What do these beautiful statement necklaces have in common? They aren’t mine any more. They were beautiful. I loved them. But I gave them to friends. These huge necklaces were too heavy for me and significantly impact my neck pain and TMJ (temporomandibular joint dysfunction). Well really not just those, but sometimes any necklace. Or any collar of a shirt that rests too close on my clavicle.
Pretty annoying right? I’ve hardly worn a necklace in the past 6 months. But life is a lot more brighter for me because of it!
I’ve dealt with chronic pain for over 2 years twice in my life. Both times it was mostly dull pain so it was fairly manageable every day, but it still crushes your soul a bit and makes you so tired to have to fight any type pain every single day. The first time I was in high school. I had developed painful feet, stress fractures in my shins from a few sources and then immediately after developed chronic tiny muscle spasms. The worst followed for a year: unexplained joint pain and muscle tenderness. Oh and the frequent (later to be realized) hypoglycemic episodes didn’t help with the exhaustion from being in pain every day. This was all before we figured out I had some significant insulin issues. Once I started taking lots of metformin, my life was transformed (still not sure why metformin seemed to solve most everything…..)
I wasn’t prepared though for how that chronic pain warped my sense of reality and clouded the difference between good, fine and straight up bad situations. For a few years after, I started judging situations and people in my life by how it compared to being in my previous state of chronic pain. I would think to myself “Well, this isn’t the best situation to be in, but at least my joints don’t hurt every day and I’m not passing out every day when I get home anymore.” Chronic pain had changed my yardstick of what was good and acceptable. I had some rude awakenings when I realized my judgement had been clouded. My yardstick turned really not good, bad situations into “fine” because at least it was different / seemed better somehow than chronic physical pain. In my early to mid twenties I finally realized how and I why had let myself ignore some pretty big red flags, but it took ongoing effort for a few years to correct my perspective of great vs fine vs not good.
This second bout of chronic pain for almost 3 years has been more difficult in some ways. I’m older now. I have a full time job. I try to have a life outside of that job. I don’t have parents that cook for me (well of course they would but we live across the country from each other 🙂 ). I have a husband and dog that both like to have fun. Being good at my job is important to me. And being good at my job has larger implications than being able to focus in high school classes.
This second round of chronic pain started about in January 2014 when I first started developing carpal tunnel syndrome. My job keeps me at a computer most of the day – especially then, so my work habits and terrible posture certainly didn’t make carpal tunnel surprising. I tried to do what I can, I wore a split. I did exercises etc but nothing was moving the needle. In the summer when I saw my primary care physician she walked through my next options: a nerve test with a neurologist (which she described in detail) and possible surgery. Hell to the no. I had to find a better way.
How I got rid of carpal tunnel syndrome for good: (carpal tunnel exercises are essential!)
- I use an ergonomic keyboard and mouse at work and at home. Nothing too funky, just something that feels natural. I love the Microsoft Sculpt series and I’ve gotten other coworkers hooked.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome mostly affected my right wrist, so to change up my muscle usage I started training myself to use a left-handed mouse at work (actually a left handed ergonomic gaming mouse). It doesn’t take as long to get used to it as you would think!
- Used a wrist roller by Rist Roller to work out the tension in my forearms and wrists (thanks for my friend Erika for spotting these on Instagram!)
- I did more stretching and yoga. These are some of my favorite exercises:
- I started going to acupuncture a lot more. The needling is so helpful for muscle or orthopedic issues.
Over time, in maybe 6 months to a year my carpal tunnel finally went away and it hardly comes back. While that is good, what I didn’t realize at the time that in my wrists and forearms is where I happened to hold physical tension. If it left there, it had to go somewhere else. And it did…
How I Got Rid of Neck and Shoulder Pain:
If I thought carpal tunnel was bad, I was not prepared for how numbing and exhausting having chronic muscle pain and tension in my neck, upper back and shoulders would be. I started doing more yoga and a lot more stretching.
I got a yoga band a really started to stretch my shoulders, especially the arm movements of cow face pose. On one of my sides my hands used to be a foot apart: but with continued practice they can now touch and my shoulders were much less tight and tense. That didn’t solve the whole problem though. Now we need to jump ahead to TMJ.
How I Got Rid of TMJ for Good:
At some point the stress in my neck made its way to my jaw. I wasn’t necessarily grinding my teeth at night but I was definitely clenching my jaw and in a constant state of subconscious high alertness that made my jaw muscles tense. I’m guessing I had general Inflamation (the chronic pervasive kind everyone is talking about these days). Pain would go between my jaw and neck and eventually into my ears. It start affecting my Eustachian tube and I had very bad ear pain too. I noticed TMJ was the main muscle tension culprit in the early fall of 2015. Massages helped but only for that day. Acupuncture certainly helped and would control the tension for a few days but it would still come back. Here are some things that really helped to solve my TMJ issues
- While I had been seeing an acupuncturist for years, it wasn’t until October 2015 that we decided to try Chinese herbs as well (luckily my acupuncturist is also and herbalist). These helped tremendously! It really made my nervous system simmer down. I almost felt they worked too well. If I forgot to take them one day, immediately I would feel the tension come back. Overall I would still recommend them. I started taking herbs for other issues too though so I wouldn’t always be taking the one that really calmed my physical tension. I had to pick and choose.
- I continued with yoga and stretching. Cobra is still a great exercise to help you get a good neck stress. http://www.yogajournal.com/pose/cobra-pose/
- I found this video on Gaia online. The exercises seem subtle by they are highly effective. https://www.gaia.com/video/head-neck-and-shoulder-therapeutics
These all helped by every few weeks my TMJ, neck and shoulder tension would continue to creep up.
What really pushed TMJ and other chronic muscle pain out of my life:
- I stopped eating eggs for breakfast in August. Or egg whites to be more precise. I used to eat several eggs worth of egg whites every day for breakfast. And in late August one day I just looked at an egg white and I couldn’t eat another one.
- More on eggs in another post!
- Now for breakfast I eat a delicious mostly plant based + smoked salmon low glycemic adrenal reset ratio approved breakfast.
- I started working with a mindfulness coach. Who is an actually an MD by the way (that’s California for you!). In our appointments we use mental exercises and solutions to help keep my mind peaceful and focused on the present – not anticipating the future or worrying about the past. Worry being the operative word. I am no longer an obsessive worrier.
- I learned to meditate (from my mindfulness doc). Nothing fancy. Just breathing in, breathing out and saying that to myself internally as I breathe. Now I meditate every day. Not for long periods of time. However long I need. But what’s really happened here is by carving out time to meditate, I’ve carved out time for me. Now every day it’s easier for me to make more time for me. Do something fun just for me. Not for work. Not for my family. Not for my husband or dog whom I both adore more than anything, but just for me. I started taking back my days, taking ownership of them, and not letting them or a hectic schedule own me.
- I practice things differently and I aim to be at peace and balanced in any situation that comes my way.
- One of the biggest ideas I had from my mindfulness coach was realizing when I need to practice things differently. My always-optimizing, methodical, meticulous and relentless mindset can be great at work, but I don’t need to practice that mindset at home.
- I’ve taken this idea of changing practice a bit further. Now I tend to think of it as “try the opposite” of what I was doing. Let’s say if I found myself in a situation that used to cause me worry. How did I deal with it in the past? Did I obsessive worry? Did I hold in my feelings? How did that work out for me? Did it help at all? 9/10 the answer is No. Now I strive to do the opposite in that situation. I stop worrying about things I can’t control and I immediately tell someone what I’m trying not to worry about .
- I stopped wearing necklaces. For reals. Most days I don’t wear necklaces and I swear it has helped my neck and jaw tension.
- I continue to rid my life and home of irritating fragrances and scents. Even “natural” scents and essential oils can sometimes be very irritating and stressful.
- I don’t use fluoride toothpaste anymore. My hubby thinks I’m crazy but I really think this has helped 🙂
- I changed up my purse game. I no longer use cross body bags that I can’t help but fill up and make heavy. I mostly use purses I carry by the handle now or clutches.
Now here I am. 6 months free of TMJ, shoulder pain, neck pain and carpal tunnel syndrome. Life is pretty good! I’m way less tired and exhausted each day. I’m sure this will be an evolving journey but I’m proud and impressed at how far I have come.