September 8, 2013

it's all in your head

     The physical pain in my shoulder spiked recently for no apparent reason.  It's an old injury that I've learned to live with, for the most part.  Given that it functions as a built in barometer, it guarantees that I will never move to colder climes.  Every winter, my shoulder aches in advance of even a moderate cold front, such as they are down here in Houston.  There is a muscle knot along my right shoulder blade that never goes away and grows and shrinks in direct relation to the pain.  And when it gets good and pissed off, it acts as an epicenter spreading knots up and down my spine, and even down my arm into my forearm when it's furiously angry.  On this event, the knot had grown substantially.  Clearly it was pissed off big time.  Now no longer a know to felt under the skin, it was visible to the naked eye when my shirt was off due to the angry swelling.  And to touch it meant to touch concrete.  And never mind the at least ten other tender knots that had arisen elsewhere.
     With lifting weights, I'm able to lessen the frequency of these flares.  But when they do occur (typically in the winter), I'm able to ride them out after a few days of icing it, some extra stretching and a lot of bitching and moaning.  But not this time.  It's the middle of summer which is usually when it does the best so weather clearly isn't the reason.  No physical trigger like after driving 800 miles in a car with poor posture.  I didn't do anything different from an exercise perspective.  I asked my doctor for advice.  His response was, "you already failed two rounds of physical therapy with this thing," and referred me to an orthopedist.  Ah yes, PT.  I remember the PT on the first day took one quick look at the knot and said, "there's NO way, I'm going to be able to massage that out.  I'm just letting you know."  Hence the two rounds of PT.  The second fared no better than the first. 
     I try different things out of desperation and then nightly ask my wife to assess the swelling and hardness while I cuss and moan about why it's doing what it's doing.  Exasperated, she tolerates the checks but finally tells me flat out, "you ARE under a lot of stress.  You think it might all be in your head?"  Um, yeah.  I remember this sucker hurting horribly before I took the MCAT.  The day after?  The pain was completely gone.  Slight problem then with this one.  Stress ain't going away anytime soon.  And it takes time to get into a specialist.  What am I supposed to do in the meantime?  How about a chiropractor?  I was always skeptical of them but a desperate man grasps at anything.  Turns out I was right to be skeptical as I would've been better off throwing my money into a sewer.  I know, a good masseuse.  That ought to do it.  She looked at the knot and touched it like it was something to be afraid of.  After she felt the rock, also known as my rhomboid muscles, she simply stated, " do realize this is going to hurt and it's not coming out in just one sessions, right?"  She was right on both accounts as she wailed on the know like a jack hammer.  It did provide some mild temporary relief.
     Still desperately in pain, I turned east to acupuncture.  Her reaction wasn't too different than the masseuse.  "It is very angry.  It must hurt, no?" Um, yeah.  It hurts so bad I'm about to stick you with needles.  She had difficulty even getting the needle into the knot due to it's tight density.  But amazingly, altering my chi or whatever bullshit reason has given me some temporary relief.  Don't ask me how to explain it.  It just does and I'm going back because I'm desperate.  But it gives me pause to think what stress can do to the mind and body.  Good stress, such as exercise or even good mental challenges can push us to our limits thereby achieving things we thought not possible.  But bad stress.....It'll do a number on you.  I'm not imagining the knot.  I'm not consciously making it up.  It's physically there for anyone to feel and touch.  And despite all the things I can do to handle the current circumstances (exercise, meditate, therapy, etc), it's still not enough.  The knot returns just as angry as before.  The power of deep emotional pain can exact even enormous physical pain.


Anonymous said...

It's obnoxious to give unsolicited advice and you have probably already considered this, but might an injection of Botox in the knotted muscle help to relax it, at least temporarily? Best of luck to you; this sounds very hard to cope with.

Isaac van Sligtenhorst said...

I'm actually in the process of trying to get a trigger point injection but the orthopedist wanted an MRI first.