So, I had actually stopped in on my GP when I'd woken up with sore thumbs. My mind went a number of places with that. My doc asked me the usual diagnostic questions. She then wondered if, perhaps, I was texting too much. I assured her that I was terrible at thumb typing and was a big fan of the voice-to-text feature on my phone.
So we ran blood tests. Test for RA, Lyme, whatever else would be standard. All negative, thankfully. Once I came back from my weekend in Maine, however, I could tell we were dealing with actual injury. She asked more questions. This is the first time I got the request to name a number for the pain level (1-10) and because I had a lot of numbness it was hard to pinpoint. She called in a colleague who was also a sports medicine guy to take a look at my spine/shoulder. I was sent off with a script for muscle relaxers and told to go to physical therapy.
First thing we learned, muscle relaxers are not for Rachel. Wooooo.
Something that became very apparent, however, when I got in to my office job that week was this, the desk I was working at was very poorly set up, in terms of ergonomics. I sat at an old 50's typewriter desk, too low. The monitor was practically in my lap. The old chair had me leaning on it regularly to talk to people. This was a big part of my problem! Thankfully, my staff let me order all the things that I needed to fix the situation.
Here's tip number one for you in preventing injury...sitting at a desk can be the worst thing for your body...especially if it is set up poorly. Here's a link with info on how to have a healthy desk set up.(https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/office-ergonomics/art-20046169)
Basically, my noggin-of-unusual-size only needed to be leaning forward a bit to pull down on my shoulder and neck muscles. It's amazing what that can do to you! Eventually, they brought in a convertible standing desk and OH! the difference standing an hour each day makes. Amazing.
So, physical therapy. This was June now. My doctor's office was eternally slow with referrals so I found my own, off the recommendation of colleagues and friends. This was a center that also had massage therapists, acupuncture, and chiropractors.
And there I began, with my small but mighty PT, a year of figuring out what the hell was going on. We were going on the assumption that the desk and sleep posture might be the culprits. Stretches, deep tissue neck work, etc. were the order of the day.
The following months are a bit of a blur. I had great trouble sleeping at night. I started to get up earlier and earlier each day. The minute I was awake at all, I had to get out of bed. The numbness morphed into pain.
Every uke gig was high anxiety and stress. I could not rehearse anymore than I absolutely had to. It was painful to play. My fingers did not do all that I asked of them. It was painful to do dishes, to do laundry. It was painful to sit, painful to lay down. I couldn't think straight for pain and lack of sleep. I stopped going out for fun. I just sat, however I could, and watched tv. Not something that's my usual hobby.
At least one uke event that I attended I felt I did a horrible job at. I was scatter brained, couldn't sleep there. My playing was iffy, my teaching was iffy. Finally I went back to the doc, this time to the sports medicine guy. He gave me a shot of cortisone in each trap muscle to help relieve the muscle spasms. That helped some, it brought the pain down from a 9/10 to about a 6. Remember I mentioned the pain scale? I would stay above a 6 until just a couple months ago.
About the only thing that would touch the pain, was the arnica gel! I was taking a fair bit of advil. That had helped my brothers and dad who all had some neck issue. Thing about advil (or other nsaids), is that they're not so great for your stomach! They're not meant to be taken for long periods.
I poured over articles and talked to people, to find how I might support the relief effort. I started taking turmeric as a supplement. My doc had given me magnesium. These helped some. The turmeric especially helped a regular sore knee that I have. The magnesium relaxed the muscles some, it's sort of like epsom salt for your insides. Beware how much you take! It relaxes ALL your muscles (wink, wink, look it up.)
Still, I had good days and bad days. At one point, with more bad days, someone had told me about something called "CBD" which is a legal hemp extract. It's gaining popularity and is hard to find in many states. It's closely related to cannabis..but all that it shares effectively is pain relief (and for cancer patients it's said to help with nausea and appetite). I was ready to try anything! The only form I could find was in these edible gummies. It felt so illicit. I ate half of a gummie and went to bed. Two hours later I woke up and my neck did not hurt...thing is...I could not feel my face very well either! I definitely had too much. I never tried it again orally, but I did share my experience with friends who had friends and relatives in chronic pain. It has helped at least one person sleep at night, and it is safe...and not addictive like the opioids that we all hear about.
So my go-to relief combo was this: turmeric, magnesium, topical arnica gel...and soon when I could find it (10 times the cost of the arnica) topical CBD ointment. I tried to walk for 20 minutes to a half hour each day to be upright.
The diagnosing would continue for months as I ebbed and flowed from almost feeling like I was getting better, and straight up to the 10 on the pain scale. I had an MRI (which on ACA cost more than I made in a month, nearly two month's salary). It showed two minimally bulging discs but neither were actually touching a nerve.
I tried acupuncture. Manke doesn't do needles. So you KNOW I was in dire straights to try paying someone $90 to stick me with needles. I respect the practice, I know it really helps some people. For me....it worked a little and the last time I tried it, it sort of set off more spasms. In fact, the last time was just before the New Jersey uke fest...which I had to cancel. I felt AWFUL having to do that but there was just no way I could drive there and perform. I could barely stand just staying put. I got a second round of cortisone in my shoulders after that.
By this point, I'm sure you can see what a merry-go-round the year was. I tried dry needling (look it up) to the point of having a consult and letting them stick one needle in a pressure point. That was enough for me...and it made me worse for another month. (An expensive mistake!) Again, some people swear to have had great relief from the practice, but not me.
I reached a point here where I started to feel like I would never be without pain again. That I'd have to give up the ukulele, at least in any serious way. It was pretty durn depressing and scary. My greatest coping mechanism for when I'm having rough times is to play and sing my heart out. I could just look at my ukes and feel worse.
My apartment looked like a bomb hit. I couldn't keep up with house work. Reaching and bending were things I was super hesitant to do. People kept asking me how I was doing, figuring that by NOW I surely would be saying "BETTER"! Not so much. And it was all I could talk about.
I manage to muster a good week to have a great time at the festival in Panama City, FL in October. I was still dealing with the pain and the numb but I used my mechanisms to relax what I could and mask what I could. And this brings us up to about Christmas time, with no real change to my situation.
In the next installment, we'll get to what finally helped the neck pain. Don't fret....it gets better...then worse...but then better...