Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sudden and Chronic Pain – Frozen Shoulder, Back Injuries, etc

I’ve realized I am not so keen to write about dealing with health challenges in this public forum, I prefer to post about nice things like the good aspects of living in beautiful Saint Lucia...

Beautiful St. Lucia with Mt Gimie (4 peaks on left) and Petit Piton (tiny triangle rt of cntr) clear on a sunny day
But as I think about it, discussing these same things amongst friends and acquaintances face to face and online, we all get good advice, ideas, support and, very importantly, feel less alone in coming to terms with sudden or chronic pain or physical mobility issues.

I’m 48 and am balancing a desire and need to keep fit – become fitter – with the reality of damage to my body in my late teens – torn muscles and back put out from my days of Karate when St. Lucia did not have the plethora of sports therapists and chiropractors etc that it does now, so basically, injuries went untreated; top that with recent years of inactivity and repetitive strain and, yes, bad posture…it’s a challenge.

Over the years I’ve come to know that my neck and spine have areas of compacted vertebrae and my hip is ‘stressed’ and lower back tends to pop outta line now and again – only once did it really go, and HELL no! That ain’t happening again! I know the signs and know how to prevent that, but many a day – especially when I was teaching a few years aback, I’d be walking like an 85 yr old for days on end…not nice.

About 15 months ago, during a particularly intense work period, my left shoulder seized up: I was pretty freaked out by it – suddenly I couldn’t put my hand on my hip (something as a West Indian, I naturally love to do :-) I couldn’t reach across my shoulder, couldn’t remove a t-shirt without serious pain and struggle…damn! I felt really OLD and worn out! Not what my mind had as a picture of me!

Since then, after seeing a doctor to check it was not something more serious (stroke) and confirming it was ‘Frozen Shoulder’ complicated by my other spine issues, I decided I didn’t like being like this and was going to find ways to get over it. So, here’s what I did
  • I started with Physio and got gentle exercises to help release the tension
  • I read up all I could find online – many places said, there’s nothing you can do for Frozen Shoulder – that’s crap – of course there is: Those that said there is, recommended dealing with ‘pressure points’ – getting energy flowing; gentle movement; avoiding repetitive strain and long-held stretching exercises to release the tension and get muscles and joints to relearn what they should be doing.
  • Asked in groups I belong to for others’ experiences; you’d be surprised how many people suffer similar things to anything you’re going through – ask, there’s a wealth of knowledge and advice at your fingertips.
  • Went to massage therapists (Ti Khan Health Clinic in St. Lucia – highly recommend them) and though painful, the results were so well worth it – for my lower back I wondered ‘Why, oh why did I not do this before?’
  • Had reflexology as well – I highly recommend a good reflexologist – it’s not a relaxing session, it damn well hurts like hell if you have issues to be dealt with, but you come out feeling a whole lot better.
  • I had Acupuncture too – again, a good acupuncturist, I believe, does help – you feel the effects if it’s done properly – it’s hard to describe, but your energy is flowing differently when you come out of a session.
  • Had Chiropractic sessions – these help a lot – adjusting the alignment of your spine, for me it helps. Some people are scared of it as it’s just plain counter-intuitive, having someone whip your neck and back round…maybe it’s too many murder TV series or something, but it does work for me. Basically, when your spine goes out, your muscles are in spasm because your spine’s out and neither can relax back into place without help: hence releasing both parties – one by massage, one by chiropracty.
  • And eventually, I went back to Yoga classes – during the period when my shoulder froze, I had not been going to classes as I was ‘in South’ and the classes were ‘up North’. Finding the type of yoga that suits you is key too – for me I’m not a major Iyengar fan – though done without too many props, it is the best for getting alignment for your body…but for others, they love it. I found a class that was part Iyengar part Vinyasa and I liked that one (Yoga on the Bay/Fresh Moves Yoga Studio, St. Lucia – highly recommended).
  • Most important with yoga or any exercise is to find a knowledgeable teacher who can and will pay attention to your health challenge and who can encourage you to push yourself while ensuring you don’t push too far – making you comfortable to progress at a pace that’s right for you.
  • At one point, I got a strong urge to learn to run…I’ve never been a runner…and I still am not, lol! But…I did try – and I was amazed at how far I got, and I now believe I could incorporate running as part of my fitness schedule, but I also realized I have to deal more gently with my hip before I could be able to run – on the road – without doing more damage than good. I walk now, at least try to get in a couple 3mile walks a week (don’t always get it done but I try!)
My running coach said to me, the reason I was so focused on wanting to run is that it’s a natural instinct of our body and mind – when you want to move forward, overcome…so it was good to go with that flow – and with the knowledge of the Yoga teaching, be comfortable reaching my body’s own level of achievement, not being let down that I didn’t suddenly become a 10k champ!

So, my progress is up and down – some days pain-free, many days not. Sometimes work brings back on the stress pains – some days life allows time to heal and grow stronger, but the most important thing I believe I’ve learnt from all of this is that you must, above all, know you CAN do something – don’t let people tell you you can’t; but at the same time understand you may only progress at a very slow pace – that’s ok.

There are other things I learnt:
  • NSAIDs are now believed to increase joint damage in the long run (I took loads of them for years for migraines – that’s another story, but briefly, what you eat and drink and your lifestyle can make a huge difference for migraines) But sometimes you need them to help reduce inflammation. Or…My first yoga teacher Jill Hagar swears by drinking a ‘tea’ of ginger and turmeric daily – it reduced inflammation for her in her hip so much that her doctors postponed planned surgery.
  • Generally, what you eat makes a lot of difference – certain foods increase inflammation – processed white wheat – that’s the bad one for many people but there are others, research, consult a natural health professional…but don’t replace bad foods with stress over what you can’t eat :-) I seriously believe sometimes the stress you might put yourself through over something you’re not supposed to eat can do more damage!
  • Stretch often and start softly and ease into deeper stretches and hoooolllldddd.
  • Breathe; Sit up; Keep breathing :-) Lower your shoulders, learn to find space in your spine
  • Learn to tell the difference between ‘ok’ pain and bad pain – stretching and healing your muscles will be painful but there is a limit of ‘good’ pain and it’s important to be able to tell.
  • Typing is a bitch. Take breaks – it’s typing that was the trigger for my shoulder –still is!
  • Swimming does not necessarily work for shoulder injuries – for me it triggers pain. Test out exercises and find what works for you – with guidance from trained professionals if you can
  • You CAN afford to get treatment – for me, self-employed, many a time I think “Where the hell am I going to find the money for Yoga class?” and worse when I need a few sessions at the therapist. But the reality is, if I want to actually be living life and I want to earn a living…I can’t say I can’t afford to invest in Yoga or therapy…what I can’t afford is to allow challenges of pain and mobility to stop me from living.
So, hope some of that helps some of you find a way forward and to enjoy life a bit more despite challenges; please do share if you have a story to tell, piece of advice or suggestion also!

Love Life; Live.

Beautiful St. Lucia, Sunday evening Sunset (with friends) at Pigeon Island...