries on the proceedings rendered the experience enjoyable nonetheless), my back hurt like absolute hell. I was having trouble walking, standing, even sitting for too long in one spot.

So after the huge new-faculty-dinner, I hurried home to drop my stuff and have a chat with Lime, and then proceeded on to the local JimJilBang. This is a kind of megaplex sauna/public bath/spa type place, and on the 2nd floor, they offer sports massages. Well, I requested a sports massage, anyway. But I came out looking like this.

(Yes, I cropped the pic, but if you want a closer look at what I’ve decided to show, click on the pic for a zoomed popup…)

I remember seeing people at the swimming pool with these markings, years ago, and wondering what the hell had happened to them. Well, what happened to them was that someone took a whole series of suction cups and affixed them to their backs, heating the air inside them and creating a vacuum, which which held the cups firm against their backs. Perhaps the other people found the experience pleasant, but to me, it was quite unnerving. It wasn’t so much painful, as it was disturbing, feeling my skin pulled tight around my torso like that. I could breathe fine, but felt as if, at any moment, I might not be able to breathe at all. The woman just kept applying cup after cup after cup and then she rubbed them, ever so carefully, and explained to me some incoherent (to me) theory about how they were pulling the bad blood out of my system to the skin, and that my muscles would feel better.

Alright, I admit it, I didn’t understand her explanation at all, and the only words I caught, in my surprised, slightly disturbed, and very sensorially-curious state of mind (paying attention to my back, not quite listening to words) was “bad blood”. But I’ve heard the theory before, and I know how it goes enough to recount as I did above.

I don’t give the theory any credence at all, mind you. What is “bad blood”? Why would the blood that happens to be passing through those muscles at that point be “bad” in a way that other blood isn’t? It sounds to me as it always has—a curious Asiatic version of the Medieval notion of the humours, which I suppose may also have been Asiatic, albeit Arabic, in origins.

But I’ll admit something else: whether it was the extremely vigorous massage that preceded it, or this suction cup treatment, or both, my back feels much, much better than it did all day. I’m seriously considering getting the suction cup treatment again for a few days in a row, as the young masseuse recommended.

UPDATE: I didn’t explain why I suspect this procedure may have something to do with the way my back feels better. Essentially, I’m just guessing, but I think that probably, when a mass number of suction cups on one’s back are all applied at the same time, the skin on the back, plus all the connective tissue, are pulled up, away from the body. This, I imagine, results in some kind of combination of pressure on the skin tissue and a relaxation of pressure on the interior tissue, and possibly improved circulation in the area that is hurting.

As Lime said, when she was looking at blood slides under the microscope yesterday, she didn’t see any “bad blood”. The notion of bad blood is really quite an amusing one, if you think of it: it seems to take for granted that blood is a static entity in the body, rather than something that flows continually. Unless, of course, “bad blood” is a concretized euphemism for something else, like gi (called chi in Chinese, and what Westerners often call “life energy”).

I really don’t believe in chi, of course. But just because the theory makes no sense, doesn’t mean the technique doesn’t work to some degree. Still, I suspect that even a far more gentle suction system would have some effect.

Ah well, I’m still considering going again tonight, though I’m also planning on using a heating pad on it for a lot of today, and using some stretches I learned when I had to do physiotherapy on a similar injury.

11 thoughts on “Why My Back Looks Like Something From a Horror Film (And Maybe Why It Feels Less Bad Than It Did Earlier)

  1. I saw the photo before I read your entry, and I thought maybe you’d been attacked by a giant squid or something. Glad to see it’s actually from a theraputic procedure.

  2. I didn’t see any ” bad blood” when I was watching peripheral blood smear slide carefully by microscopoe.

    There is no bad blood!

  3. I’m with you on the similarities between that and bleeding with leeches. Everytime I see them selling those things on home shopping it really freaks me out (my wife loves home shopping).

    Glad it worked for you.

  4. Hehe… I’ve also suffered the cups, and the ‘bad blood’ theory. We’ve actually got a handy home kit that my wife busts out every now and then and inflicts on me, consulting the manual for the proper positioning, while all the while I’m trying to breathe slowly and asking “are you sure?” Although I never let it get quite as far as to show the serious welts you’ve received/achieved! I guess we’re doing it wrong.

    Good luck w/your back though!

  5. Actually, I kind of wonder if the girl knew what she was doing, since I’ve never seen welts this serious before, either. It’s the day after, now, and my back still hurts less than yesterday, but it’s not as much better as it would have been with conventional physiotherapy, I think. (You know, with the little vibrating pad, the ultrasound thing, some stretches.) I’m supplementing it with stretches and thinking about going tonight anyway. The girl claimed I can come in the back door and just pay ten bucks for the suction cups, and skip the “sports massage” on my back.

    I’m back to using my huge bouncy ball for sitting on at the PC, rotating hips while sitting on it for stretching, and doing leg stretches. Stupid me, I should have started doing that before the real pain kicked in. Ah well.

  6. By the way… SQUID. Hahaha. That’s great. I betcha a giant genetically engineered cybernetically controlled squid would be great for performing such treatments… if you wired it up right to your computer, you could fine-tune the control of the suckers and get something a little less damaging to the blood vessels while still getting the skin pulled away from the body. Now that’s oriental medicine I could get into. Maybe in some novel… heh.

  7. Wow, Antti, those pictures are really interesting, but what’s with the guy in the second photo?! He’s got a horned helmet on while performing the procedure! (Does he fear attack from above?)

    Is this kind of thing common in Finland these days?

    Actually, my friend Heather commented that I should have gone and gotten bled at a proper 한의원 because that in fact always helps her with pain. Whereas Lime, like me, said, “But there’s no basis in science for this…”

    I’m finding that doing the stretches I learned the time when I had the same kind of injury in Montreal is helping a bit more than the treatment. A nice muscle relaxant from a doctor would be helpful, but I won’t get a chance to go begging for that until this evening or tomorrow.

  8. Your picture looked so gross but good for you! I believe in alternative medicine, and I am not sure what you mean by science, but western medicine seems to me all about intoxicating bodies by drugs. Damn, I dont even have any aspirin or Tylenol at home. For an emergency, you may try to put a pillow under your knees (while sleeping). For the long run, you should try yoga or Pilate stuff. Take care~

  9. June, thanks.

    To clarify, what I mean by science is the testability and falsifiability of claims. The notion of “bad blood” is, scientifically, a nonsensical one. I could get into why, but I think I’ll save it for a post about “Oriental Medicine”.

    I think, however, it’s important to note that while a theory may be, scientifically, nonsense, it doesn’t mean a technique is valueless. Just as the medieval notion that arrows are pushed about by angels is nonsensical, this doesn’t mean that arrows don’t fly. It just means the *explanation* is suspicious from a scientific point of view.

    And June, I agree that western medicine, especially in the 20th century, went through a deep fascination and perhaps we could even call it a romance with drugs of all kinds. I think the development of physiotherapy, art and music therapy, preventative medical treatment, and a fascination with fitness and dietary health, etc. all hail a movement away from that in many fields. I am ambivalent about its prevalence in other fields, such as in psychiatry, where sometimes chemical treatment is simply the only effective route available for certain mental illnesses.

    As for long term, I think stretches and getting my gut (and the rest of me, while I’m at it) into shape would help.

    I will post about science and oriental medicine sometime soon.

  10. Gord,
    The horned helmet is most likely a plastic one from some toy shop worn for fun. It’s got nothing to do with any tradition here – and wasn’t it that not even the Vikings actually had horned helmets. I wouldn’t say that’s common here, but it’s known and practiced. I myself haven’t taken the treatment and don’t intend to get one in the near future either… Let’s say I feel I don’t have any bad blood in me.

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