The weekend before this past one was horrendous. And I was quite frightened.
That is such a strong statement to make, and one that might leave you wondering what is going on?!?!
Around four and a half years ago I started to experience extreme chronic pain in my right shoulder. The pain quite quickly got worse and worse and I literally was in agony.
Of course I went to see my GP. Who gave me some pain killers and sent me on my way. The painkillers didn’t work and the pain got worse. Queue several repeat visits to the doctors until one finally told me that I had an issue with my rotator cuff which is at the end of the shoulder. He went on to prescribe a course of physiotherapy. 8 weeks of agonising pain which didn’t help me in any way at all.
I had my shoulder poked and prodded, rotated, pulled and even taped to the side of my body. Nothing worked and it was just getting worse, and so was my mental health too.
I was suffering so much with the pain that it was affecting every part of my life. I couldn’t do up my own bra. I couldn’t hold a knife to chop anything beyond 5 or 10 minutes as my whole right arm would go dead and I would lose the use of it. If I sat in the wrong kind of chair, my arm would start spasming and jumping outwards at quite a force.
I couldn’t drive any further than 30-40 minutes distance as again my arm would go numb and hang loosely at the side of me. I was being really incapacitated by the situation and it was impacting on my work and even my children’s lives.
I struggled to take them anywhere. If they wanted their hair plaiting or straightening, I couldn’t do it. I felt useless and angry. And still it was getting worse.
I had MRI scans, and Ultrasounds. I had acupuncture and went to hospital to be injected with a massive needle. The pain of the Cortisone injection going in is one I will never forget.
Yet nothing worked. The scans and MRI’s showed nothing wrong with my rotator cuff. But I was still in excrutiating pain.
I returned to the doctor time and time again. I was struggling even more now with everyday things. I stopped picking up boiling hot kettles or saucepans because I was unable to keep control of my arm. It was too dangerous to Iron, not to mention too painful.
On a drive down to Portsmouth with the husband doing 70 on the M1, my arm flew out hitting him in the face. Thankfully there was nothing in the other lane that he swerved into. But after that I sat in the back on long journeys.
I had a second course of physiotherapy with a new lady at our local hospital. It didn’t go well. In fact she managed to make the situation worse as she damaged a nerve in my neck which left me with something called paraesthesia in my ring and little finger on the left hand. So now I had an issue with both my right and left side!
I literally was at the end of my tether. My mental health had dropped to an great extent and I spent a lot of time in tears due to the pain and the futileness of the whole situation. I began to drink quite a lot to numb myself to the pain. It was not good.
I went back to the doctors yet again and saw a new doctor. She was lovely (or so I thought at the time) and explained that pain management literally was the only thing that they could do to help me, and prescribed a cocktail of drugs. I was still being told that the problem was the rotator cuff.
Now apart from ibuprofen for the pain I was in, I wasn’t currently on any other form of medication. I went to the pharmacy with a list as long as your arm.
Ever since I was a child, I had never been able to swallow tablets. I choked and gagged and spluttered. The only way I could take them was to hold each tablet between my index and middle finger and stick it right into the back of my throat the way you would a cat or dog.
I knew the medication was going to be a challenge, but I didn’t expect just how much of one.
The doctor had prescribed some heavy duty stuff including Amitriptyline. This is an antidepressant which is used to relieve chronic (long
All told I was on 20 tablets a day. 140 tablets a week. From zero to that amount is of course going to cause issues. For one, my throat was so sore from sticking my fingers down the back of it, that I soon learnt very quickly to be able to swallow them.
I was on the medication for around 6 months. It helped some, but not nearly enough and I would cry with the pain. I was still drinking to escape the pain, and I certainly shouldn’t have been mixing alcohol and medication. But there was no other way I could get through each day.
Every single day, the tablets helped less and less. But I was in for a bit of a nasty shock.
I started to get very twitchy. I was not sleeping and having night sweats. My skin felt like I had ants crawling underneath it. I was having horrible nightmares, and I was scratching my skin raw.
Of course I knew I had to go back to my doctors. I was a total wreck. Shaking and jittery. I didn’t know what the hell was going on. I thought I was starting to lose my mind.
I got an appointment with a different doctor. Dr E.
I sat down, in tears scratching at my arms. I literally begged him to help me. Sobbing I tried to explain to him what was happening and how I felt.
Dr E took one look at me and bold as brass stated “You are clucking like a Heroin addict in need of her next fix”
Basically I had become hooked on the cocktail of pills I had been taking and the dosages weren’t working. I was suffering from withdrawal symptoms as well as the chronic pain. The scratching and itching and sweats were all side effects of the withdrawal.
I was shocked. I had no idea what was going on, and this just felt like the final nail in the coffin. I burst into horrible racking snotty tears. I really was at rock bottom.
Little did I know that Dr E was going to save me. There and then.
He explained that he thought he knew what my issue was and wanted to do an experiment on me. He went onto say that it would be a little uncomfortable but would only last around 60 seconds, if I was agreeable.
Well of course I was and so he got me to stand up. He took his index and middle finger and pressed as hard as he could in the “empty” space behind the collarbone. Immediately my right arm flopped downwards and I lost control of it.
“Just as I expected” Dr E said.
He sat me down and got onto the internet. He told me that my issue wasn’t a shoulder issue at all. So why the hell was I in agony?
Showing me some charts online, he asked me if they showed exactly where I was having my pain. I was stunned to see that the diagrams were absolutely spot on.
My issue was something called Anterior Scalene Myofacia. Basically in the side of the neck is a set of three scalene muscles that form a sort of triangle. They attach the neck to the first and second ribs. Which in turn connect to the shoulder.
When they become shortened for some reason, they pull the first and second ribs up, which pulls the shoulder up and out of alignment. This was why I was in so much pain.
The scalenes also can impinge the Brachial nerve, causing the numb lifeless arm or the pins and needles when held at a 90 degree angle. Every single thing he said was like music to my ears.
The physio, injections, acupuncture, scans and ultrasounds all hadn’t worked because they were totally in the wrong area!
Finally, a diagnosis!
The battle for recovery didn’t just start there though. I had the issue of an opiate addiction that I needed to deal with too. Dr E explained that I just couldn’t stop taking the medication that I was on. That I would need to wean myself off of the tablets over a course of several weeks.
All told, it took me 8 weeks to reduce the tablets to the point of stopping them. It was 8 weeks of hell as I suffered through withdrawal symptoms, but finally I was medication free. As for my shoulder/scalenes, what was going on there?
Dr E had been able to show me exercises and stretches that would assist in the extension and release of these shortened muscles. He advised me that in the long term, massage sessions and chiropractors would really be the only ones who could alleviate the pain for any length of time.
So, I started a programme of massage/chiropractor sessions. Immediately I could see the benefit and the issues started to decrease. The lessened and lessened until one day I woke up Pain Free!
I literally had no pain whatsover. This had been going on for nearly 3 years now. Constantly daily grinding tear inducing pain. Restricting everything that I wanted to do and even where I wanted to go.
Finally I was free. I started to enjoy my life again.
Jumping to the present day, I had been pretty much pain free for 18 months. Apart from the odd time when I was under a bit of pressure and I might have an off day or so.
Then this weekend happened. The deep grinding nagging aching pain started again last Saturday morning. My shoulder and neck is as hard as rock and the scalenes as tight as a violin string.
Exercises, stretches, deep heat and nurofen have lessened the pain a little. But my movements are already suffering and becoming restricted. I can’t sleep very well and my arm keeps going numb.
And that is why I am frightened. It is now 10 days into the pain and I am struggling. I hurt that much that I want to rip my own arm off. My life is starting to suffer once more.
I have an appointment to see the Chiropractor this week. I have been going every 4 weeks without fail, so that is not the reason this has come back with a vengeance.
The only thing I can put it down to is stress. Work and Home are causing me undue pressure and this is my bodies way of telling me that something has to give. What that may be though, I have no idea!
I just need to work out what as I know that I cannot go through the living hell that I endured for 3 years.
I am just hoping and praying that this is a minor blip. Keep your fingers crossed for me?
Till next time