16 February 2010

pain in the neck


i've had it. everyone goes through these things, but i think i have reached the end of my proverbial rope.

my back and neck hurt. sure, there's nothing surprising about that. after all, most people suffer from back and/ or neck pain at some period in their lives. the difference for me is that it's chronic. as in, my back and neck have been hurting for about twenty years, give or take. constantly. at least a couple of days a week, something "pops" and i'm not able to turn my neck to one side or the other. again, this is something that happens to a lot of people, i just get the feeling that it's happening to me too frequently to qualify as "normal".

when i was a teenager, i was troubled by a "numb spot", a spot on my middle back where i had a strange lack of sensation and, occasionally, some swelling, like a small water balloon was under my skin. a friend told me this was an "almost but not quite pinched nerve", which seemed like a reasonable idea, but i didn't really believe him. by the time i finally asked a professional, six or seven years later, when this had gone from occasional to nearly constant, i was surprised to find out he was right. so i did my stretches, hot and cold compresses and, over some months, the problem gradually started to subside.

except that then there was a numb spot under my left shoulder blade that no one could explain. sometimes, the same thing would happen under my right shoulder blade. these "hot spots" seem to have the effect of making all the muscles around them so tense that my shoulders look strangely "bulked up" despite my never having done any form of muscle building for that area in my life. literally, these muscles are tensed all the time. sometimes, the tension spreads up to my neck, which makes me feel like i'm choking, or into my arms, which makes me lose sensation on the afflicted side of my body, or, rarely, into my chest muscles, which restricts my ability to breathe. sound fun?

my frustration doesn't just come from the fact that this is happening, because once you've lived with it for a while, you're aware of it, but it just becomes like background noise. my problem is that no medical professional seems to know what causes it and nothing that i'm told will alleviate the pain actually works. here's a sampling:

- i was told that i might have fibromyalgia. except that i don't have many flashpoints for pain, i have only a couple of very specific ones. plus i don't have any of the comorbid conditions that go with fibromyalgia.

- many people try to tell me that this sort of tension is a common affliction that comes from sitting at a desk, working on a computer all the time. i don't argue that this might be an exacerbating factor, but the fact remains i've had these problems consistently since long before i had a computer or a desk job.

- one doctor insisted that i must have had some traumatic kind of injury. i guess it must have been very traumatic, because not only do i have no memory of such a thing, but no one in my family does either.

and now let's move on to the cures:

- stretching: i can certainly see where this would work and i've tried every type of stretch that's been recommended to me, but the problem is that it just has no discernible effect. nada. i'm sure it works in combination with something else, but that's kind of the key thing: what else?

- strength training: tried it for several months. absolutely no difference whatsoever. no better, no worse. next.

- anti-inflammatories: at the best of times, over-the-counter ones have almost no effect on me, even for the things they're supposed to work on, like headaches. i make a point of taking them sparingly, in the hopes that this will increase their efficacy when i do take them. no such luck. prescription ones, as far as i can tell, are no different.

- muscle relaxants: for most other muscle pain, these do work on me, but on the back/ neck area, the difference is negligible. since i rarely take them, they do tend to have more of an effect on me, so the best i can hope for is that they'll knock me out, so at least i can sleep through my discomfort.

- heat/ cold: can sometimes give me a little bit of relief, but it never lasts more than about 30 minutes.

this represents everything that medical science has been able to tell me thus far. even the internet seems to be devoid of ideas. i don't have any kind of degenerative disease and i've never sustained an injury that would explain my symptoms.

so since the sensible way has failed, let's open this up to the wild world of human opinion: any theories? any advice?

1 comment:

SIGHUP said...

Doctors' inability to deal with chronic conditions is always astounding to me. The beauty about saying something is fibromyalgia is that it is both easily dismissed (don't bother me any more, there's nothing I can do, that's just fibromyalgia) and plausibly deniable (no you can't go on disability leave, it isn't fibromyalgia at all, it's just in your head).

I don't know any miracle cures, but some things that might be worth trying, if you haven't yet tried them:
-invest in a new pillow with solid support for your neck and shoulder.
-similarly look into getting a mattress with good support.
- make a conscious effort to adjust your posture when it is poor. I hear yoga or pilates is really good for improving posture, because it strengthens you abdomen.
- be conscious of anything you do repetitively, like do you always lean to one side when sitting.
- do your feet hurt, too? You might need proper arch support, orthodics, that kind of thing.

My brother had chronic knee pain in his early twenties, they did exploratory surgery two or three times because they couldn't figure out what was going on. Turned out he had fallen arches that were causing knee pain (no doctor ever bothered to check), orthodics and chiropractic sorted him out.

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