Thursday, November 17, 2011

What I've been doing - Part 2

(continued from the last post...) 

I was so glad that I had taken the time to work my shoulder, upper arm, upper back, and pec muscles before going to the Emergency Room (ER). At the ER, they decided to do a CT scan. The technician had me lie down on the bed (trolley?) and asked me if I could bring my arm over my head and rest it on a pillow above me on the bed. I hardly thought that was possible, but he assured me that he would help me and convinced me to try. The ER doctor had confirmed that my shoulder did not appear to be injured. The technician said he would brace my arm as we inched it up and over to where it needed to go.  He carefully placed a hand over each side of my elbow joint. His hands overlapped my lower and upper arms, and kept the angle locked. Each movement was not of separate parts of the arm, but the arm moved as if it were one piece. We moved an inch or so at a time and soon, my arm was lying above me on the bed, and I had experienced no pain.  In fact, for the first little bit, it felt good because my arm was getting a change of position. I couldn't believe that it worked!

I thought about it, and if I had not worked my pecs and my shoulder and upper back muscles, it might not have gone so smoothly. I probably would have succeeded in getting my arm in position for the CT scan, but I suspect it would have been somewhat painful, judging by how much those areas needed to be worked.

Fast forward.

They gave me my diagnosis, informed me that I would have to have surgery, and sent me home with some meds and an estimated surgery date. While I waited, I tried to keep myself relatively pain free.

One night, I was trying to get to sleep, and suddenly my left thumb started to hurt.  It was throbbing.  I was exhausted and not thinking very clearly, but my first thought was that the brachialis (p. 113) refers to the thumb.  I reached over and started to work the brachialis trigger points, which are located in the lower part of the front upper arm (by the biceps). They were sore. Within a few seconds, the pain was subsiding in my thumb, but I continued to work the brachialis until it was substantially softer. The next day, when I went to look things up in my trigger point manual, I saw that brachialis was the most likely muscle to cause pain in the thumb  It made sense. The brachialis had been held in the same position for several days. It was stressed because the bent elbow limited its movement in either direction.

On the first day of the correctly prescribed meds, I felt so much better, but then I got a weak, but very unpleasant headache. I thought, "Oh no!  I'm already taking all of this pain medication.  If that isn't taking care of it, I don't know what I'm going to do!" Then my inner trigger point detective kicked in.

My neck had been through quite a bit lately. Where do most headaches come from? The neck. I had been wearing a sling, and my neck was bearing the weight that my shoulder and arm usually bore. Not only that, it was dead weight, and it had been necessary for me to assume awkward positions to keep from bumping and hurting my arm.

Also, because it hurt my arm so much to sleep lying down, I had been sleeping sitting up in an arm chair with my feet up on a footstool. My neck had been in all kinds of positions. I was often sleeping in a "C" position, with my neck tucked into my chest. This made it harder to breathe, too. The muscles in the back of my neck were being held in an extended position too long, and the muscles in the front of my neck were being held in a shortened position too long. Both conditions create trigger points.

First, I worked my sternocleidomastoids (SCMs) since several of my symptoms appeared to be caused by the SCMs. Then I worked my scalenes and any of the muscles in the back of the neck that I could reach. I was not using very good ergonomics because I was limited to one hand. I tried to make up for this a little bit by taking frequent breaks. I focused on relaxing my working arm and hand each time I took a break. I also worked my right arm's flexor and extensor muscles after each session of neck massage. The headache pretty much disappeared halfway through massaging the SCMs, but I continued until I had got every trigger point that I could reach.

Later, I ended up with a similar headache and I was able to get it under control very quickly, but I realized that I need to do more in the way of prevention. I located a few pillows, including a neck pillow to help support my neck. I arranged things so that I was not sitting with my head thrust forward, or some other awkward angle. This helped a lot.

My sling was causing its own set of problems because of the extra strain it put on my neck. Also, the way that the sling fit my arm actually caused me pain. The straps of the sling attached at the elbow and wrist and I could feel a significant pull in both areas. Ordinarily, that might not be a problem, but my elbow was injured and the extra pull on my elbow made it hurt worse.  I decided to make my own sling and design it with these issues in mind.

I sewed up a 4-5 inch wide, padded strap, with one end folded back on itself about 11 inches and sewn to form a loose loop. I placed the loop over my splint and found that somewhere near the middle was the ideal place for the sling to pull up. I pulled the strap straight up and over my left shoulder, pulled it around my right waist to the front of my body. I was trying to decide what kind of fastener to use, when I noticed that the weight of my injured arm would hold the end of the sling in place, so I left it at that (I probably really shouldn't have been making a sling in my condition, anyway...). Sometimes, I use my arm as the weight and sometimes I tie the end of the sling to the loop part, depending on what I am going to do. The point is that I got a sling that was not hurting my neck or elbow. I was trying to prevent more problems than I already had.

The new sling is much more comfortable and my neck is not being pulled forward.  

The sling goes straight up to my neck, around my back, and to the front.
(Note:  For some unknown reason, my camera takes pictures in mirror mode, so even though it looks like the right arm is in a splint, it is actually my left arm.)

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