Neck and Back Pain Update

Good morning!!!!

If you have been following my blog for a while, you have heard me talk about my back and neck pain before.  It is unexplained pain that I have been dealing with for the last 4 and a half years (yes, I am counting).  It all started back when I was in grad school, but there was no major incident that occurred to cause the intense pain so doctors have been at a loss over the years about what to do since that can’t pinpoint the cause.   I haven’t done an update in quite a while so I decided today is the day.  

I have seen over 30 doctors, have had multiple MRI’s and xrays and blood tests… most of which have come back with no answers at all to explain the kind of pain I am in.  That is, until the last six months.  Back in December, I was prescribed a steroid pack (and antibiotics) for a never ending ear infection and the steroids actually helped my back pain quite a bit.  Once I informed my doctor, she immediately wanted to run some blood tests to test for inflammatory diseases.  All of the tests were normal expect one that showed a positive result for an inflammatory disease.  More in depth testing has to be done because apparently there are a lot of false positives with this testing.  So, I am still waiting to hear back from further testing to figure out how to proceed with this lead.  

In the mean time, I started seeing a specialist to get injections to help with the pain.  There are a ton of different options out there so he wanted me to get an updated MRI so we could decide which injection would hopefully best help my pain levels.  My last MRI was about 3 years ago and it showed nothing… no issues at all that would contribute to the pain I was feeling.  Well this time around was a little bit different.  My MRI showed that a couple of my discs were degenerating, I have a lack of a curve in my neck, I have a narrowing of discs, which could be pushing on my nerves.  Oh and then he informed me that I have thoracic scoliosis.  Awesome.  

After this news I was pretty bummed out.  I was grateful to have received some answers to what could be causing my pain, but unfortunately there is not too much that can be done in terms of correcting these problems.  My doctor suggested an Epidural Steroid Injection to block the spinal nerve root and reduce inflammation around the nerve root to hopefully relieve some of the pain.  I have had a little success with trigger point injections and have had a facet injection in the past that helped for a little while so I was down to try anything at this point.  At this time my pain was at an all time high so I was eager to try something new that could possibly help.  

I got the injection on February 13th and have been feeling a little better.  The procedure itself was easy and quick.  They give you a shot to numb the area so I didn’t feel much at all.  I was even able to go into work right afterwards with no issues so that was nice.  After the numbing medication wore off, the pain was back since the steroid can take a couple weeks to kick in.  I started noticing some relief a few days ago and my back pain has not been near as intense as it usually is since receiving the injection.  It is hard to tell exactly what is making my back feel better because I am on a low dosage of an oral steroid too and I just started a new medication that helps to block nerve pain.  It could be a combination of all of the new things or it could be just one of them.  I am just hoping that the injection provides pain relief for at least a few months because the last major injection I received (facet injection) only provided me with pain relief for a week.  Although it was so nice to be out of pain for a week, it is way too expensive to repeat for only a week of relief.  I am able to get up to 3 epidural spinal injections per year so I am hoping to repeat this procedure in a couple of months if the relief lasts.  

I just wanted to update you all on where my back and neck pain stands since I get questions about it all the time.  I really appreciate all of the concern and sweet comments.  Living in constant pain is something I never thought I would have to deal with, especially at such a young age.  I think I have come to manage my pain pretty well and still remain positive despite how frustrating it can be every day.  I refuse to let my pain control my life, but I can easily see how chronic pain can take over your life (social life, relationships, work, etc.).  I think being proactive is the most important thing you can do when in constant pain.  All the tests, doctor visits, and medication trials can get overwhelming and exhausting, but it is so important not to give up and keep trying to get to the bottom of it.  I have been stretching daily, being very active, and taking epsom salt baths a few times a week to help my muscles and to help relax.  Stress definitely makes the pain worse so I have been very conscious about reducing my stress and making sure I incorporate stress relieving activities into my daily life.  

I will continue to keep on keeping on and I know I will get to the bottom of the pain eventually.  Just know that if you are struggling with chronic pain, I completely get it and I am hear to listen if you need to talk.  Chronic pain can be such an isolating experience that others don’t fully understand, but having a support system is key.  I am very fortunate to have the most amazing and supportive husband (and family), but I know there are many others that do not have that support.  

Make today a great one!!!

Questions:

  1. Have you ever/do you currently deal with chronic pain?
  2. Ever have a health issue that you couldn’t get to the bottom of?
  3. What are some ways you take care of your health daily? 

When Did My Pain Become Chronic?

Good morning, friends!!  How are you all doing today?  I decided to discuss a topic I feel like I talk about all the time in person, but not on the blog.  It is something that constantly consumes a big part of my life, but I try to be an optimist about everything so I usually keep it positive on the blog (and in person) and just focus on the good stuff in my life, because really, I have way too much GOOD going on to focus on the negative.  But, let’s be real, we all have things that get us down and sometimes it helps to talk about them.  So today, I am venting to you and filling you in on a subject I try to ignore most of the time so here we go.  

You may or may not remember me mentioning that I deal with really bad back/neck pain every.single.day.  I haven’t gone into too much depth about it on the blog because well, truthfully, I feel like I talk/whine/complain about it all the time in real life so why bother.  I also hate to be that person that is constantly complaining about being in pain.  There are people out there that live each day in much more pain than I do so it makes me feel bad for talking about it.  

I also feel like I drive my family and friends crazy with how much I talk about my back.  If I were them, I would be thinking, “Just figure out the problem already!!!”  But that is the problem.  I can’t figure out the problem and neither can the 30-some doctors I have seen.  Yes, you heard that right, I have seen over 30 doctors in the last two and a half years for my back pain and they are all just as stumped as I am.  

Growing up I had lower back pain throughout my days playing sports, but it never debilitated me.  I was always a healthy kid who stayed active (hey 5am YMCA workouts with my momma before high school daily), stretched, and ate well.  I have always loved running, swimming, and strength training.  Two and a half years ago when I was in graduate school (Health Promotion and Education) I was sitting, studying, and writing/typing for hours and hours.  Gradually, my left side of my upper back, neck, and shoulder began to hurt. (I am left-handed so I thought it was just too much writing and tensing my muscles and that this would probably go away after school ended.). I stopped all intense exercise for 2 months (this was VERY hard for me to do) in hopes that my body just needed some time to rest and recover.  Then for the next year, the only exercise I did was hot yoga 5-6 times a week.  That’s it.  No running, no weights, no nothing.  Just yoga.

During this time I saw a chiropractor, massage therapists, an acupuncturist, and a physical therapist.  I left each of my appointments feeling a bit of pain relief only to regain it usually within the next hour.  My pain was consistently at a 8 or 9 on a 1-10 scale.  

Over the next couple years, I would go on to see many different chiropractors and physical therapists.  I had and MRI and an XRAY, which came back to show NOTHING.  Absolutely nothing.  A little bit of muscle spasming, but nothing that would cause this type of pain.  I worked on my posture, did my daily exercises at home, tried my best to sleep on my back (instead of my side), and even bought a new mattress.  

I was referred to 3 different pain management specialists during this time.  The first one told me that facet injections would help me.  I would have to be put under as the injections would go in my neck (certain spots trigger pain in different areas of the back).  At this point the pain was SO bad that I was desperate to try anything that would maybe help me.  I got the injections (about a year ago now) and was almost pain free…. for 4 days.  Thousands, yes thousands of dollars and 4 days later, I was in extreme pain again.  

It makes me sad to even think about this time in my life.  It is extremely hard to not only be in constant intense pain, but to also look normal on the outside.  I always felt people were thinking that I was exaggerating because I wasn’t bed ridden.  But believe me, some days, it took me hours to get out of bed.  It was terrible.  

The next pain specialist I was referred to suggested trigger point injections.  It is like acupuncture/dry needling, but there is medicine in the needle and the doctor will stick the needle in all the points on your neck/back that hurt the worst.  I did this a couple times with absolutely no relief at all.  

And the search for pain relief continues… Next I tried cupping which is an ancient practice that uses glass cups that are lit and literally suctioned to your back.  It is supposed to help with blood flow, toxin release, and circulation.  I did feel good after my session for a couple days, but then the pain came back full force. 

Onto my current pain management doctor I see regularly… He has prescribed me muscle relaxers, pain medication, and antidepressants (in low doses can help with nerve pain).  I am not one to take medication unless I really need it.  I won’t even take an Advil unless my head is pounding for hours.  My doctor thinks the pain on my left side of my neck/shoulder/back is from stress/overuse.  I am currently the least stressed out I have been in years.  My life is pretty calm/laid back/not stressful this year.  I have a flexible job, I work part time and I travel a lot (for fun).  I do understand that it will take time to get my back better, but lately it has been hurting tremendously and it is defeating when I don’t see improvement.  

I have to miss out on things I enjoy like running 1/2 marathons, water sports, lift heaving weights, etc.  I do not say this to complain, just to explain the pain.  My doctor recently said something to the extent of, “now that your pain is considered chronic….”  My mind literally stopped hearing anything past that word.  Chronic.  Chronic pain.  Isn’t that for old people?  I am 26 years old!  How do I have chronic pain?  Am I going to have to deal with this for the rest of my life?  

I am sharing my story today in hopes that others can relate and realize they are not alone.  Just because someone looks normal/healthy on the outside does not mean they feel that way on the inside.  You never know what others are going through and we cannot judge based on appearance.  If you are struggling with pain/illness/disease, I hope you know you are not alone.  Each day can be a struggle, but we have to keep living and moving forward.  I may be in pain most of the time, but I refuse to put my life on hold.  I refuse to miss out on anything else and I refuse to stop trying to figure out how to fix/manage my pain.  There are days when I am simply exhausted from trying to find new doctors/new medications/new pain relief techniques, but my pain won’t go away by sulking in my room.  I choose to be proactive and keep pushing forward and that is just what I am going to do! 

Questions:

  1. Have you ever dealt with ongoing pain?
  2. Are you proactive about avoiding injuries/pain?
  3. Have you ever had pain/injury hold you back from something you want to do?