Sunday, August 10, 2014

Time for a New Game Plan

It has NOT been a good week.  We now know that John has been fighting Bronchitis - something that set in for him while I was on the girls camping trip.  We are just thankful that Friday's doctor appointment cleared him from pneumonia and gave an alternative diagnosis that antibiotics could clear up.  His high pitched wheezy couch had us mighty worried.

I'm pretty sure my body's been working on that since the weekend, given the tremendous amount of lethargy I've experienced.   Just as I was bouncing out of my fight with that, another headache kicked in - giving me about only 48 hours in a 7 day time span of being pain free.  And, recognizing each of these headache periods were rather unresponsive to Mom, escalating in intensity and length of time - let's just say, I've been in a bit of a low place.  

John and I see the same doctor and he mentioned to her what I was dealing with.  She wants to meet with me soon to see what can be done, so I put together a diary of this summer's struggles with headaches.  (Circled numbers indicate pain level).  And, then, I did A LOT of research as to what, if anything, I can start doing (again?) to make this quality of my life improve.  Because, THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE.  

One thing that I've felt inclined to correct over the years is that I do not get "Migraine" headaches.  I am a chronic tension headache sufferer with pain (at times) that intensifies to the point that I'll mirror migraine symptoms.  Really, it's probably just a universal response to pain at that level - nausea, chills, shaking, heat's a good time.  :(

My headaches began shortly after Brayden was born.  His ten pounds of birth weight combined with a car seat I lugged around wreaked havoc on my neck.  Eventual visits to a chiropractor and doctor showed I had degenerative disc issues in my neck.  No surprise.  Then, the accident happened.  And, everything I'd felt before - the frequency, intensity, length of pain, etc. - all quadrupled in terms of damage.  Over the counter pain medications wouldn't touch the pain, simple massages wouldn't bring relief - without my mom, a supportive doctor, and modern medicine, my life would have looked a lot bleaker that it ended up being.   

But, I'm to the point of realizing that it's time for me to kick back in to the equation.  Obviously, I'm the one to ask for regarding massage tools and creams/gels that will help alleviate the pain.  I can spot bad posture a mile away.  I'm very responsible and skilled with prescription medicines - I know how they work, what they are capable of, and at what point it's a lost cause.  And, the amount of effective ice packs I've amassed is impressive.  I even have a special playlist on my phone as my go-to when all else fails and I'm desolately bed-ridden.  But, what I haven't done, is returned to the physical therapy exercises (with discipline and regularity) that I had initially after the accident.   

Here's some interesting information that brought me a little more hope yesterday.  All stuff I've heard before, but to read it again - sometimes you just need a reminder, something for your brain to tangibly wrap itself around and cling to with purpose. 

Simply put, tension headaches come from muscle tension in your neck, shoulders and upper back. This tension is usually a result of poor posture and, less frequently, some sort
of trauma (like a car accident).
The Cause of Chronic Tension Headaches
Here's how your tension headaches typically become chronic:
• You work all hunched over at your job
• You continue to practice poor posture at home
• This posturing tightens the muscles of your neck, shoulders and upper back
• After awhile, this tightness causes muscle spasms
• These spasms restrict blood flow to the back of your head and irritate nerves in
the back of your neck and head

Here's a typical scenario: You go to work every day at a job that you're used to
performing in a lousy posture. Maybe you stoop over your work, maybe you hunch over
a computer terminal, maybe you drive all day. The common denominator is that while
you do these jobs, your back's stretched out, your shoulders are rolled in and your head's
jutted out. When you get home, you continue practicing this poor posture by curling up in
front of the T.V., or sitting hunched over in your easy chair.
If you're like most people, you continue this posture when you go to bed because you
sleep in the fetal position.
When you're caught in this cycle, you've trained your muscles to adapt to this abnormal
positioning. This positioning elongates your back muscles, curls up your shoulder
muscles, strains your neck muscles and constricts your chest. This is what causes your
tightness. It's a sign that these muscles are under tremendous stress.
Unfortunately, it gets worse. The continual strain on your neck, shoulder and upper back
muscles results in tearing on a microscopic level. Your body tries to prevent this tearing
by forcing these muscles to knot up. The result: muscle spasms. Despite these spasms,
some tearing does occur because of the continual strain you're putting on them. Over
time, your body tries to heal these tears by forming microscopic scar tissue over them.
These scar tissue fibers effectively lock your spasms into place.

Why is this important? Because the tightness in your neck, shoulders and upper back and
the spasms associated with this tightness restrict blood flow to the back of your head (it's
like stepping on a turned-on garden hose). This tightness and spasm also irritate various
nerves in the back of your neck and head.

There are two things you've got to do to get permanent relief from chronic tension
You must get rid of the spasms in your neck, shoulders and upper back so normal blood
flow is resumed and nerve irritation is eliminated
You must correct your posture

So, I've got some work to do.  Because - elevated frequency means elevated intensity which also means less effective tools to combat.

I've got scar tissue all over neck - we already knew that - but these days, the headaches sit on top of my head and in my sinus area - and migrate from location to location as they circle my head.  Again, UNACCEPTABLE.  The head is a lot harder for Mom to tackle - she can get the blood flowing and moving in the right pattern again, but, by that point the nerve endings have already been put on high alert and the wicked process has begun.

There were so many times in the last week that all I wanted to do was cry, but that wasn't even worth the effort and strength it would take.  Mostly, it's not for the present pain, but for the "woe is me" in regards to life I'm presently missing and what more I'd be missing out in the future.  With each walk in to the kitchen to return ice packs (after going to the bathroom - that's something only I can do for myself!), the family would look at me expectantly, hoping this would be the time I'd emerge to say, "I'm all better now".  And, looking like "death warmed over" - I'd just put a thumbs down symbol to them to avoid putting out any more energy.  That sucks.  For all of us.

So, here's to pulling out the photocopies from the physical therapist from 9 years ago, and the "How to Live Pain Free" book and neck-stretch apparatus on their way from Amazon.  But, mostly, this is my public statement allowing for accountability to actually do these stretches - EVERY DAY - for the full amount of time and not just 10 seconds.  (Three minutes is a LONG TIME!!!).  From what I learned the first time around, this could make a huge difference, but it isn't the sole answer - my mom is priceless in this equation as I can't "put myself back" - I can only encourage my body to not go there out of habit.  It's all going to be a process - undoubtedly for the rest of my life - so, there's no time like the present to kick it in to do all that I personally can. 

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