I get letters from patients all the time. This one really stood out…
“I confess I have chronic neck pain. It took a very long time for me to admit I needed treatment. I am one of “those” people. You know, the kind that hates going to the doctor. My road to recovery began when I hit rock bottom with regard to my quality of life.
You see, I have always been very active and athletic. Because of this, I believed I was made of steel. Playing sports in high school, ballet in college, then later engaging in adventurous hobbies such as rock climbing and extreme hiking as a young adult, I had enjoyed my share of rough and tumble falls, a few resulting in injuries that ranged from minor to serious. There were also a few car accidents along the way that delivered a healthy dose of typical whiplash pain. However, as a young adult I always quickly recovered and went on my merry way, never looking back and oblivious to any minor ache or pain. The endorphins and feel-good hormones generated by my high activity levels ensured I was never distracted with bothersome aches and pains. Then I left behind my thirties and everything began to change.
I denied for a very long time what was happening to me. I continued to believe that I was immortal. Age was only a number. I was truly as young as I felt. However, the truth was becoming more and more apparent that I just didn’t feel as well as I used to. I began suffering from a stiff, achy neck from time to time. Especially after a long, tiring day of work. I no longer lasted all night on the dance floor. Sleeping in often meant waking up in discomfort from being in the same position for too many hours. Then the headaches and insomnia began.
At first it was a three-day migraine about once a month. I gulped down over-the-counter pain relievers and sleep aids like they were candy for a few days and my problem seemed to go away. But in a few weeks it would happen all over again. I thought maybe it was my work conditions. My job was pretty physical and involved frequent lifting of twenty to forty pounds every single day. I turned to retail. I didn’t mind being on my feet and there was no heavy lifting required in a nice boutique.
At first the job change seemed to be the answer. I soon got a promotion. Off the floor and into the office to handle paperwork and purchasing. Sitting at the desk in front of a computer, it did not take long for the headaches and neck pain to return. I chose denial. I didn’t want to consider that my new promotion into a job that I loved was ruining my quality of life.
I went the melodramatic route and decided that maybe I had a brain tumor. I visited my eye doctor who told me that I did not have a brain tumor. I only needed corrective eyewear for aging eyes. Although offended to be considered “aging”, I grasped at the straw that this was going to solve all of my problems. I expected that I would never have another headache. With headaches a thing of the past, the tension they caused was surely linked to my neck pain so this should disappear forever as well. I was wrong.
Things got so bad that out of a seven day week I was lucky to have two or three days where I felt “normal”. During my “normal” days I ecstatically tried to do everything I feared I might not be able to do tomorrow and catch up on all the things I wasn’t able to do the days before. It is very likely that overdoing things in this manner only exacerbated the problem I was in denial about. But such was my foolish way.
Whenever a family function or vacation was planned, rather than worry about what I would cook or wear or pack, I was fretting over whether or not I would even be able to function and enjoy the experience. Wherever I went my handbag was stocked with assorted pain relievers. Many had long since lost their effectiveness with my overuse but I continued to hope as I popped a few pills. Driving became a game of Russian roulette. I often had difficulty turning my head to look over my shoulder so, rather than see if another car was in the other lane I wanted to maneuver into, I simply checked my mirror and hoped for the best where my blind spot was concerned. It became commonplace for co-workers to enter my office and see me pecking away at the computer with sunglasses on because the lighting was excruciating. I became the butt of office humor for also being frequently seen with a knit cap on top of my head that held in place a flexible ice pack to help alleviate my headache pain. I was miserable and too stubborn to see a doctor.
It took missing Christmas to make me finally admit that something was terribly wrong and there was no way I was going to be able to fix it myself. I dragged myself into a physician’s office and told him my terrible woes. It seems there was really nothing special about my suffering. It turns out that I was diagnosed with a problem that is common to people my age who led a younger life of rowdy activity that included lots of bumps, falls, and minor injuries. He diagnosed me quickly. He also launched me into an intensive plan of physical therapy to strengthen my neck and improve its flexibility. I was instructed on how to adjust my daily life to deal with a lifetime of chronic pain caused by a condition that was, for all respects, incurable.
Within two weeks of aggressive treatment I was headache free. I confess I believed it all too good to be true and kept waiting, looking over my proverbial shoulder for the other shoe to drop. Finally, I had to admit that the doctor’s diagnosis and the physical therapy treatment were the best thing that ever happened to me as an active woman approaching middle age. I realized that I had been a fool to allow myself to go so long suffering in what I know now to be cervical spondylosis, more commonly called neck arthritis. If you are suffering neck and headache pain, don’t let it take over your life. Don’t let it ruin your life. Contact medical experts that can help you get back to living.”