Running Again, with Hives

40 minute run
I walked for 15 minutes and ran for 40 minutes!

I have some great news! I’m able to run again. I’ve actually been running for a couple of weeks, but I waited to share until I was sure I was going to be able to return to running consistently. I took a picture of my watch this morning to help me document my celebration. That’s 40 minutes of running! This is a huge victory for me. I already feel my sanity returning and my thoughts clearing.

In other news, I’m battling hives again. Do any other fibromyalgia patients get unexplained skin issues? I’ve had two punch biopsies (ouch!) over the years. One dermatologist said the hives are an allergic reaction. To what, he didn’t know. The other dermatologist said I have guttate psoriasis. I tend to disbelieve both of them. Either way, my hives itch. They’re currently on my trunk, elbows, wrists, left breast, and right knee pit. Luckily they’re not nearly as bad as they have been in the past, although I wish they’d go away. It’s so much easier to deal with the hives since I’m running again. There’s something about running that makes me feel like I can take on anything.

hives
My torso is covered in patches of small, itchy hives.

I’m not sure what my next running goals are. I’m hesitant to make any new goals since I’m still just grateful to be able to get out there and run. The core exercises that I do every day have made a huge difference in my life. I’m convinced that increasing my core strength and stability has helped stabilize my SI joints. The spinal support offered by strong muscles is fantastic. And the proof is in my return to running. Planks suck, but they work. I have to be very careful with my movements to keep my back pain-free, but I’m running again, so I feel pretty damn good.

Custom Bicycle for Painless Cycling

bike handlebar extender
Tall handlebars and a parrot horn. Yes!

I sold my road bike several years ago and bought a grandma cruiser. Cervical dystonia and three herniated discs made it impossible for me to comfortably get into an aerodynamic cycling position, but I didn’t want to give up biking after already sacrificing so much to chronic pain. The cruiser I bought is a hybrid bike with plenty of gear choices, and I added some skull stickers to make me feel better about riding a dorky bike. I love it, but until recently, the positioning was still off.

My neck gets very angry if I have any weight come through my left arm for an extended period of time, and the factory setup of the cruiser had me leaning forward too much. I raised the handlebars and lowered the seat as much as safely possible, but still no dice. The local bike shop fixed me up with a custom handlebar extender, and now I’m a much happier cyclist.

extended handlebars
Look how high the handlebars are in relation to the seat.

The extension piece itself is simple—a metal tube that allows the bike’s handlebars to sit up taller than they normally could. Unfortunately, the installation wasn’t so simple. All of the cables on the front of the bike were too short to accommodate the taller handlebars, so the bike technician had to put in all new cables. The labor took about an hour, but when the tech was done, I finally had a bike I could ride comfortably.

Exercising with fibromyalgia and chronic pain takes a bit of creativity, but if you’re committed, there’s usually an answer to most problems. I now sit so upright on my bike that it’s probably comical for people who see me pedal by, but I don’t care. I can ride without neck pain, and that’s worth the dork factor.

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.

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!

Creative Visualization

fibromyalgia creative visualization
Think it, then do it.

Has anyone tried creative visualization? As best as I understand it, focusing on something that you want is supposed to help make it happen. It’s a lot like envisioning how you want your life to be, focusing on that vision, and making it happen.

My visualization of my life has always included sports and outdoor activities. Fibromyalgia has tried very hard to take that vision away. Lately, in part thanks to awesome words from a reader (thanks Stephanie AC), I’m trying creative visualization for the first time. Rather than just imagining something and feeling defeated because it can’t happen, I’m going to imagine it as an attainable reality.

My (hopefully) attainable reality is returning to running. I don’t even have to close my eyes to imagine what it will be like to return to the freedom of moving quickly on my own two feet. Earlier today I drove over the bayou bridge near my house and could almost feel what it would be like to run across that bridge like I did for years. I imagined the salty smell, the hard wind, and the sound of seagulls. I imagined the childlike joy of running so fast down the hill before the bridge that it would feel like flying.

I’m shifting those visions that I’ve always had into energy toward reality rather than disappointment. We’re having almost spring-like weather in northwest Florida right now, and I would love—no, I WILL love to go outside and run in the sun.

Altra Intuition 3 Review

Intuition 3 looking good in the box.
Intuition 3 looking good in the box.

I’ve been a fan of Altra shoes since they first came out and were blocky-looking and virtually unknown. I’ve had every version of the Intuition and three versions of the Lone Peak. I use my Lone Peaks for hiking and will never go back to boots. Until today, my latest pair of Intuitions were the ugliest shoes I’d ever owned, but also some of the most comfortable. They’re crayon pink, similar to Crayola’s carnation, and if they didn’t feel like pillowy heaven I’d never have bought them. For the first time ever in my history with Altra, today I bought a pair of decent-looking shoes. The Intuition 3s that my local running store stocks are coral/blue, and I’m actually excited about how they look rather than just how they feel.

Since looks really don’t matter to comfort and function, of course the ultimate test is how they feel and perform. I bought a size 9.5 despite being a 9 in the second version and an 8.5 in the 1.5 version. I’m not sure if my feet are expanding or if the sizing differences reflect the complaints I’ve read about Altra’s sizing, but it doesn’t bother me. The beauty of shopping locally is being able to try on shoes and go by how they fit rather than a number on a box.

I tried on some Newtons and Sauconys for comparison in the store today, and the Intuition 3 won by a long shot. They’re not as marshmallowy as the 2 and feel more like a responsive running shoe. The laces are much improved over previous versions and are soft and plenty long (the laces on the 2s are woefully short and shoddy). The 3s are lighter and have even less rubber on the outsole compared to the 2s—gone is the rubber from the medial arch.

No more rubber on the outsole under the arch.
No more rubber on the outsole under the arch.

I’ve spent the afternoon walking around in my 3s and haven’t had any break-in issues or complaints. They fit great right out of the box, and I have high hopes for their workout performance. The toe box is wide in the tradition of Altra, but the heel is still narrow enough that I don’t feel like I’m walking in moon boots. For people with fibromyalgia and other chronic health issues, the comfort and function of Altra shoes can make a long workday much more doable. It’s amazing how good your feet can feel when your shoes aren’t deforming them.

I’ve been on a running hiatus for months due to health complications, but I’ve walked a couple of hours or more each runless day in Altras. I’ve wanted to return to running every single day since my health forced me to quit, and I think I might be brave enough to take a few running steps in my new Intuition 3s tomorrow. If not, I hope they serve me as well for walking as their predecessors did. I’ll update this review over time with notes on durability and performance, but the future—at least as far as my shoes are concerned—looks bright.

Piroxicam and Tizanidine

piroxicam
Piroxicam 20mg

After ditching Lyrica, I resolved to do whatever I could to stay off prescription drugs. Very rarely, I took one Skelaxin for muscle spasms. The side effects weren’t worth it most of the time, but sometimes I would be so bad off that I had to take one. As the one-year anniversary of my back and hip issues neared, I couldn’t take the daily pain and stiffness anymore. I made an appointment with the doctor who’s worked on my neck in the past. He’s smart, isn’t afraid of the latest medical technology, and perhaps most importantly, he actually spends time with his patients and listens like a human rather than a hurried robot. Unfortunately, those attributes make it very hard to get an appointment, and I waited two months despite being an established patient.

When I did finally see him, he examined my back and hip and told me a few things I already know, like I have tight muscles and joint laxity. He decided to order a lumbar MRI, which wasn’t a surprise. He also talked me into filling a couple of prescriptions because he was very worried about my high pain levels and lack of sleep. I left his office with two scripts I’d never heard of before—Piroxicam and Tizanidine.

I thought I might not fill the drugs, but pain wore me down and I headed to the pharmacy. I figured I could try them once or twice and get off them quickly if they sucked. Piroxicam is an NSAID pain reliever and Tizanidine is a short-acting muscle relaxer. I was given instructions to take the Piroxicam once per day and the Tizanidine up to three times per day. I took one of each the first night, and was asleep within an hour.

Going to sleep quickly is a big deal with a body wracked by chronic pain. Hell, going to sleep at all is monumental. When I woke up the next morning, I didn’t feel hung over at all—I just felt better. I felt genuinely rested, unlike the crappy, forced sleep that comes from some drugs.

Tizanidine 4mg
Tizanidine 4mg

For several days, I took one Piroxicam in the evening and one Tizanidine before bed, and I felt great. I hiked 21 miles one weekend, and began to feel hopeful about a mostly pain-free back, neck, and hip. As always, I follow a healthy diet and use my hot tub as much as three times per day. The good food, warm water, and new prescriptions gave me a feeling of freedom from pain, and it was priceless.

That feeling was also short-lived. After almost a week, I noticed my back pain was getting more intense again, and my neck felt badly out of alignment. This seems to be the curse with my fibromyalgia—something new helps for a little while, but before long, I’m back to hurting.

I took a break from my nightly muscle relaxer routine and didn’t notice much of a change. However, I’m now on day two of no Piroxicam, and I feel like crap. I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to start taking it again, but I’m leaning toward yes. I’m scheduled for the MRI this afternoon, and if I get stiff having to lie still for it, I’ll probably come home and pop a Piroxicam.

Have y’all tried either one of these medications? If so, what’s been your experience? I’d love to hear from you.