Aging at the Speed of Pain

Chronic pain.

It is debilitating.  It controls everything, even one’s personality.

I’ve become accustomed to pain: emotionally, physically, spiritually.  I’ve always lived with a little here and there.  With that, I have not let it define who I am.  I have just accepted that that is how life is.  Until just a few weeks ago.

I woke up shortly after Christmas with shooting pains in the left side of my neck and burning and shooting pains in my right shoulder.  I couldn’t recall hurting myself, and I didn’t attribute it to any particular injury in my recent past. Why?  Because these pains have been there for a while…they just suddenly got WORSE.  Like, overnight.

I tried the usual remedies: heat, ice, massage, topical creams, epsom baths, several different pillows, my TENS unit, gentle stretching, tylenol.  Nothing made it feel better except the diversion of the day’s activities: work, skiing.  But when the day ended and the night began, that is when true hell settled into my soul. I couldn’t get comfortable.  I couldn’t sleep on my left side, my neck hurt.  I couldn’t sleep on my right side, my shoulder hurt. I couldn’t sleep on my back, my neck hurt. I couldn’t sleep on my stomach, my neck hurt.  Every which way I turned, I could not get comfortable.  I would sleep only a couple of hours at a time.  I would wake up in pain.  When the alarm went off in the morning and I had to drag myself out of bed, I felt like I was eighty years old.

In the past, I could usually work these things out.  I saw chiropractors, acupuncturists.  I had weekly massages.  I even had a steroid injection in my shoulder that lasted three years.  But after all the money spent on practitioners, new mattresses, new bras, new orthotics, new pillows, vitamins, supplements, herbal teas and tinctures…here I was right back where I started: in pain with no tangible reason.  I couldn’t get through a day without being reminded that my activities were limited. I couldn’t even put on my coat without feeling pain.  I felt like I was in a fog most days. I was sleep deprived, weak and de-conditioned.  I had to snap out of it regularly because of the job that I do.  It was emotionally taxing, to say the least.

I started 2018 in despair, trying every day to find gratitude in the life I have.  It wasn’t hard.  My life is good.  However, chronic pain was silently wearing on my soul. I noticed I drank more often, trying to make myself sleep better.  I know it doesn’t help anything.  So I pared way back on alcohol to keep from diving deeper.  My headaches were nearly unbearable.  I cut back on drinking coffee and switched to green tea.  I went into myself to find peace in the midst of a physical anomaly I could not fix.  I had spent so many years just sucking it up.  It just wasn’t working anymore.  I had to do something different.   I had to ask for help.  I had to find out if there was a reason for my condition…a reason I could do something about.  I finally admitted that I shouldn’t have to live like this, and I had to try something else, something I was afraid of: see an orthopedic surgeon.

Everyone I spoke to about what was going on kept telling me I was “in the best place possible for orthopedic injury”.  My fear of surgery-hungry doctors melted away with the encouragement of my colleagues.  Things happened quickly because this is a small valley and people come together to help their own.  It made me feel like a part of something amazing.  I saw some pretty incredible practitioners who told me exactly what was wrong and that I was not making up my pain.  Then they told me that they could fix it* .  After three months of tolerating misery, I was excited at this news.

What I learned is that I did not have an acute injury that caused my pain.  Rather, I am highly flexible without the muscle strength to prevent overextension in my joints.  My range of motion is off the charts.  But I’m a weakling.  In other words, I’m Gumby without the He-Man.  I have always been muscular, so I’ve never needed to lift weights or work out to have muscle tone and definition.  Lucky genes.  Thanks Mom and Dad.  But, it means I have been lazy…and likely injured myself over time from repetitive overextension.  At forty-eight years old, I gotta stop relying on my genes and start exercising.

Duh.

And, damn.

Over the past two weeks, I have had an injection in my neck for cervical facet disease and I had an injection in my shoulder for a torn rotator cuff and bicep tendon tear.  I started physical therapy last Wednesday.  Since these new interventions, I am like a new woman.  I am getting stronger. I sleep through the night.  I can get comfortable and wake up and stretch my way into the morning.  I can do my strengthening exercises without shooting pains.  I’ve lost another 5 pounds and weigh what I did in the ninth grade.  I’m faster, lighter, stronger… feeling like the Bionic Woman.  I haven’t felt this good in SO LONG.

It gives me hope.  I can’t wait to get more stable so that I can take fly-fishing classes, pull my weight rowing a raft down the Colorado, and take my mountain bike all over the trails of Eagle.

In such a short period of time I have found my youthful energy once again.  I am ecstatic. I am hopeful.  I am excited.  I get through the workday without shooting pains in my neck.  I wake up feeling forty, not ninety.  I am energized and motivated to get out and do the things I haven’t been able to do.  My bike is sitting in the dining room, waiting for me to be ready.  Summer is coming.

I am SO HAPPY to finally have relief and a REASON for why this happened in the first place.  It’s preventable, so long as Miss Lazy doesn’t resurface.

Thank the universe for that.

 

*thank you Howard Head Orthopedics and  The Steadman Clinic

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