Thursday, October 27, 2011

But I wasn't doing anything!

How often have you had a pain come on suddenly, when you were not doing anything at all to cause it? This has happened to me many times. I would often lament, "But I wasn't even doing anything!" I could understand it if I had been in the middle of lifting something, but for the pain to come out of nowhere seemed like adding insult to injury. After studying trigger point therapy, I realized that when a pain comes out of nowhere, it is almost certainly caused by trigger points.

I have found that to use trigger point therapy to its full potential, you need to be a detective. This won't happen overnight for most of us, but over time, you will start to learn what type of activities or "inactivities" lead to trigger points in various muscles. In other words, you will learn what has been happening to cause your pain.  

Picture this real-from-my-life scenario: I have been getting ready for church on a Sunday morning. I have stepped out of the shower, grabbed a towel and brought it up to my face. Suddenly, I freeze. There is a sharp pain in my upper back on the inner side of my shoulder blade. It feels like my shoulder blade is "out." It hurts to move and I wonder how I am going to finish drying myself off, let alone get dressed, fix my hair, apply makeup, and get to church. Further, I am panicked because at this time, I have responsibilities that I need to be church for, and I just don't have time for pain right now. (Who ever has time for pain, anyway?) In addition, I am feeling like a victim. I have no control over this arbitrary pain that seems to appear out of nowhere. Not only am I in pain, I feel helpless and hopeless.

This experience has happened to me more than once and even after I had started learning about trigger point therapy, I wondered what I could possibly have been doing to set this or that pain off.

It took a while, but I think I figured my "shower" pain out. For one thing, I was not doing "nothing." Here are what I consider to be major contributing factors:

  • I had just had my arms lifted over my head for quite some time while I washed my hair, rinsed it, put conditioner in and rinsed it out.  (Arms raised without a break.)
  • In order to rinse the hair thoroughly, I had tilted my head back and I turned it from side to side, while still in the tilted-back position. (Head tilted back without a break.)
  • I was doing all of this arm-raising and head-tilting while my legs and trunk worked to hold me steady in the shower, so I would not slip and fall.  (Tension in trunk and legs.)
  • As I was showering, I was thinking about what I needed to get done in the next few hours, perhaps wondering if I would be able to make it through the meetings without any pain.  I became very tense, although I was not consciously aware of that fact.  (Increased tension over entire body, especially shoulders and stomach area.)
  • I stepped out from a hot shower into a cold bathroom.  My muscles all tensed up in response to the cold.  (Sudden temperature change.  My muscles seize.)  
It took me quite a while to eke out this information. I did figure out enough immediately to know that I did not want to shower right before church on a day when my bathroom was cold and drafty. 

The first time this happened was before I learned about trigger point therapy. But it also happened after I had learned about trigger point therapy, and I still hadn't made the connection. One day, months after I had started learning about trigger point therapy, it just dawned on me. First of all, I was doing these activities which stressed my shoulder, neck, and upper back muscles. I have always had problems with my shoulders. (Even as a teenager, my arms would start to hurt and burn when I held my blow dryer up to dry my hair.) Stepping from the hot shower out into the cold air was the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back."  

Okay, well, I figured it out, but what do I do with this information? In my case, I decided not to shower during the winter. (Just kidding! Wondered if you were paying attention.) Actually, in my case, I decided to shower the night before when the room would be warmer. I would not have the stress of having to be ready at a certain time and I could dry off by wrapping myself in a terry cloth robe with no time limit to be dry. This can work sometimes. I am also looking into having a portable shower head installed on my bathtub (yes, my shower and tub are separate--came with the house) so that I can have the benefits of shower-rinsed hair, but keep my core body temperature much warmer. There are some other ideas, but you get the idea.  And, I am also working on my trigger points, of course.  

You have two ways to help yourself. One is to find and work the trigger points. The other is to examine your activities and perhaps modify what you are doing, at least until more trigger points are deactivated. In other words, you may need to back off on some activities until your trigger points are more under control. For the trigger points that are caused by inactivity, you may also need to move those muscles more to help them fully recover.  

So, be aware. Periodically, stop what you are doing and analyze each part of your body. Is it relaxed? Is it tense? Can I make a connection between what I am currently doing and the tension level in my body? Have I been overworking or underworking some muscles? Are some muscles cold? 

You may find that you are a pretty great detective!    

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