Feeling Better, Looking Ahead

bayou sunrise
Sunrise over the bayou while I ran at an hour when I’m usually still in bed.

I had a rough September, starting with a flareup of cervical dystonia. I’d been working out pretty hard for a couple months, and I suspect some of the exercises I did were too much for my neck. As I began to recover, I got a cold, and the next day got the stomach flu. It was almost comical except that I felt awful and got super dehydrated.

Now that I’ve been close to 90% normal (my normal), I’m increasing my exercise again. I got up at 5 this morning and went for a run, happy to avoid the 90-degree temps that will come later today. The sunset over the bayou was enough to encourage me to stop and enjoy it even though I knew I had limited time to run before the heat rose to a miserable level.
As I regain running strength, I’m alternating ten minutes of endurance training– slow, steady pace– with five minutes of speedwork– fast (for me) pace but not sprint. I’m comfortably up to 35 minutes of running each session, and I’m sure I could do more, but I don’t want to relapse into another battle with neck spasms.
I bought a new peanut, which is essentially two lacrosse balls joined to form a torture device. I hate using it, but it’s highly effective at breaking some of my cervical and thoracic spasms. I was super stiff and headed toward immobility last night, but the peanut came through for me and I feel much better this morning.
I’ve also gotten more dedicated to rolling, which I intended to mean I’m rolling twice every day, but what actually means I’m rolling about five days a week. I use a solid foam roller and it’s helping a lot to reduce the tension in my legs and back. Rolling the outside of my thighs makes my eyes water, but, like the peanut, the results are totally worth the temporary discomfort.
One of the weirdest, lingering effects of my September health issues is a major shift in my appetite. I lost four pounds when I had the stomach flu, and I’m pretty sure most of it was fluid loss. However, since then, I’m alternately ravenous for random food (like beans, rice, and salsa for breakfast!) and unable to finish my meals. I’ve been a mega-portion eater for many years, so this shift is very odd. I’m giving myself some leeway and allowing, within reason, whatever meals I want. I draw the line at pure crap, like the serious cravings I’ve been having for milkshakes, but I admit to eating corn chips and Mexican food for breakfast this morning.
I’m not one to wish time away, but I’m really looking forward to October. I hope the ridiculous high temperatures will finally drop. I can’t wait to actually feel cold when I walk outside. This October marks three years since my back started giving me major trouble, but I’m not dwelling on that anniversary. I’m ready to do some serious hiking and backpacking when the weather cools off, and I’m certain October will bring the cool breezes and nights that I crave.

Impromptu Camping Trip

blackbird marsh trail
The Blackbird Marsh Trail connects to the Florida Trail.

Our midweek camping trip at the beach was the perfect impromptu escape. Luckily the National Seashore had a cancelation and we were able to make a last-minute reservation on our favorite camping loop near the Gulf of Mexico.

The weather was almost perfect—seventies in the day, sixties at night—but the wind was incredible. Our tent almost took off several times while we pitched it, and the rainfly stood up like a parachute. We finally got everything secured and set off for a two-hour hike on the Florida Trail. We usually hike 4+ hours, but my wife is still in recovery from a hoverboard accident and two hours on her feet was a major victory.

armadillo florida trail
Armadillos are common along the National Seashore section of the Florida Trail.

At the turtle bridge near the northern terminus of the Florida Trail, we saw one of the coolest things we’ve ever seen—a large snake swimming across the water. The snake was incredibly fluid and silent along the top of the water, and as city-dwellers, we were mind-blown.

We finished our hike and made lunch, and my back suddenly started to hurt. Pain shot down my right leg almost to my foot. I worried I’d have a sleepless night, but decided to put my shoes back on and go for a trail run. It doesn’t make sense within normal parameters, but often a run makes my back feel much better, almost like the pounding helps return everything to where it’s supposed to be.

The wind was so stiff that I sometimes felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere, but it was a great 45-minute run. I saw a thru-hiker finishing his walk and a mile or so later I was charged by an armadillo who didn’t realize I was on the trail. He took off to root through the remnants of a fallen tree before we played a full game of chicken, and it was fun to watch his short legs propel his oval body toward me.

Running through the campground proved no less entertaining. It’s normal to see dogs tied up at campsites, but someone in a truck camper had their cat tied to their rig. The cat was quite fat and seemed immensely happy. He wore a collar with a bell and was attached to the camper by a harness and retractable leash. I love random animal sightings while running.

altra intuition
My Altra Intuitions got in some good trail miles.

When I got back to our tent, my back pain had greatly receded and was down to a dull ache. I did a few more exercises from my core routine (I’d done the others earlier) and stretched a few key muscles, and even after cooling down my back pain stayed very low. I am a wholehearted believer in using exercise as a weapon against chronic pain.

I cooked fresh salmon, dill, and white quinoa for dinner (we eat healthily even while camping!) and we got into our tent at eight o’clock because bugs were eating up our ankles. I hesitantly stretched out on my camping mattress and was pleasantly surprised to find all the radiating pain completely gone from my leg and even the centralized pain in my back was barely there. The wind blew so hard all night that we thought the tent might collapse, but we both got some sleep and awoke to the sounds of Gulf waves crashing on a beautiful morning.

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.

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.

Patellofemoral Syndrome

I had a doctor dry-needle my left knee pain yesterday, which is an experience I can only describe as having an MD treat my body like a voodoo doll. It was extremely painful, but I think it did some good. She said I have patellofemoral syndrome, which I’d guessed, but she also said the words no athlete wants to hear—“stop running for a week.”

It’s hard to know whether athletic injuries that I accumulate are truly as bad as they feel, or if fibromyalgia exaggerates the pain. That aspect of fibromyalgia—the intensified sensitivity to injury—is one of the ones that makes me crazy. I never want to back off a good workout if there’s not much of an injury, but on the other hand, I don’t want to keep going to agony if there really is something badly wrong. It’d be nice to have a more normal sensory pattern so that I could have a better gauge of how bad I’m hurt.

I won’t be able to run for a week because of the knee, but I fully intend to walk, lift weights, and do lots of stretching. I’m not sure if other fibromyalgia patients experience extreme inflexibility, but I do. My tight hamstrings make it difficult for me to even sit upright with my legs extended, and my neck is barely capable of side-bending. I’m planning to use this latest painful setback as time to develop a good, long-term plan for improved mobility. I just hope this knee pain lets up soon, because it’s making me a little nuts right now.

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.