". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Thursday, December 15, 2011


I have been blessed to have been quite healthy during my life. Oh, I have had my share of issues. Severe seasonal and environmental allergies. Recurrent iritis. A lifetime of fighting cystic acne. Jaw and TMJ problems. Some swallowing and GI issues. Bad feet. But modern medicine has provided tools for dealing with all of these maladies, and for that I am extremely thankful. I know that compared to the health challenges faced by many, my problems are mere annoyances. Yes, there have been times when they have challenged my quality of life. But none of them are life threatening or truly debilitating.

This past week a new annoyance came knocking on my door: back pain. There have been times in my life I have had a little bit of back pain, particularly after a marathon session of practicing piano. I was diagnosed with mild scoliosis many years ago, and I'm sure that that combined with my flat feet doesn't help things. But last week was the first time the back pain came and stayed for so long. And not only did my back hurt, but so did my neck, shoulder, arm, hand, hip, and knee, all on the left side of my body. I kept waking up every day expecting things to get better as they always have in the past but each day brought not relief but more of the same. It wasn't awful pain, but it was nagging and constant and hard to ignore. And after a week I was very, very tired of it.

So, what to do? Several friends whose opinions I respect suggested a chiropractor. So did my husband. But having never been to a chiropractor before and having been advised that chiropractic approaches vary greatly and therefore it is important to research and ask a lot of questions before choosing a doctor, I found myself defaulting to the family doctor, at least as a starting place. I called and to my surprise discovered that the family practice we have long patronized has recently added a new M.D. who is also a D.O. (doctor of osteopathy). To my further surprise and good fortune I was told that the D.O. happened to have an appointment that day due to a cancellation. I saw her and for the first time in my life was told that not only do I have scoliosis, but my left leg is shorter than my right. So maybe that's why the whole left side of my body has been hurting . . . .

My new doctor prescribed a course of Prednisone along with Relafen for pain and scheduled me to go back next week for a "manipulation" (in chiropractic parlance, an adjustment). She said that I would need that time to get to the point that I would be able to stand having her work on my back. When she touched my back during my visit it was so sensitive I could hardly tolerate it. There are probably 30 or more years worth of knots in that baby.

What amazes me about this whole experience is the relief that came within 24 hours of my doctor visit. I have not even gotten any hands-on treatment yet, but the medication alone has helped immmensely. I don't think I realized until the pain went away how much it was coloring my outlook. Now that it has substantially subsided I realize how uncomfortable I was. I think I was hurting more than I knew. My husband says I have a high pain tolerance and that for me to complain and actually go to a doctor was telling.

Having gone through a week of pretty constant hurting rather than off-and-on type hurting, I wonder at people who have truly serious, chronic pain. I can't imagine what it must be like. I was exhausted by my one week of minor pain; how must it be to face not a week but months and years of pain that is far worse?

I hope to not find out. Yesterday I renewed our expired membership at our local recreational center's fitness club. I am renewing my commitment to exercise and increase my strength, starting with my back and shoulders and arms. There are certain things I cannot control or change when it comes to my body, but there are other things I can, and exercise is one of them. Maybe this time I will see it through better than I have in the past. Now in addition to all the other good arguments for exercising that I have always known to be true, I have discovered another one: avoidance of worse and future pain. Talk about a motivator.


Susan said...

I love D.O.'s. We haven't had a good experience with a chiropractor yet. Gary's first chiropractor was okay; he gave Gary relief that the doctor couldn't. But it always took so long. The DO just seems to make it all better, usually in a day (maybe a few weeks if the pain and knots have been building up for a long time).

Sage said...

My primary is a D.O. as well and he can do wonders with various parts I used to relegate to Chiropracters. Good call. Hope your back begins speaking nicely to you as well. :-)

Laura said...

Glad you found help, relief and a plan, quickly. I do think moderate exercise is key in staying active and pain free...or perhaps in less pain. Keep posting about this...we can learn from each others experiences.

Cheryl said...

Susan and Sage, those are both very encouraging comments. Thank you! Follow-up report is that the medication seems to have given me a few days of relief but now even with medication the pain is returning, although less. Glad I will be seeing the doc Wednesday.

Myrtle said...

I have been praying about this and wondered how you are doing. You know, as many blog entries as I have written about pain, I do not think I have ever actually said what I set out to say. I hope that you are well soon.

For my two cents, I learned from a physical therapist that I needed to work on my abdominal muscles to help support my back, which is plagued by arthritis. Doing so made a tremendous difference with me, though it was hard work that I do not keep up as well.

Cheryl said...

Myrtle, you are so sweet to ask. Thank you for the prayers. The doctor visit was interesting. I have never had that sort of force applied to my back. It's funny--she was talking to me while she was working on my back and I was thinking, you expect me to answer? I'm on my stomach with my face in a hole and you are pushing on me so hard I can't talk! I had a few days of relief after that but now am having some pain again, although I will say it's not as much (and nothing, absolutely nothing, compared with what you deal with). I know it's going to be a process and I know that the main thing I need to do is get stronger, and that means exercise (which I have started but haven't really gotten going on seriously--can I blame the holidays?) I think I will make another appointment with the D.O. but I am also considering adding in a chiropractor visit to the mix--I have the name of a friend's chiropractor who seems to be pretty traditional in his approach.

Myrtle said...

The exercises that helped the most were isometric ones...that were HARD because of concentrating. I was to contract and hold my abdominal muscles, working from 10 seconds up to 30 seconds. The lateral muscles were the hardest because you normally are not aware of them.

The other exercise that helped the most was having me hang my upper body partly off the edge of the table (I did them in bed!) and very slowly and deliberately lift up my torso using my abdominal muscles. The key is that you only hang off enough to use your abdominal muscles, not your back muscles. I know, probably a poor explanation. But those two things made a tremendous difference because my abdominal muscles were so weak that my back was doing too much work.

I will say that the physical therapist did not really understand the muscular weakness I had with MS and did one thing that took MONTHS to undo: she put me on this machine that literally pulled my hips apart from my shoulders...a traction machine that truly looked like a mid evil torture wrack. When I was released, I screamed from the pain. However, after copious amounts of moist heat therapy and ultrasound, I was back to square one and another therapist discovered how weak my abdominal muscles were. In a sense, my back was doing their work and its work.

Anyway, I was wondering if you have considered acupuncture? I am chicken at the very thought, but it really helped my last dog in his old age and I know several people who have had significant improvement.

You remain in my prayers. All pain, small or great, does really color your whole life. Even if you are quite experienced at handling it. I wish you a speedy recovery and am praying for both you and those from whom you seek help that they might be granted the wisdom to do so.

Cheryl said...

Myrtle, that second exercise sounds hard! And it's funny you should mention traction--Phillip has a traction machine the neurologist prescribed for his neck. He suggested I try it but I am a little afraid to. You can do a lot of damage if you use it incorrectly.

I have not considered acupunture at this point. And you make a good point that even minor chronic pain can really color your whole outlook. As always, thank you for your prayers and concern!