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.

Ten Things I Did Before Fibromyalgia

10. I played soccer—a lot of soccer. It didn’t even seem like a big deal when I’d take off my cleats after a game and find a bloody sock. Pain was temporary before fibromyalgia.

9. I ran around mountains, up mountains, and once down a mountain.

8. I tried new sports, like rollerblading, just for fun. There was no fear of the repercussions of taking a stiff, broken body through a new routine.

7. I took ibuprofen for pain and it actually worked.

6. I sat in a chair and read books for hours without my back hurting.

5. I ate ice cream and brownies and cookies and knew nothing about total-body inflammation.

4. I planned my days around choices rather than obligations—choices like when to go to the gym rather than obligations like having to see the chiropractor just so I can stand to be alive.

3. I travelled, and didn’t have to plan trips around muscle spasms and pain. I carried fun stuff in my luggage rather than needing a carload of pain-relieving props (Back Buddy, camping mattress in case the hotel bed is too soft, cervical pillow, Tiger Balm, etc.).

2. I went to sleep like a normal person. No handfuls of herbal supplements, no piles of pillows to ease back pain, no special cervical pillow. I would just lie down and pull up the covers.

1. I was free without realizing it—free to live as boldly as I wished and without pain—free to explore, to take risks, and to relax.

Hamstrings and Back Pain

I’ve known for a long time that hamstring inflexibility can cause and exacerbate low back pain. Even when I was younger and my body worked well, my muscles were stiff. Now that I’m in my thirties, I’m stiffer than ever. I’ve been dealing with hip and back pain for a year, but until recently, my hamstrings didn’t seem to be the culprit.

hamstring stretch
This is my position for the hamstring stretch. Oddly, I thought my left leg was flat on the mat, but obviously it’s not. Leg-selfie, LOL!

As with all things health-related, our bodies are unique, and what benefits and harms them is often different than what produces similar results in our friends and family. Last week, after my usual chiropractic adjustment, I decided to try a new way of stretching to give my hamstrings one last chance to loosen up and relax their overly powerful grip on my back. My chiropractor agreed that the L5 “involvement” in my back is probably related to stiff legs.

I’ve tried every way imaginable to stretch my hamstrings in the past. I work in physical therapy and have even tried some unconventional methods. This time, I went with the tried-and-true, but with a few modifications.

Lying on my back on a yoga mat, I locked down my abdominal muscles to protect my back. I looped a Stretch Out Strap around my right foot and extended my leg into the air. I allowed my left leg to lie flat on the mat, which isn’t the easiest position to get into while ab bracing.

When I straightened my right leg in the air above my body, I felt an extremely uncomfortable (and familiar) pull at my ankle and knee. Muscles were definitely getting stretched. I used my right hand to hold the Stretch Out Strap and my left hand to force my right knee completely straight. My abs were braced the whole time, and for three minutes without a break I stayed in that position.

I can’t say it was pleasant. Far from it. I sweated. I cursed. I tried to think of distractions. If I’d allowed my resting leg to bend at the knee, as many people recommend, my pelvis would’ve been more comfortable. But I was going for gold. After a year of back pain, I knew taking the comfortable way was not the way for me.

I repeated the scenario on my left leg, with about a minute’s rest between stretches. For a few hours, my back felt worse, but later in the day, I noticed improvement. After five days of aggressively stretching my hamstrings, my back is so much better– no more crazed, pain-driven howling in the middle of the night.

I have no idea if hamstring stretching will work for everybody, but I’m certain that stiff muscles leave us all more susceptible to injury. Ask a physical therapist, check out reputable websites, and get to work on those hamstrings. Don’t give up if results aren’t immediate or the first few positions you try don’t help. You might find relief like I have through trial and error, and once you’re feeling better, the discomfort to get there will have been worth it.

As with all things health-related, ask your healthcare provider before trying anything new.

Product Review: Topricin

TopricinI’m always in the market for any pain reliever that’s homeopathic. The local co-op recently had Topricin on sale, and I bought a 0.75oz tube to give it a try.

I’ve seen pretty bold claims on homeopathic products, and I’m often skeptical. (However, I love Crystal Star Natural Muscle Relaxers and good-quality magnesium supplements). When I first squirted the Topricin on my finger, I was even more unsure of its claim of pain relief. But my back was killing me, so I gave it a try.

For starters, it’s either odorless or has such a slight smell that I can’t detect it. I’m accustomed to all topical pain-relieving products having at least some kind of odor, including my beloved (and quite fragrant) Tiger Balm. But the Topricin literally smelled like nothing.

I rubbed it over my sore vertebrae (thanks, fibromyalgia) and waited for any sort of tingling or other sign that it was working. Nothing. But then I went to sleep, and that’s a rare thing when I’m in pain. I woke up at 3 a.m. to pee and realized my back was much better. Topricin or coincidence?

I tried it thrice more and now I love this odorless product. I’ve sometimes combined it with Tiger Balm for extra relief, although I have no idea if that’s smart or not. I’ve only used Topricin on my painful back and hip, but it says it’s patented for neuropathy and specifically mentions fibromyalgia, plus a host of other conditions.

Nothing is a cure for chronic pain, but Topricin helps, and sometimes that’s the best we can do. Plus, it’s not as full of extremely sketchy ingredients like some prescriptions, and it doesn’t cost much to try a small tube.

Good luck in your pain relief journey, and let me know about your favorite topical products.

As with all things health-related, ask your healthcare provider before trying anything new.

Supplements

Four Natural Muscle Relaxers and a cal-mag-zinc.
Four Natural Muscle Relaxers and a cal-mag-zinc.

What supplements, if any, do you use to improve your health or alleviate symptoms? I’ve experimented with lots of them, and switched brands fairly often. Currently, I take a lot of magnesium to help with muscle spasms caused by dystonia. I also take fish oil, melatonin, and cal-mag-zinc at night. I don’t take a multivitamin because my diet is so clean that I don’t feel like I need one.

For fibromyalgia and/or dystonia flare-ups, I keep Crystal Star Natural Muscle Relaxers on hand. They don’t work wonders, but they also don’t make me turn into a useless zombie like prescription pills do. I tried Curcumin but got no relief, so now I just include a decent amount of turmeric in my diet (just in case it works over time), which is essentially what’s in Curcumin.

I can’t underscore how much I hate prescription drugs. Even though it’s often impossible to live without them, I’ve been so beaten down by side effects in the past that it now takes a very, very bad day to make me turn to prescriptions.

Paraphernalia for the Fibro Sufferer

It looks medieval (if you ignore the blue plastic), but it's actually a great took for working out trigger points in muscles.
It looks medieval (if you ignore the blue plastic), but it’s actually a great tool for working out trigger points in muscles.

What images do you have to describe fibromyalgia? When I look around my house, I see signs of it everywhere. Three bottles of Crystal Star Natural Muscle Relaxers are on my kitchen counter. Two jars of Tiger Balm are on my nightstand and a Back Buddy is on the couch. A cervical pillow is on my bed. My fridge is full of GT’s Kombucha and organic vegetables, and the bathroom looks like an infirmary supply closet.

I took a few pictures of some of the various symptom-relieving paraphernalia around the house and will compile a comprehensive list later this week. Do you have anything you swear by to get through bad days? Nothing in my arsenal is a cure, but each piece has helped at some point.

Fibro Athlete Christmas Wish List

As someone who’s both an athlete and a fibromyalgia sufferer, I have a dichotomous wish list for my material presents this year. At the top of my “stuff” list is Two Old Goats lotion, which is supposed to be great for pain relief. Next is running clothes, so I can pound the pavement while looking cute and updated. Third is Tiger Balm, because I love it for muscle spasm relief. Forth is running shoes, because mine are worn out. Sports and pain have always gone together, but with fibromyalgia, there’s almost never a break from the pain. These days, it’s nice to get a stocking full of goodies that cater to an athlete with fibromyalgia.

Pain Relief in a Hot Tub

After hitting an all-time low of muscle spasms and pain, I’m feeling optimistic and seeing major progress, no drugs required. I’d heard about warm-water therapy and had even helped my patients utilize it when I worked in a clinic with a pool a few years ago, but I thought it was out of reach for me. We can’t afford an in-ground spa (estimate $27,000!), and the natural water around here only reaches 80-85 degrees in the summer. We started pricing hot tubs, and they, too were expensive. Then we found a local company with no-frills hot tubs and great service, and we took the leap and made the purchase.

I’m not sure if this is true in other states, but where I live in Florida, if you have a valid prescription for warm water therapy, you don’t have to pay sales tax on a hot tub. When you’re spending a couple thousand dollars, the lack of sales tax really means something. I’ve also heard that we can claim the hot tub on federal taxes as a medical device, but we’ll see about the possible truth in that once tax time arrives.

The hot tub is a lifesaver. We were able to fit it on our screened porch, so we don’t have to swat mosquitos while trying to relax. I keep the water between 101-102 degrees, and sometimes I use it three times per day. It’s a simple setup—two low bucket seats and one long bench—and it’s perfect. We got a small set of steps to make getting in and out easier, and we put a bathmat under the steps to soak up extra water.

The miracle is the warm water. When we first bought the hot tub, my back was killing me, my neck was hurting, and my knees were aching. The warm water didn’t cure me over night, but it was soothing, and the cumulative effect is incredible. I had to take muscle relaxers and steroids to get me through the worst times, but the hot tub has helped me stay drug-free for the past two months, except for occasional ibuprofen.

I’ve heard that heat bothers some people with fibromyalgia, but for me, cold is the worst. When I sink down in the hot tub, I feel instant relief, and even though it sometimes only lasts a few minutes after getting out of the water, other times it helps for hours and even all day.

At night, my new routine has been to use the hot tub a few hours after dinner, then stretch my muscles on the carpeted bedroom floor. I’m seeing improvements in flexibility, pain, and anxiety. I even started running again two weeks ago—something I’d worried had been taken away from me forever after the latest bout of back and knee pain. I’m increasing the amount of weight I do each week at the gym, and I’m even returning to some high-intensity activities like jumping. I’m nowhere near 100%, but the hot tub is helping me feel closer to normal. I’d hit the point of not being able to do anything I wanted or needed to do, and the feeling of hopelessness is an awful thing. The hot tub wasn’t cheap, but it’s already paid for itself a million times.

Imprisoned by Pain and Spasms

I’m so, so ready to have a more normal, active life. My lower back has been tied up in spasms for almost two weeks, and every time they seem to abate, they quickly return with more force. Sometime in the midst of the back spasms, I got sick with cold/flu-like crap, and the coughing has made my lower back feel like it might explode. I’ve been on oral steroids for four days and have had tons of cough syrup, ibuprofen, and chiropractic treatments. I was finally able to walk a few blocks very slowly last night after barely making it out of bed for days. I hate fibromyalgia.

After exhausting what I consider the final physical cure frontier—changing to a vegan diet—I feel stuck in a C-list movie about how much the body can make life suck. I’m still a big advocate for veganism. Despite living in hell at this moment with excruciating back spasms and flu-like symptoms, the vegan diet’s benefits are still obvious. My skin looks better than it has in years. My sweat doesn’t stink much when I exercise (although I haven’t exercised in awhile). I have regular bathroom habits. My neck has improved, and I’m sleeping regularly. From a nutritional standpoint, I feel like a million dollars.

I’m not sure what the end game is with fibromyalgia. No soccer? Dammit, but ok. No tennis, another dammit, but ok. But the modifications and concessions keep coming, and it feels like I’m down to almost nothing that I actually can do.

Since my low back went to hell, I’ve found my true breaking point. I thought I’d found it before, but I guess that’s the thing about fibromyalgia—it breaks you down so many times that it’s hard to tell when you really hit bottom.