Cupping for Pain Relief

cupping bruise

It’s like a circular hickey on my calf.

Try to imagine giant leeches sucking your legs for five minutes, and you’ll get the general idea of what goes on during cupping. I tried cupping to help increase circulation and aid healing in my damaged leg muscles, and for a week I sported round bruises on my calves and thighs.

I’m always up for trying a new way to relieve chronic pain, even if the treatment leaves me looking like I was attacked by an octopus. My back and hip are still giving me fits, despite having had some recent good results with specialized physical therapy. I guess this is the nature of fibromyalgia—a few steps forward and at least one step backward.

The actual cupping experience was a lot more painful than I imagined it would be, but after a minute, the pain eased up a bit. I stayed still on a treatment table for five minutes while the cups did their magic, and by the final minute, my legs were still uncomfortable, but not nearly as bad as the first minute.

When the PT opened his case and showed me rows of cups and an apparatus to make them suction to my legs, I knew I was in for a unique experience. I didn’t get the results I’d hoped for—mainly reduced pain—but at least I tried. I’ve heard that some people swear by cupping, but it’s not for me. My favorite healing tool is a lot more soothing—soaking in the hot tub.

Recipe: Miso Soup with Vegetables

miso soup

Broccoli is my favorite vegetable.

I felt exhausted yesterday after a two-and-a-half-hour workout that included an hour of very challenging physical therapy for my back and hip. Dealing with chronic pain is a fulltime job. Workouts geared toward rehab aren’t hard like a long run, but they’re very fatiguing and difficult in their own way. When I got home, I felt like I needed a nutritional boost ASAP. I raided the fridge and decided to make miso soup with fresh vegetables.

You can use whatever vegetables you have on hand, and if they’re from an Asian market, even better. I wish I’d had shitake mushrooms, but white button did fine. The one thing I wouldn’t compromise on is organic miso. I’ve read scary things about conventional soy products. This is how I made my miso soup:

Ingredients

  • 1 quart water
  • 1 head broccoli
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2 large mushrooms
  • 2 large pieces of wakame (sea vegetable)
  • organic white miso to taste

Directions

  • Chop vegetables while water boils in a pot.
  • Add carrots to boiling water for a minute or two, then add remaining vegetables.
  • Use a ladle to remove some of your boiling water into a large glass measuring cup. Once water in cup is hot but not boiling, add miso and whisk until it moves freely.
  • Boil veggies only a couple of minutes to keep them firm, then remove pot from heat.
  • Add miso broth back to soup pot and stir.
  • Serve warm.

My brother-in-law loves miso soup and often adds fresh corn, Brussels sprouts, and other goodies. I was fascinated the first time I saw miso soup because it looked like it was alive. When the miso disperses in the warm water, it looks unlike anything else I’ve ever eaten. I’m used to it now, but still enjoy the show when I stir my soup.

 

 

 

Foundation Training

foundation training

DVD cover image of Foundation Training (pic from Amazon).

I recently read Foundation Training: Redefine Your Core, Conquer Back Pain, and Move with Confidence, and started the basic exercises the next day. While my back pain didn’t magically disappear (of course), I feel stronger and more confident already. I’ve only been doing the exercises for a few days and started a little more conservatively than the book recommends. My body tends to react poorly to new exercises if I start them too intensely.

I enjoyed the philosophy of the book enough to do something I almost never do—order fitness DVDs. The Foundation DVDs have updated exercises and arrived in my mailbox today. I’m very excited to watch them this evening. I don’t see how strengthening the lower back, gaining flexibility, and keeping good posture can do anything but great things for the unwell body.

Fibromyalgia, chronic pain, low back pain, etc. all tend to push western medicine practitioners toward prescribing pills and/or surgery. I don’t want any of those drastic measures. I appreciate an approach that involves self-motivation and control, which is what Foundation training allows. I can do these exercises and give them a shot rather than wallowing in the bottom of a pill bottle. Giving a sense of empowerment to chronic pain patients is priceless.

I highly recommend checking out Foundation Training. It might not be right for you, but it’s worth at least investigating it as an option. Let me know how it goes!

Supplements and Sleep

calm thoughts supplement

image from source naturals’ website

Has anybody tried a supplement called Calm Thoughts? I’ve been using it lately and have had a week of fantastic results. I’ve been sleeping almost normally for the first time in years, and my pain is way down.

I’m off all prescriptions, and so thankful to be out of the vicious cycle of one pill begetting another. Chronic pain and illness (including fibromyalgia) often necessitates prescriptions, but I hate taking them. I’m much happier if I can safely and effectively use homeopathic supplements.

Now that I’m sleeping, I wonder if the massive improvement in my symptoms is due to the supplements themselves or the repair my body is able to do while it sleeps. We all know how important sleep is to healing, so it stands to reason for me that my return to restful sleeping might be the best chronic pain medicine available.

Brooks Launch 2 Review

brooks launch 2

I took my pair of Brooks Launch 2 outside for the first time on a hot spring day.

The Good

Comfort—my pair of Brooks Launch 2 was comfortable straight out of the box. Seriously, all I had to do was fit the laces through the last hole, tie them, and go. I walked two miles and did forty-five minutes of strength training to break them in, but the break-in time didn’t seem necessary. The forefoot is soft and allows my bones to spread out. Their overall weight is 7.9 oz according to the Brooks website, and they feel very light on my feet. The offset is listed at 10mm, which I find very comfortable.

Cushioning—there’s enough midsole to keep my feet happy without feeling like I’m on marshmallows.

Traction—the Launch 2 definitely isn’t a trail shoe (it’s not meant to be), but I haven’t had any issues getting a grip in firm-packed mud, loose sand, or wet pavement. The sole at the midfoot doesn’t have any plastic—just rubber—so the dangerous potential to slip on the edge of a curb (this happened to me in a pair of Asics) isn’t a concern.

Overall function—the laces stay tied without double knotting, and the shoes require minimal if any break-in time. They’re running shoes and they do their job well. They’re not as sturdy-feeling as my Brooks Ghost 7, but they cost $20 less than the Ghosts, so I’m okay with that. As for size, I bought 9.5 but usually wear 9 in Brooks, so either the Launch 2 runs a little small or my feet are growing.

brooks launch 2 laces

The ends of the laces say “DIG DEEP.”

Appearance—I’ve seen two colorways, but from what I’ve read there are three and possibly more to come. I chose the green and purple and I really like the way those colors look together. The laces are a nice, complimentary purple, and the outsole is cute, too. The ends of the laces say “DIG DEEP,” and some people might think it’s gimmicky, but as a chronic pain sufferer, I definitely relate to that mantra.

The Bad

The pointed toe. I wish all shoe companies would take a cue from Altra and stop making shoes shaped like we have a giant toe sprouting from the middle of our foot. The forefoot in the Launch 2 is wide enough for me, so the pointed toe is more of an elf-like aesthetic issue.

The Undecided

Durability—time will tell, and I’ll update this review after I’ve worn the Launch 2 a lot more. To the touch, though, the outsole feels a little soft and I’m worried these won’t be with me for the long haul.

Price—I say “undecided” because I really have no idea what a fair price for a running shoe is. These days I’ve seen various shoes from good brands on sale for as little as $48 and at full price for as much as $299. I paid $100 for the Launch 2, but my gut tells me $80 would’ve been a fairer price. That said, because they’re a new release, you’re probably going to have to pay full price. On a positive note, some retailers are offering a promotion right now that includes a free Brooks hat with purchase of the Launch 2, so at least I got a nice, free cap for the upcoming summer.

Remove Stink from Workout Clothes

white vinegar laundry

White vinegar effectively took the stench out of my shirts.

My workout clothes smelled like a combination of raw onions and body odor. I’d had several of the shirts for years, but they were in good shape other than stinking so bad. Good workout clothes are expensive, and most of my running shirts are Nike or Under Armour, which means that even on sale they cost a good bit of hard-earned money. I’ve tried several varieties of regular detergent, including Tide with Bleach Alternative, ECOS Free and Clear, and Seventh Generation Liquid. The result was always the same—my clothes still stunk.

I bought a sample of Nathan Sport Wash and optimistically tried it. It definitely worked better than the regular detergents, but it only cut the stink some—it didn’t remove all of it. Not good enough.

I try to avoid harsh, synthetic chemicals and environmentally unfriendly products, and remembered my days as a mother to an adopted house rabbit. Rabbits are very sensitive to chemicals, and Winston’s litterbox could only be safely cleaned with white vinegar. I bought a bottle and hoped it would make headway on the perma-stink in my workout shirts.

Several Google searches turned up multiple methods to wash clothes with vinegar, and ultimately I just decided to try my own thing and hope for the best. I set the washing machine on the Soak cycle and poured about a cup of white vinegar—no detergent—into the water. My washer agitates the clothes even on Soak, but I guess that’s its way of making sure they get saturated with water. It rinsed and drained at the six-minute mark, which was not what I wanted, so I paused the cycle. I opened the washer and was overwhelmed by a smell reminiscent of dying Easter eggs (remember the color pellets that dissolve in vinegar?), dumped in another cup of vinegar, and let it fill again.

At the end of the 24-minute Soak cycle, the clothes smelled a little bit like Easter and a lot less like stench. I poured in the usual amount of Nathan Sport Wash and put them on the Rapid cycle. Less than half an hour later, I pulled out my shirts and nervously smelled the armpits. Victory!

My worst-smelling shirt, a purple Nike running Pro, still has a bit of stink to it, but the other clothes smelled faintly of vinegar and nothing else. No onions. No B.O. Just clean.

I hope I don’t have to go through the whole process again, but the combination of soaking in vinegar and water followed by a short wash cycle with Nathan made my clothes almost new again. Totally worth it versus buying new ones!

Brooks Ghost 7 Updated Review

brooks ghost 7I love the Brooks Ghost 7, as evidenced by my willingness to not only purchase a second pair, but to buy both at full price. I’m a careful shopper and usually won’t settle for less than a bargain—especially when a shoe has been available for months. However, as my first pair of Ghosts wore down (see sole picture comparison), I tried on at least eight other shoes and kept coming back to the Ghost 7. This is the link to my first post about my first pair. 

When I bought my first pair, the only color available locally was blue/eclipse/lime. In plain terms, bright-ass blue. I was fine with the upper color, but the glowingly white sole looked bad against the blue. It was definitely a case of function over fashion. This second time around, seven months later, seven colors plus a GTX version are available. Hmm… Brooks Ghost 7 lasted 7 months and now has 7 colors. If I were a gambling woman, I might wear my Ghosts to a casino. Instead, I’ll wear them for hundreds of miles of walking.

brooks ghost 7 soleLongevity/durability is my only major complaint about the Ghost 7, but now that I realize how long I’ve had them, I’m not sure it’s a fair issue. I have no idea how many miles I’ve walked in them, but I walk between 1 and 4 hours almost every day, plus wear them to walk my dogs and do errands, so they’ve been through a lot. Other than sole erosion, the plastic that makes the end of the laces firm broke and became useless. I have to be very careful not to let the laces get pulled through their holes or I’ll be wasting time lace-fishing.

Superficially, I like several of the new color choices. My favorite by far is what I bought for my second pair—white/heliotrope/green. That color combo is pedestrian by today’s loud running shoe design standards, and I like the nod to fashion civility without boringness. Everything besides color appears to be the same with my new pair compared to my old pair, as it should since they’re the same version of the same shoe. I couldn’t believe how cushioned and firm and tall the new ones felt when I first wore them. It made me realize how badly worn out my first pair is.

The minor tweaks I’d like from Brooks for the Ghost 8 (whenever it’s released—I have no idea) are a wider toe box more like Altra shoes, better plastic ends on the laces, and a lower price. I can dream, right? $120 is a tough pill to swallow, but since I walk so much and the Ghost 7 is a great shoe, I made the investment for a second time.

Stomach Pain from Prescriptions

two old goats lotion

I’ll stick with nonprescription pain relieving methods. Two Old Goats lotion is great.

I’ve been taking 20mg of piroxicam for a couple of months. The only side effect I’d noticed is sun sensitivity. No matter how much sunscreen I wear, my face always looks a little burned at night if I’ve been outside most of the day. I wasn’t happy about that, but the medicine was helping with my chronic pain and stiffness and I felt like I could deal with the sunburn. But last week, I started having stomach pain.

At first I blamed the stomach pain on a few slipups in my usually perfect diet. I’d allowed a little cheese here and there and eaten some wheat-based crackers and cereal. I’d had peanut butter instead of almond butter on my apple at breakfast, and figured the combination of dietary sins was to blame for my stomach pain.

I cleaned up my diet again, and the stomach pain got worse. A couple of nights ago I couldn’t sleep because I felt like I was hugely bloated and my stomach burned bad. I felt nauseous after eating and my morning chem-free decaf coffee felt like acid in my stomach. I picked up the Walgreens handout that came with the piroxicam, and, like all NSAIDS, can cause major stomach problems.

I decided to stop taking it immediately even though I was fearful of severe muscle spasms returning and chronic pain worsening. The burning in my stomach was too much to ignore, so I also picked up some generic Prevacid at the pharmacy.

I’ve been two days without piroxicam, and so far my muscles aren’t any sorer than usual and my back isn’t aching worse than usual. I managed a 20-minute run and hour-long walk yesterday. My hot tub and a bottle of Two Old Goats lotion are doing the trick so far.

I’m becoming more and more convinced that our western approach to medicine often creates more problems than it solves, especially when dealing with chronic health conditions. It sometimes seems like one pill begets another. We’ve come a long way in medicine, but we still have a long way to go. I’m going to stay off of all prescriptions as long as possible and keep my diet perfect again and see what happens.

Five Tips to Stay Active with Chronic Pain

fibromyalgia workout

Chronic pain sucks.

Chronic pain can keep even the most dedicated exercisers from their daily workout. Over the past year, the pain in my back and right hip was so debilitating that I couldn’t get comfortable anywhere. I gave up running (but recently made a comeback!) and weightlifting on top of everything else I’ve given up to fibromyalgia and dystonia over the years. But almost every day, I made a point to get myself out of the house to walk, with the exception of a few days when muscles spasms kept me locked in a fetal ball in the bedroom. My trial and error workouts through fifteen months of low back/hip pain helped me come up with some advice for people who also deal with chronic pain but still want to exercise.

Get Outside

Unless weather-prohibitive, getting outside is often the first step to activity. Chronic pain is depressing and disheartening and can feel like it steals your soul. Stepping or wheeling outside to feel fresh air and hear bird sing is instantly uplifting. Once you’re outside, you’re more likely to at least walk/wheel around the block.

Find Something That Works For You

Maybe you’re a lifelong athlete like me, and “exercise” means soccer, running, or other high-intensity sports. Recognizing that your body no longer cooperates with your mind’s desires is no easy pill to swallow. Find something that works for you. Swimming and water aerobics are usually great workouts for people with chronic pain issues because there’s little impact on the body. While it doesn’t carry the same adrenaline rush of running fast down a hill, walking around your neighborhood can be mentally cleansing and physically uplifting. Just because you can’t do what you used to do doesn’t mean there isn’t something out there that will work for you.

Mind Your Medications

I’ve experienced medication side effects that were worse than the original problem I suffered. Even medications that you might have taken for years can suddenly start reacting differently in your body. Take a few days to list all the medications you take, the time(s) of day you take them, and how they effect your mind and body. You might find that something either doesn’t work for you at all anymore and you need to call your doctor, or that a certain prescription makes you feel exhausted. Once you’re more aware of what you’re taking and what it’s doing to you, it can be easier to decide on a time of day that’s best for activity.

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

Keep trying. Chronic pain is a nasty demon, but some days you might be capable of things that other days just won’t work. I’ve started running again despite feeling for a year that I’d never be able to run a step. I stuck to a strict stretching routine every night, and eventually the flexibility gained in my legs helped me return to running about 20 minutes every other day. That’s nothing compared to the 2+ hours per day I used to run, but it’s empowering to be back in action. I was afraid to hurt myself and took my return very slowly and carefully and definitely got bad results the first few times I tried. But, eventually, I ran for 5 minutes and felt pretty good, then used that short run as a steppingstone.

Stretch

Flexibility is so important for everybody, but especially for chronic pain patients. Range of motion in joints can be severely limited by tight muscles, and the less you move around, the tighter those muscles become. Many medical conditions contribute to severe muscle spasms (I have cervical dystonia) that can’t be undone, but for the most part, at least some area of your body is probably accessible to stretch. I found that even on my worst days, stretching my hamstrings helped relieve low back pain. You don’t have to do anything drastic—just gentle stretching will help. A physical therapist can be a great resource to set you on a safe path to a more flexible body.

Good luck to you! Chronic pain is awful, but reclaiming your life and moving your body can do worlds of good.

Of course, like all things health-related, ask your healthcare professional before undertaking anything out of the ordinary. Everybody’s medical conditions are different and should be respected as such. Exercise is great medicine, but make sure you get cleared to participate first!

Fibromyalgia Sucks!

fibromyalgia sucksFibromyalgia sucks. It really does. I decided to start using Mondays as an opportunity to create some smiles, because we all need humor whether we have chronic illnesses or not.

Otis, my sweet beagle (or at least he’s mostly beagle) always helps me feel better no matter what’s wrong. He’s been my loving companion for 9 ½ years and is the gentlest little guy I know. In the spirit of sharing, I hope this picture makes your day better!

Fibromyalgia sucks. Dogs rule. Have a great day, friends!