The phrase is captured in a single German word, Hexenschuus, which dates to the 16th century. It refers to the spasms of sharp piercing pain some people experience in their lower back for which there is no known cure or even consistent treatment.
Hexenschuss can be deeply disabling. It may sideline you from work for days, even weeks. It may make it painful for you just to walk or sit down. It may recur when you least expect.
It can ambush you into total misery, leaving you in tears.
Naturally, that hasn’t kept medical professionals – mainly osteopaths, chiropractors and the like — and all sorts of healer wannabes from suggesting that they have a “fix” for the Hex. They don’t.
Many of the recommendations offered are simply ineffective; others may make the condition worse — or have dangerous side effects.
“Spinal fusion” surgery is one extreme measure. It’s true that the spinal cord ends in the lower back. However, the problem isn’t the structure of the spine or its relationship to the lower back.
Fusing the two vertebrae may reduce pain – but it may not. This kind of surgery may be more relevant to scoliosis, which involves a deformity in the curvature of the spine But that’s not the problem here.
A related approach is “spinal manipulation.” This treatment is often recommended for conditions like sciatica. It works for sciatica but for low back pain, the research is mixed — at best.
One obvious alternative to working on the spine physically is simply prescribing medications to reduce the pain and possible swelling. For moderate pain, many people turn to Ibuprofen or Aleve. More severe sufferers are known to seek out stronger stuff, such as Vicadin and OxyContin.
The problem here is the potential for dependency. Numerous studies have linked complaints about low back pain to opioid addiction, which has become a national epidemic.
And the fact is, drugs offer only short term relief. They do not address the underlying causes of your pain.
Lately, there’s been talk of a third treatment path; Pilates, yoga, and meditation. Mind-body approaches are increasingly popular with the American public. They work on the person’s inner Spirit and use special deep breathing and posture exercises to try to calm the person down.
But that’s also the problem: These approaches assume that low-back pain is a symptom of emotional and psychological stress, or even depression, which remains completely unproven.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), which has studied yoga’s effect on various conditions, found mixed results. Some studies suggested that modest relief is possible if the yoga practiced is closely tailored to the individual, without adding more stress to the body.
But NCCAM also warned that many demanding yoga poses can inflame as much as relieve back pain.
Moreover, in controlled studies, participants appeared to gain no greater relief from yoga than from simple stretching exercises.
Overall, physicians do seem to agree that sudden stressful activities, like moving heavy furniture, can lead to low back pain. You strained your lower back muscles or put undue pressure on your lower spine, and there’s inflammation and sweeping.
That kind of pain may well recede fairly quickly – with rest.
But Hexenschuss can appear suddenly for lots of other reasons. Some 80% of adults face it at some point in their lives, with various degrees of intensity.
Overall, though, the medical establishment still doesn’t know what causes it – or how best to treat it. It looks like a lot of other things but isn’t.
It flies in suddenly, lands, and inflicts its terror, and then abruptly takes off again. And it always takes its broomstick with it
Personally, I’d consult a good warlock. Becoming a male sorcerer is an increasingly popular vocation, rivaling the new Wiccan cults sweeping across America.
Who knows, you might never get shot by that witch again.