Three Weeks, Three Ailments

I’ve had a tough three weeks. Technically, a tough three weeks and three days. I woke up three Mondays ago completely unable to turn my head. It was nothing new, just an aggravation of persistent cervical dystonia, but I’d really thought my body was doing better than ever. I’d been feeling strong lately and had upped my workout intensity. I’d been lifting heavier weights than usual and doing more core work, especially planks, than I’d ever done in my life. I felt pretty great, all things considered. Then I woke up and couldn’t move my head.

My awesome chiropractor, who I’m truly not sure I can live without, helped set my vertebrae back where they belong. He found most of the issues in the thoracic spine, and it took a few days and multiple adjustments, but I started feeling normal (normal for me!) again. My talented PT friends worked on me, too, and after a couple sessions of Dolphin Neurostim, I was looking left and right without turning my entire body. I took a week off from exercise, which I hated, but I thought some rest might help me move on from neck trouble faster than usual. It seemed to work, and by day 8, I was walking comfortably for an hour and lifting a few light weights.

As the middle of the second week approached, my head was turning pretty well without chiropractor help, and I set my sights on returning to running and other challenging workouts. I actually missed planking and couldn’t wait to return to it. Then my throat got sore, a headache came on, and I was super tired. Symptoms of a common cold were alarming enough, but then I felt sick. Really, really sick. I spent the night throwing up and generally feeling like death. Every joint in my body ached. The next day, I was dizzy and exhausted and a nurse at a walk-in clinic said my blood pressure was 80/50 (hence the dizziness) and my pulse was 118. Dehydration is a scary beast.

I hate going to the doctor. Dealing with chronic pain and medical conditions has already required too much time in doctors’ offices, so the idea of going even for severe dehydration is off limits. Stubborn, stupid, whatever. We all make our choices. My wife bought me some crackers and Gatorade and we went home rather than to the hospital as the nurse suggested. One of the only bonuses about being that sick was it gave me the ability to sleep. I slept more the last several nights than I have in years.

After a miserable weekend, the stomach stuff and dehydration were under control, but the cold was back with a vengeance. My neck was super tight and painful again and I felt defeated. After three weeks of fighting one ailment after another, I’d lost three pounds and watched the visible muscles in my abdomen begin to disappear. I could tell my legs and arms were getting weaker, too. Everything I’d worked so hard for was literally wasting away. I allowed a five-minute pity party, then got out the Wii. There’s nothing like a hearty game of Wii Fit Plus hula hoop to make me feel alive again. I was stiff and sore, but it was great to get moving again.

My chiropractor loosened up my t-spine again, and I’m eating normally without any stomach trouble. Mostly all that’s still hanging on are the cold symptoms, plus the usual stiff neck. I’m so ready to be back to a full life. I charged up my old Garmin watch and am ready to go as soon as I can breathe through my nose again.

In the midst of all this, the weather has gotten cooler—finally. We still hit daytime temps of 90+, but the evenings are less humid and more tolerable. I’m really hoping that by this weekend I’ll be able to get out and enjoy the taste of fall in the air. One of the hardest things about being hurt and sick is being forced to take a break from life. I’m ready to get out and explore my corner of the world.

Sprained Ankle Update

KT Tape
Bright purple with reflective accents– yes, it really is a medical product.

I was miserable Monday and Tuesday, but a very talented massage therapist relaxed the muscles around my sprained ankle Tuesday night. The gastrocnemius and soleus were very tight, and since they form a common tendon (the Achilles), I was hurting pretty bad. Working some toxins out of the calf muscles and massaging the rest of my legs took away more than half the pain in my ankle and Achillles.

Wednesday morning I asked my boss and chiropractor to look at my ankle. He said it looked surprisingly good for the heavy roll I’d given it, but said a few small bones in my feet were locked. I don’t like anybody touching my feet but I let him adjust the mid-foot, and man, what a difference. I was almost immediately pain free and able to walk for 45 minutes at lunch.

Today is Thursday, four days after the initial injury. I used KT Tape to stabilize my ankle and Achilles then gave it a quick test on a 3-mile easy run. No hills, no off-road, nothing tricky. The ankle did great with only a little Achilles soreness.

This was my first time using KT Tape. I’m an athlete from way back when rigid white athletic tape and non-breathable under-wrap were the only answers to taping an ankle. I’m now hooked on the KT Tape. The online videos KT Tape are very helpful in explaining and demonstrating everything for various applications. I chose to do a combination of the ankle tape and Achilles tape, so mine doesn’t look exactly like the manufacturer recommends, but it works for me. Bonus: it’s bright purple, the color of my undergrad alma mater.

The tape survived the 3-mile run just fine, and I’ve been wearing it since this morning and there’s no slippage or friction or anything irritating. The Pro version, which I bought, is supposed to last four days, and hopefully by then my ankle won’t need any help. The roll I bought is plenty big to wrap it a few more times if necessary, though. I anticipate my battle now being more common sense than anything. I have a hard time resting when the weather is beautiful, but I know I still need to ice and elevate the ankle a few times per day. I’m so happy this sprain didn’t turn into anything major!

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.

Magnesium for Muscle Spasms

I didn't really know the difference in brands beyond the labels, but I chose to buy the magnesium from the co-op so at least there was some form of quality control.
I didn’t really know the difference in brands beyond the labels, but I chose to buy the magnesium from the co-op so at least there was some form of quality control.

I’m still feeling stronger in general from cutting out every bit of processed food, but I’ve been having really bad trouble with muscle spasms again. My neck, back, and hips are so tight that I can’t move normally. The orthopedist dry-needled my hip and back last week and shot steroids (which I HATE) into my hip. The chiropractor gave me a couple of a major back and pelvis adjustments earlier this week, and the massage therapist tried to work through my concrete-like muscles. Two nights ago, I had one of the scariest episodes of muscle spasms ever.

I went to bed with my usual grouping of pillows—cervical pillow under my head and neck, memory foam pillow under my knees, thin synthetic pillow under my ankles and feet—and thought I might be able to sleep with minimal back and neck pain. That part was true, but around 4 a.m. I awoke to what felt like someone tearing my left calf muscles off the bone.

Normal calf cramps are something I’m quite familiar with, and this episode was nothing like the post-workout, dehydration-induced cramps of the past. The pain was so intense that I was yelling, and I’m usually pretty controlled since I’m used to fibromyalgia. No amount of squeezing the muscle and trying to stretch it was working, and I was terrified that something was happening to my body that could not be undone. My neck’s been spasming for 3 ½ years. My back’s been bad since October 2013. And now my lower leg?

The excruciating pain finally subsided and the muscle unwound a bit after two of us nearly squeezed it to death. I couldn’t straighten my knee or dorsiflex my ankle, and I had to crawl to the bathroom. Every time I tried to do anything but keep the leg bent and guarded, the spasm would start again. I’ve never experienced pain like that—not even when I was kicked in the face and broke my nose and cracked my jaw. I knew I wouldn’t die from a leg spasm, but it was the kind of pain that makes me wish it would kill me swiftly.

Fibromyalgia is a cruel game of trial and error. I’ve got the diet thing down pretty well, although there’s always room for tinkering with specific foods. I thought I was getting plenty of nutrition since I eat only fresh meats and vegetables and fruits, but now I’m considering magnesium deficiency as a possible spasm cause (or contributing factor).

Has anybody else tried magnesium supplements? As soon as I was able to get out of the house, I carefully loaded myself into my SUV and drove to the local co-op for organic bananas (potassium) and magnesium supplements. I noticed a decline in muscular tightness within two hours of taking the first magnesium pill. I’m hoping that a buildup of magnesium will finally stop the recurrent spasming in my body.

I’d love to hear from anybody with magnesium supplement experience. As always, y’all can private message me on Facebook or leave a comment here.

Physical Therapist and Chiropractor to the Rescue

I sometimes undervalue the effectiveness of physical therapy and chiropractic work. In my latest bout with back and hip pain, I was reminded of something that I ironically tell my patients and friends regularly: non-invasive treatment can be the best kind of medicine.

After my sacroiliac joint pain progressed into gluteal spasms and a rotated pelvis, sitting became impossible. I stood for as many hours of the day as I could, and laid prone with a pillow under my hips for the remaining hours. I couldn’t sleep because of the pain, and I finally had a “duh” moment. I work at a spinal rehab clinic. My bosses are a top-shelf physical therapist and an awesome chiropractor. Time to ask for help from the best.

I’m sometimes too passive in asking for help because fibromyalgia makes me feel like I need help way too often. But when I couldn’t sit or sleep, it was time for intervention. My boss /physical therapist put me through a thorough evaluation, and I started treatment two days later. It can be a little strange to be a patient in my own clinic, but the tradeoff is knowing that I’m getting great treatment. The decrease in my pain, progress in flexibility and mobility, and renewed ability to sit (and sleep) are testaments to how well chiropractic care and physical therapy can work together to heal even chronic pain suffers.

I’ve been to two PT/chiro sessions this week, and am currently able to sit pain-free on the floor. I had no idea how important sitting is until I couldn’t do it for a few days. I ran 6 ½ miles on Monday and was able to concentrate on the blue sky over the beach rather than the pain in my back and hip. Tuesday, I could do light weightlifting at the gym and actually sit down for dinner rather than standing through meals. Today, I ran 5 miles, walked the dogs, and was able to sit for 15 minutes in the hot tub without feeling like my sacrum was about to stab through my skin.

Forgive the pun, but fibromyalgia is a pain in the ass. I think the best way to sum up fibromyalgia to people who don’t understand it is to say this: it’s not just a cluster of random and sometimes unexplained painful symptoms (although there are definitely those). Normal injuries happen, but the aftermath is abnormal. The consequences from a healthy runner falling on a trail run are usually some bruises and scrapes. The consequences from a fibromyalgia-suffering runner falling on a trail turn into weeks of muscle spasms, misaligned bones, and exhaustion. It’s like fibromyalgia makes a worst-case scenario out of every situation.

The longer I live and the longer I fight chronic health problems, the less faith I have in pills and surgery. While those things are good options for some people, I prefer to stay as minimally invasive and drug-free as possible. Luckily, I have access to extremely competent and like-minded health practitioners who can stretch, massage, and manipulate my body into a good enough place to keep me out of the pill bottles and out from under the knife. I’ll never again underestimate the power of a physical therapist and a chiropractor—or the convenience and comfort of sitting.

Sacroiliac Dysfunction and Exhaustion

I ran 10 miles on Sunday and felt like a million bucks. I drank sips of sugary tea every 20 minutes and was able to maintain a pace of 8:40 per mile for all 10 miles, which is pretty fast for me at that distance. I was on top of the world that night and felt motivated and energized for more.

The next morning was a different story. My right sacroiliac joint felt off, and my back was stiff and extremely sore. My walking gait was awkward, and sitting was very uncomfortable. I went to my boss/chiropractor/friend for an adjustment, and he confirmed the problem in my right SI joint. He had to use a lot of force to get a proper adjustment, but the relief was immediate. However, so was the fatigue.

I barely managed 15 minutes on the elliptical that evening, and today, I’m totally wiped out. My back is holding its position, which is great, but I feel like I’ve been run over by a bus. The actual SI joint is majorly inflamed and has palpable swelling, and when the alarm went off for my 6:30 a.m. run, I opted to stay in bed with an ice pack instead. Work was pretty torturous the rest of the day, and I laid down as soon as I got home.

We all know that fibromyalgia causes fatigue. My questions are these—has anybody else experienced SI joint dysfunction along with fibromyalgia? If so, has extreme fatigue come along with it? Have any other fibromyalgia patients had massively increased fatigue after chiropractic adjustments? Thanks for your input! I’m going back to bed with an ice pack.