Eliminating the Pain in My Neck

Annah Elizabeth5 Comments

Seven years ago I had a pain in my neck.

Not in the form of an errant child or husband, but a bonafide pain in my neck.

I’ve told this story many times, but William Quincy Belle’s recent article about the knife in his shoulder prompted me to actually write it down.

In late 2007 I began a job that required me to spend a great deal of time behind a steering wheel. I soon found myself massaging the back of my neck more and more often, in an attempt to release the growing ache at the base of my skull.

Aware of my increasing discomfort, Warren and my children gave me this neck massager for some holiday, probably Mother’s Day.

Now, you’re probably wondering why I didn’t do anything about the pain in my neck, but honestly, it would come and go such that the only time I thought about it was when I was hurting. It would go away and I’d forget about it.
Fortunately, during my routine physical, after my doctor declared me “healthy as a horse,” he asked if there was anything else I needed.
And the little light bulb went off.
I told him about the discomfort I’d been experiencing and he scheduled an MRI.
A week later, someone called me from a Pain Management Clinic.
“You had an MRI on your neck and need treatment,” the person on the other end of the line said after I questioned the reason for their call.
Pain management? I don’t want to manage my pain, I want to eliminate it. That’s what was going through my forty-two-year-old mind.
I informed her I hadn’t even heard from my doctor yet and that I’d get back to them.This is the result of that MRI of my neck and base of my skull:

Mild posterior bulge between C3 and C4, compressing on ventral subarachnoib space.

Posterior bulge and small herniation between C5 and C6

Posterior bulge with end plate spurring, no herniation, mild to moderate disc degeneration C6 and C7
(That’s okay; I had no real clue what any of this meant, either.)

“My neck was almost identical,” the person relaying the information chirped on the other end of the line, “and pain management did an awesome job.”

And then her words are fuzzy, because all I can remember is that she said she either had a nerve block or a cortisone shot. “It took care of my pain for a year.”

A year? Um, I’m too young to have this kind of work done, and secondly, I don’t want relief for a year, I want relief forever. Certainly there has to be a cause for these issues, and one that we can address.

I politely told her that I wanted to consider all of my options and that I’d get back to her.

Then I e-mailed an out-of-town sports massage therapist friend who has tons of experience with athletes, and even was selected as one of the fifty volunteer members to help out with one of the Olympic teams.

Long story short, he agreed with me. I needed to try to determine the root of the pain and address that before taking such drastic measures. He suggested I start with physical therapy.

He had worked with an athlete who had had similar issues. He had been able to reverse the pain, but my friend advised me that it was going to take a long time and a lot of dedication to working on correcting the problems. He also informed me that poor posture is often a contributing factor in such cases.

My doctor agreed to prescribe PT, and my insurance firm would go on to renew one additional cycle before disallowing any more treatments.

The PTs immediately discovered some deep, massive knots in my shoulder muscles. They used heat and some sort of electrical stimulation that created all kinds of havoc in my back, in a good way.

One muscle bulge led to another and another and another…

I had made great progress during those sessions, and the neck pain was lessening, but the tightness kept returning, bringing neck and other tensions.

You see, the body is brilliant, and it will try to adapt to injury or hurt. When one area is not functioning at 100%, our system will compensate, muscles shift, one limb or another will bear more weight. Often times these adjustments are so subtle we don’t even notice them.

What the body doesn’t take into account, however, is that once this shifting begins, it throws off the body’s equilibrium. As the infrastructure alters its normal stature, muscles have to work in a way unfamiliar to them.

Each change leads to another until, eventually, your entire body could be a walking, skewed mess.

So, as we try to correct the damage that has been done, we basically have to treat it in layers.

Once I really started thinking about the neck pain, I could trace it back another three years. As I said, it was fleeting and would come and go, so little ‘ole high-pain-tolerance me paid little mind to it.

When the PT told me that my insurance was going to end in a few weeks, I began thinking about other options.

A girl I work with is also a massage therapist and I had been thinking about a massage for over a year. But the thought of undressing and having someone rub my body, let alone a co-worker, somehow didn’t seem an appealing idea.

In the end, vanity lost out to feeling good, and I began a massage regimen, which did prove effective in treating the nasty knots and tension in my back and shoulders.

In February of that year, I slipped in the driveway and landed square on my tuckus.

A trip to Warren’s chiropractor led to adjustments in my neck and back, which left me feeling like a million bucks for a few days.

This doctor also reiterated what both massage therapists had told me: “Work on your posture.” Those of us who sit at a keyboard or behind the wheel of a vehicle all day tend to slouch.

“Square your shoulders and ditch the shoulder bags. Carry everything,” they advised.

That was a HUGE adjustment as I always shopped for purses and bags with extra long straps. To break the shoulder-toting pattern of behavior, I tied a knot in all of my bags so I wouldn’t absentmindedly sling them over my shoulder.

I began a schedule. Massage. Chiropractor. And within a few weeks I found the tension returned less and less frequently, which meant fewer visits. Every few weeks, then once a month, then once every couple of months…

As of a year ago, about the only time I encounter neck tension is if I’ve fallen asleep with my computer on my lap, my head sagging off to one side or another, or if I’ve been skiing or tubing like I’m twenty-years old.

When my friend said it could take a long time to undo the damage, he wasn’t kidding. Though I took him literally, I hadn’t imagined it would take three years to reverse the effects. But it did, working from the top down, one body part at a time, neck, shoulders, back, hips, legs…and then my chest.

The first time my masseuse worked under my armpits and on my pectoral muscles, I thought I might just die on her table. Turns out that all of those muscles had been the beginning of the end for me, that’s where my troubles started.

I am sure you are seeing dollar signs, since most insurance companies don’t cover massage (I won’t even go there, to discuss how they won’t cover preventative and proactive treatments but will cover decades worth of rehab and pills), but let me assure you that your short-term investments are well worth your long-term gains.

Instead of a lifetime, I dedicated three years of my time, money, and energy to healing myself.

No needles. No pain management. No drugs that would only mask the symptoms and compound the problems.

I was fortunate that the girl I work with runs buy-one-get one specials twice a year. And I stock up. Boy do I stock up. (These days I go mostly for stress relief or pure pampering.)

Though you may not have that connection, there are things you can do. Ask around for good references, and ask different massage therapists if they are willing to offer pre-paid package discounts. If you commit to a certain number of visits and pay in advance, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Today, I only use short-handled purses, carry my bags in my hands or on my back, and constantly remind myself to square my shoulders.

Those are a few other easy and cost-free tips.

Unless I beat my body up in some foolishly strenuous activity or another, I hurt no more. My neck pain has been eliminated.

Soon…

5 Comments on “Eliminating the Pain in My Neck”

  1. Love your blog! I sustained a neck injury a few years ago and still suffer from pain and discomfort. Your article has really helped, thank you!

    1. Dear what is physical therapy:

      I am happy you are trying to be proactive in addressing your son’s neck pain.

      I would recommend that you have him evaluated by his physician. An imaging scan will determine if there are any issues or injuries in the spinal column. The results of this type of evaluation will be invaluable to you, your child’s doctor, and a masseuse, especially since your son is in one of the greatest growth periods in his life.

      I would also recommend a good stretching regimen: legs, chest, arms, and core.

      Good luck to you and your son.

      Hugs and healing…

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