Does Fibromyalgia Keep You from Playing with Kids?

My young cousins will be here for Thanksgiving, and I feel frustrated that fibromyalgia may keep me from playing with them. I want to kick the soccer ball with the older boy and run after the little guy at the playground. But I worry about my back if I pick them up, and I worry that fibromyalgia issues will keep me from having fun with them. I hate to be a person who sits and watches. I like to be part of playing, not a spectator. I pumped up my soccer ball just in case!

Holiday Workout Plans

Does anybody have a post-Thanksgiving workout routine? I know some gyms stay open (mine is 24/7, 365), but the most fun workouts to me are those that involve family and friends. Last year, we did “56 on the 56,” which mean 56 squats, pushups, sit-ups, and box jumps on a friend’s 56th birthday, which was also Thanksgiving Day. This year, my back pain is going to keep me from doing anything so rigorous, but I’ll definitely wish I were out there, rain or shine.

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.

Back Spasm Hell

I feel like a prisoner to my body today. I woke up around 1:30 this morning to terrible lower back spasms. I could barely get out of bed and had to shuffle painfully to the bathroom.

I’d had a slightly sore back yesterday, but fibromyalgia keeps me sore most days, so I didn’t pay much attention to it. I did a very light workout at the gym—no injury or noticeable aggravation there—but a few hours later, when I should’ve been sleeping peacefully, my back felt like someone held it in a vice grip.

Work was pretty miserable today, although my back loosened up a little bit from walking around. Ironically, I worked with students on proper body mechanics and safe patient transfer techniques. It was quite a feat, considering I couldn’t put my shoes on this morning. Fibromyalgia has definitely forced me to be good at verbally explaining things without being able to physically demonstrate. Some days, my body just won’t cooperate with my words.

I napped this afternoon—a rarity for me—on my back with my knees on a pillow and a heating pad under my lower back. I was breaking all kinds of technical rules, like don’t ever put a heating pad under your body and use ice, not heat, on new injuries, but I didn’t care. My heating pad was microwavable and never got very hot, and I’m not comfortable lying on my stomach because of my stupid ongoing neck problems. Heat just seemed like it would be more soothing than ice, and it was. I’ve been able to walk around semi-human-like, which is a big improvement over this morning’s walking posture.

In keeping with my natural/vegan/organic plan to fight fibromyalgia, I ate a raw veggie sandwich for lunch and am currently snacking on popcorn sprinkled with nutritional yeast. Apple cider vinegar and ice water are mixed in my coffee cup. I don’t believe that proper nutrition can cure everything, but I definitely don’t believe that poor nutrition cures anything.

I’d planned to run today, and am working hard to keep my attitude as positive as possible as I gingerly walk around the house. My knee is finally much improved, my neck is taking a break from its usual painful routine, but now my back is out. Some days, fibromyalgia really sucks.

Product Review: Tiger Balm Red Extra Strength

Smells good, feels good.
Smells good, feels good.

I love the way Tiger Balm smells, which is more than I can say for most topical analgesics. I also love the way it soothes my sore joints and muscles—a key component in the road to relief from fibromyalgia symptoms.

After dealing with pain for years, I’ve tried almost everything. CryoDerm is still my favorite topical for the really bad muscle issues, but I prefer Tiger Balm for a less medicine-y experience. Smell-wise, Tiger Balm makes me think of a health food store, and neither the inactive nor active ingredients sound lab-made or scary.

Like many topical pain relievers, Tiger Balm uses menthol 10% as an active ingredient. It also lists camphor 11%. I use the .63 ounce jar of ointment, but there are also Tiger Balm rubs and patches, as well as various formula strengths. I recently bought the Ultra ointment, but haven’t tried it yet.

The most accurate description that I can come up with for the Tiger Balm experience is “soothing.” Everything about it feels gentle, especially compared to other topicals that can leave you smelling like a doctor’s office. Tiger Balm has a variety of natural oils in it, which makes it easy to gently rub in during self-massage.

The hexagonal glass jar is small and easy to store, and it’s kind of cool to look at, too. Tiger Balm takes a few minutes to start working, but once it does, the effect slowly and steadily builds. It wears off fairly quickly like all topicals, but usually stays with me long enough so that I can fall asleep with less pain. I get better results on my neck spasms with CryoDerm, but Tiger Balm makes my sore legs—especially the quadriceps and knees—feel great. And since I’m a believer in staying with natural products whenever possible, I definitely appreciate its ingredients.

Vegan Update

The quick verdict thus far: a vegan diet is helping my fibromyalgia symptoms recede!

At the 2 ½ weeks mark, I’ve had a reduction in arm pain, muscle spasms, and generalized neck pain. I haven’t had any new rashes or random injuries, either, and I’ve been able to sleep fairly normally most nights.

breakfast bowl
Fruit and nuts = breakfast.

Breakfast has been one of the most challenging vegan meals, because I love scrambled eggs. I’ve found a good alternative, even though it’s not even remotely similar to eggs—a bowl of strawberries, pecans, and slivered almonds.

My favorite homemade vegan dinner so far is Indian-style vegetable korma with saffron rice. I used coconut milk as the base for the korma, then added plenty of curry powder, fenugreek, and garam masala. Sweet potatoes, kale, English peas, and cashews were delicious in the seasoned coconut milk.

Simple, vegetable-based sautéed dinners have helped me avoid what some vegans have warned is the “you’re always in the kitchen” trap. Cutting up sweet potatoes, onions, yellow squash, and zucchini and making a quick batch of egg-free cornbread doesn’t take any extra time beyond preparing a meat-based dinner at home.

I’m realizing more and more how dependent I was on dairy. I miss cheese like an old friend, but the loss is getting easier to deal with as time passes. Fibromyalgia really, really sucks. Dealing with it can be very hard, but having struggled for so many years with pain, the food-based sacrifices to become vegan probably seem a lot less challenging then they would if life had been easier the past few years. I’m going to keep going on this vegan train, and will continue to post updates for those interested in using diet to control their fibromyalgia.

Product Review: CryoDerm

As a longtime athlete and fibromyalgia sufferer, I’ve tried almost everything imaginable to relieve the joint and muscle pain that I experience on a regular basis. I even once had a woman rub “dragon’s blood” on my neck. It was red liquid in a bottle with Vietnamese writing on the label. It didn’t work, but it had an interesting smell.

cryoderm
4oz bottle of CryoDerm liquid gel.

CryoDerm is a topical pain-relief product that comes in several varieties, including roll-on, spray, and gel. My chiropractor has used the spray on my back and neck a few times, and I have a bottle of the gel at home. As of this posting, a 16 ounce bottle is around $33 online.

The active ingredient in CryoDerm is listed as Menthol USP 10%, which is common with many topical, non-prescription pain relievers. Other ingredients that catch my eye are arnica, boswella (although most sources site “boswellia”), eucalyptus oil, and peppermint oil. All of those, as far as my research goes, are plant-based. There is a handful other ingredients, so read the label if you have sensitivity issues.

I’ve used CryoDerm for muscle spasms, herniated disc pain, aching knees, and tendonitis in my wrists and elbows. It’s a bit liquidy, and I’ve had the gel drip down my body before I could rub it in. CryoDerm definitely smells like a medicinal preparation, but I like its sinus-clearing properties. It takes about two minutes for me to notice any effects, but then there’s a nice tingling that gives way to a deeper, soothing feeling.

CryoDerm is no miracle drug, but it does a good job of calming acutely aggravated parts of my body. My right wrist was hurting too much to type this morning, but since using CryoDerm on my elbow, forearm, and wrist, I’m able to type again. It’s also calmed my neck spasms enough to allow me to concentrate on work.

The label says not to apply CryoDerm more than four times per day, but in my experience, it only lasts ½ hour – 45 minutes, depending on the severity of pain in any given area of my body.

I definitely recommend trying CryoDerm if you’re already a fan of topical pain relief treatments. It’s not as greasy as IcyHot and doesn’t tend to ball up like BioFreeze. And, their website claims “no animal testing,” so yay for simple kindness.

Disclaimer: Consult your healthcare provider before trying anything new.

Vegan, Day 3

Newby vegan pitfall—tortilla chips. Yes, they’re unhealthy and fattening, but they’re also vegan, and they taste great with guacamole, which is also vegan. I gained two pounds from water retention overnight!

I didn’t sleep much last night. I couldn’t get comfortable, despite an impressive selection of memory foam and cervical support pillows. My right arm, both knees, both hips, neck, and thoracic muscles were unhappy. I can tell there’s a facet joint locked in the upper thoracic area, and I’ve been resetting it by rolling on a ball (not fun, BTW), but I couldn’t get it to stay unlocked last night.

This morning, I mustered a decent 48-minute run through a couple of local parks. I had trouble looking for cars, because I couldn’t turn my head or upper back enough to see behind me. Most of the other aches improved during the run, but the back and neck did not. And, as I thought about my newly minted veganism, I majorly craved a baloney and mayonnaise sandwich.

For the record, I think baloney is gross. But there’s something about “can’t” that makes me want all kinds of non-vegan fare. I don’t feel any different yet (and I don’t expect to), although the random cravings are odd. When I got back from my run, I had a big bowl of Mesa Sunrise cereal with fresh strawberries, peaches, and unsweetened almond milk. So far, it’s easy to eat a vegan diet, but the cravings are definitely wild.

On a more serious note, I understand that fibromyalgia is closely tied to inflammation in the body. Refined sugar, dairy, and heavily processed foods have been reported to cause or increase inflammation. It seems like a no-brainer that going vegan could help or even cure fibromyalgia. Personal results remain to be seen, but I’m hopeful.

Vegan, Day One

Desperation—muscle spasms, joint aches, a persistent rash on my left hip—has led me to my latest attempt to cure fibromyalgia. The last reasonable solution I haven’t attempted is veganism, and as of today, I’m giving it a chance.

I was a vegetarian for much of high school and college, although not a particularly healthy one. My meal choices centered around cheese pizza, tater tots, soda, and ice cream. Not eating meat isn’t a huge leap for me, but veganism is. I’ve been on a mostly organic-based diet for years, but that includes organic cheese, free-range meat, and even organic ice cream. I cut out refined sugar for five months and saw minimal results, but I’m hoping that going with a strict vegan diet will finally kick fibromyalgia out of my life.

This morning, I had our local co-op’s version of energy bars for breakfast. They’re fig-based squares with cocoa powder, goji berries, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds. I’ve eaten them for years before a long run, so this day so far hasn’t been much of a foray into veganism. I have a feeling that it won’t be for three or four days that I really notice how closely I have to watch my food choices to stick to the vegan way of life.

Pain can make a person crazy. Fibromyalgia combines pain with a special kind of erratic yet constant crazy. If almond milk, fig paste, and Brussels sprouts can fix this hell, then I’ll raise a glass of kombucha to the vegan cure.

Running from Pain

Ever tried on pants that were several sizes too small, stretching the seams to the max? This morning, the muscles across my upper back felt like overburdened seams, straining and ripping. I was angry, depressed, cynical, and miserable. I begged my girlfriend to tell me everything would be fine. She couldn’t. So I went for a run.

I made it 61 minutes and 42 seconds in the Florida summer heat. An absolute fury built inside me while I ran. My upper back and neck felt like a feather being pulled apart down the middle, and I could’ve sworn someone stabbed me in the collarbone and left the knife there. The worse the pain, the stronger the fury.

I lucked out today. It’s hard to say that athletes with fibromyalgia luck out with much, but the fury cooking inside me allowed me to wrench loose some of the locked facet joints and muscles spasms. I swung my left arm at an odd angle while I ran, and by the half-hour mark, the tearing sensation gave way to crepitus and popping. And then release, physical and emotional.

Not all days bring such luck. I’ve run many miles where I couldn’t even turn my head to look for cars because muscle spasms locked me in a straight-ahead stare. Sometimes my hips and knees feel like they’re on fire when my bodyweight lands for a footfall. But not today.

I hate fibromyalgia. It may kill me one day, but I’m going to fight every second not only for my life, but for my lifestyle as an athlete.