How one reader broke a 13-year cycle of chronic pain through a multifaceted, healing health approach.
In the summer of 1996, at the age of 30, I slipped on a wet tennis court and tore a hip muscle. Being young, fit, and generally healthy, I should have been healed and back on the tennis court in a matter of months. Unbeknownst to me, the injury triggered an underlying soft tissue disorder.
As I would later discover, this underlying disorder is called chronic myofascial pain syndrome, a condition in which the muscle and fascia (connective tissue found all over our bodies that covers all our internal organs) lack the biochemical components to function properly — to stretch, bend, and provide the strength to move at will without injury. This condition also fits the description of fibromyalgia, a diagnosis that seems to be more and more prevalent.
THE SEARCH FOR HELP WAS DISAPPOINTING
Within a few months, the hip and back pain that kept me from getting back on the tennis court was the least of my worries. It felt like someone had replaced my muscles and ligaments with metal rods throughout my entire body. It was a struggle to sit, stand, or lie down for any period of time. I was chronically stiff, sore, and uncomfortable.
Thus began my search for help within the medical system.
Visit after visit to doctors’ offices, laboratory and diagnostic facilities, and physiotherapists barely made a dent in my pain and discomfort. Getting to sleep was so difficult. I became chronically tired as a result of the daily battle with pain and the lack of sleep.
After almost a year of complete despair, I eventually learned to push through the pain and adapt my activity level to what my body could tolerate. I spent many hours stretching, rolling on a tennis ball, and taking hot baths in an attempt to relieve the agonizing stiffness that plagued me, so that I could remain somewhat active. I could not understand why the medical community couldn’t help me.
THIS WAS NOT THE LIFE I SIGNED UP FOR
When I was finally blessed with motherhood, it was heart-wrenching telling my young children that I couldn’t carry them, run with them, or even hold up a storybook to read to them while lying in bed. After years of being stiff and underutilized, my muscles had also become weak. I had gone from competitive tennis player and avid runner to weak and fragile victim. This was my life for 13 years, from 1996 to 2009.
RIGHT DOCTOR, RIGHT QUESTION: THE LIGHT BULB MOMENT
Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, I started to develop an understanding of what it really means to take control of my health in 2001 as I battled infertility. With the help of my social network, I uncovered fascinating insights about the huge variation in competence levels between infertility “experts.” I soon discovered a clinic with pregnancy rates more than double the national average. Working with a leading infertility specialist, combined with asking him a key question, led to the diagnosis and treatment that allowed me to become pregnant with my two beautiful children.
I’m certain that this experience strongly influenced my approach to handling my health issues going forward. I now understood how important it was for me to play a lead role in finding the approaches to address my health challenges and improve my quality of life. Never again would I assume that problem-solving in healthcare should be left entirely to those with the “right” medical credentials.
AN EXERCISE PHYSIOLOGIST POINTED OUT WHAT DOCTORS HAD NOT
In 2009, I still had not found meaningful help from within the medial community in addressing my chronic pain. When I was introduced to an exercise physiologist at a leading sports medicine clinic, I thought I could at least take it upon myself to get stronger despite my chronic condition, so I booked an appointment with her.
This exercise physiologist was the first health professional I’d met in 13 years who explained that my chronic pain condition was likely related to a biochemical issue and could probably be improved through a combination of approaches. What she said made total sense, and I was prepared to hunt down every piece of the puzzle to solve my problem. A customized strength training program, combined with recommendations and treatments from several other health professionals (nutritionist, chiropractor, sports medicine doctor), began to address the underlying problem.
My symptoms started to improve. With the right direction and a lot of hard work, my life dramatically turned around.
MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME
The day I carried my 40-pound daughter up the stairs, I felt I had arrived.
As I continued to implement my new health regimen, I felt I could accomplish more and more. Wanting to recapture some of my lost athletic opportunities, I began training for short distance triathlons. I felt liberated.
One triathlon led to the next, then distances increased, and before I knew it, I was at the starting line of an IRONMAN triathlon in 2013 at 47 years old!
The feeling I had when I crossed that finish line is difficult to describe, but I hope everyone has the opportunity to feel something like it in his or her lifetime — that is, to experience that “finish line” sensation as a result of persevering through a difficult situation to accomplish something you never thought possible.
The deepest lesson for me was in the fact that, without those 13 years of suffering, I could not have experienced that powerful sense of joy, exhilaration, self-fulfillment, and satisfaction. I now view my chronic pain syndrome as a valuable gift, helping me embrace life’s challenges as opportunities to climb to new heights.
Today, I’m still enjoying triathlon training, and thinking about the possibility of another IRONMAN race in 2016. As long as I never forget the importance of customized, targeted strength and flexibility training; optimal nutrition; and proactive visits to the right health professionals (which, for me, included an exercise physiologist, chiropractor, massage therapist, and osteopath), my soft tissues can enjoy injury-free cycling, swimming, and running, even as I approach 50. I’m the only one who can determine how far I can (or can’t) go.
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