Teacher Bag Syndrome

Teacher Bag Syndrome

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Back Pain!

Teacher Bag Syndrome

Always laden with books, student assignments, projects and other treasures from my day in the classroom, I would lug my teacher bag home on a daily basis. It was a necessary companion because, as a teacher, my work was never done.

After years of this daily ritual, a dull, aching pain surfaced in my upper back, near my right shoulder blade. The discomfort slowly worsened as the years passed, eventually becoming a constant ache and annoyance. My back pain had become a way of life.

Feeling pity for me, my twenty-seven-year-old daughter, Dana, volunteered to massage my back. Nothing had ever hurt so bad or felt so good at the same time. As she rubbed my back, she was aghast at the knots she could feel in my tightened muscles. “Momma, this is terrible. You need to see a doctor.” And, then it was over. Her wonderful three-minute massage had come to an end. My temporary escape into paradise had come to an abrupt halt.

Occasionally, she would agree to rub my back again, but in time, I became a nuisance to her, always begging and pleading for a massage. Eventually, I quit imposing.

By now, I had retired and was no longer a slave to my teacher bag. My daily travel companion and I finally parted ways. But, our years together had taken a toll on me. The pain in my back now extended up to my shoulder and down my right arm. My pain had become so severe that I could barely lift my arm and I was losing muscle strength. Easy household tasks were becoming difficult for me, if not impossible. But, I persevered as bravely as possible, although complaining excessively.

“Oh! It hurts!” became my endless motto. Not that voicing my discomfort helped, but it just seemed necessary.

My husband, Bob, finally gave me an ultimatum. “Go to the doctor or stop complaining.” He was drained of empathy. Enough was enough. So, I made an appointment.

“How long have you had this pain?” Dr. Kinsey inquired, as she flipped through my chart. “About fifteen years,” I sheepishly responded. She quickly looked up from my chart in a questioning manner, her gaze lasting uncomfortably long. “I have teacher bag syndrome,” I conjectured, admitting that carrying a heavy bag home every day for thirty-two years wasn’t such a good practice, at least not for my back, shoulder, and arm.

Steroids and physical therapy were prescribed. Neither turned out to be my friend. The steroids helped with muscle inflammation, but kept me awake for days, and created emotional havoc in my life and in the lives of anyone in my presence. Needless to say, I was elated when my last pill was swallowed and steroid therapy ended.

In physical therapy, I was shuffled between therapists and therapists-in-training. No one followed my case closely to monitor improvement. Their prescription for me was to strengthen muscles in my back, shoulder, and arm through exercise, and they rarely wavered from that order. “I need you to massage the muscles in my back,” I would plead. Several of the therapists would occasionally honor that request. Others flatly refused, explaining that was not included in my prescription. When my sessions ended, my back still hurt and I was becoming despondent. Would I suffer this back pain for the rest of my life?

Then, on Mother’s Day, my older daughter, Kristen, gave me a gift certificate for a massage. I had never had a professional massage, so I was a bit intimidated by the gesture and held onto the certificate for months before redeeming it. But, as the pain worsened, I finally called for an appointment.

The receptionist recommended a young man for my deep tissue massage. I promptly declined, explaining this was my first massage and, no, it wouldn’t be with a man. Laughing softly, she chose another therapist, and my appointment was set with Katie.

Katie was an attractive young woman in her twenties. Her demeanor was pleasant, and my nervousness began subsiding as she accompanied me to the massage room. She listened attentively as I explained my pain issues, and with confidence, assured me I would feel better after our session.

After I had positioned myself face down on the massage table, per Katie’s instructions, she returned to the room and the massage of a lifetime began. Pain never felt so good. She massaged and massaged and massaged my painful back, neck, shoulders and arms. After an hour, when the massage was complete, I literally could not move. It was as if I had been massaged into the table. Finally, I managed to roll myself off the table and get dressed, attempting to regain some semblance of reality. My back, shoulders, and arm muscles had never known such painful joy. My muscles and I were on a natural high.

As I was leaving the massage clinic, the young receptionist persuaded me to join their club for monthly massages. She knew I was an easy mark. She knew I would be back.

With ongoing massages, my pain has finally diminished from its previous level of intensity. The pain I feel now is bearable. Katie and I have nine months of massage therapy behind us and there continues to be progress with each visit.

Since my goal is to eventually be pain-free, I will continue my massage therapy as long as it takes. I am now able to raise my arm, my shoulder and back hurt less, and the strength has returned to muscles that lay dormant during my painful years. For me, that feels great! For Katie, well… that’s job security.

~ Brenda Cook ~

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