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Guest Blog Post by - Melonie Perino
The Pain Cycle
Even if you’ve never suffered from chronic pain, you’re probably still familiar with the “cycle of pain”. You know the deal. You tweak a muscle doing some mundane activity, like bending over to pick something up. So pretty soon, you’re compromising the way you move in order to not aggravate the injury. And in doing so…you tweak something else. Next thing you know, you’re not able to go to the gym or do your favorite physical activities to help alleviate stress. So the stress builds, the muscle tension builds and pop! Everything seems to hurt.
The pain makes it difficult to fall asleep and when you do stir during the course of the night, the pain makes it difficult to settle. You’re exhausted upon waking and being tired seems to make the pain…even…worse.
Normally, a pulled muscle or similar physical pain will resolve in 10-14 days, given there was no long-term damage. NOW… imagine that this isn’t a normal strain or pain, but a chronic pain that begins to take over your life. Whether you suffer from an auto-immune disease or it’s a nagging injury causing acute inflammation that plagues you, you are well versed in being caught in the cycle of pain. If you suffer from pain long enough, you know it begins to take a mental toll. I’m going to lay out my personal story here in the hopes that my experience can benefit even one person.
A Pain in the Neck
It all started 4 years ago with some neck pain and tense muscles. I’ve carried tension in my neck and shoulders my entire adult life. Months of nursing, being hunched over in poor posture, combined with a weakened core from my 4th c-section, had taken its toll and I finally went to the doctors who sent me for an x-ray. It was quickly confirmed that this was not just a pulled muscle, but I had developed stenosis of the c-spine and I was losing the curve in my neck, something usually reserved for people over the age of 70. Change in curvature of the spine can be caused by poor posture, long hours sitting at a desk and/or looking at smartphones (guilty on all counts), but stenosis is a whole other monster. My first doctor and subsequent specialists all agreed that the stenosis was probably caused by a trauma and having been in several accidents that involved head injuries, I’m bound to agree; however, one specific cause cannot be pinpointed at this time. Essentially, my spinal canal is narrowing and any sort of misalignment can cause troublesome symptoms. Particularly more concerning is the location of the stenosis. All nerves running from the brain have to pass through the c-spine to get to the rest of the body and its organs. Symptoms of a compression or inflammation anywhere in this area could mean something as “simple” as headaches, vertigo, pain, numbness and tingling in the arms and/or legs or something more sinister as impacting heart & lung function, even causing loss of bladder control. Fun, right?!
When I first received this diagnosis 4 years ago, I was barely even suffering from headaches; I was lucky. At the most, I experienced dizziness, pressure in the ears and vertigo, but not the horrible headaches I knew could happen. That all changed in 2016. With a build up of emotional stress now came pressure, dizziness PLUS head pain. As if that wasn’t a pain in the ass enough, anxiety and panic attacks hit all.at.once. I NEVER had any issues with depression, anxiety or panic attacks and looking back, I now realize this was probably a physical response to my mother’s death and my inability to handle the psychological ramifications of it. My health had started doing some pretty wonky things since I lost my mom, so this definitely wasn't out of the realm of possibility.
It all came to a head <no pun intended> in 2017, when my first long-term headache-turned-migraine hit. It lasted 36 days. On the best days it felt like an arrow was shot through the lower left side of my head, straight through out the right upper side of my skull. On the worst day, I ended up the ER. I had been working a Mama Bear event and was walking…I had taken some OTCs, used up half a bottle of Headbanger Hell and it was only barely scratching the surface of the pain. I got up to walk across the event and a sharp shooting pain shot through my skull, my vision went and all I saw was black and lightning strikes in my field of vision. I could walk and talk fine, but I was terrified something serious was wrong. I drove myself to the ER, they took a CT scan which came back clear. So they pumped me full of a steroid and anti-inflammatory, told me to contact a neurologist and sent me on my way with the diagnosis of tension headach-turned-migraine, no explanation of why it lasted so long and no suggestions of what could help other than the OTCs which I already knew weren't helping. So…I tapped into my resources. I contacted every medical professional I was friends with along with every woman I know who suffers from chronic migraines while I waited for the neuro appointment. No matter what I tried, everything from OTC med cocktails to different forms of alternative medicine, yoga, meditation, relaxation...nothing worked. I hadn’t worked out consistently since November of 2017. Because of that, depression set in, anxiety increased and I became a hot mess.
By the time my neuro appointment came around, the headache was starting to dissipate. Some of the test results from that visit warranted further investigation, I moved forward with an MRI and everything got quiet as the headache seemed to finally disapper. When the headache popped up again shortly after Memorial Day 2018, I was ready to get the bottom of things. This time the headache was more of a constant dullness and fullness in the head, but completely distracting. I could barely form complete thoughts, words became jumbled and I was spending too much time every day trying to alleviate the tension in the muscles, stretching, working on range of motion in my neck…all kinds of things until I was able to get some answers. At this point, any type of exercise triggered the headache to intensify. A quickened heart or pulse led to a pounding head. Tight traps from even the simplest workout caused days of pain and frustration. Once again, I was stuck not being able to do the one thing I relied on to relieve my stress, anxiety and depression.
My bloodwork came back normal, no auto-immune diseases, awesome news! My MRI showed some suspect white spots towards the front of the brain, the doctor pointed out those were probably from the accidents I experienced. I was happy to say I was more functional this time around with the headache, which by the way, lasted over 76 days…straight through the summer, but I was reaching a breaking point mentally and I needed to do something. Between the start of all of this bullshit and present day, to date I have been to the cardiologist, ENT, opthamologist, balance center, neurologist and my GP. Being able to rule out other more sinister causes, the doctor now could say with almost complete certainty that the mechanical issues in my neck were causing my headaches, now officially diagnosed as cervicogenic headaches.
A cervicogenic headache originates in the neck, and for most sufferers moves up the back of the head and around, up and over the ears, sides of the head, jaws, to the front of the forehead. Simply put, it feels like a helmet of pain. And anything can trigger it: turning your head too fast, sleeping the wrong way and compromising neck posture, stress, muscle fatigue in the upper back, shoulder blades and traps. Along with movement, any sort of inflammation makes it almost unbearable. Hangovers are a whole new ballgame, hormone fluctuations with PMS increases pain, as well as triggers my anxiety…good times! I was given a script for a neck MRI, but that was kicked back twice...so then I was given a script for physical therapy and the option to pursue prescription medications in the meantime: anti-depressants, shots in my occipital region (back of skull)--no, thanks!, and muscle relaxers. I was sent home to consider my options and then something amazing happened…
A fellow female box owner from our FB community support page posted to the group regarding her experience/success with CBD, or cannabidiol! CBD oil is a very hot topic right now. It’s being hailed as an alternative for everything from OTC to narcotic pain meds, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety meds, medications that ease the symptoms of PTSD, PMS, chronic pain, MS, multiple auto-immune diseases. Sounds too good to be true, right?? Now…if anyone knows me, you know I’m a jerk about things I view as trendy...and up until then, that’s exactly how CBD was in my head. But at this point, I was more swayed by story after story of success with regard to pain and inflammation. I set out on my own to start trying to learn about CBD from different sources. I checked out the company that my friend Staci had referred me to, and after discussing it with Duke, I went for it!
I’m not exaggerating when I say I was chomping at the bit for that little bottle to arrive! Because my pain had gone on for some time, was a daily occurrence and is considered chronic, I ordered the most powerful concentration of full spectrum CBD, and opted to start with very small doses, as needed. I definitely didn’t plan on my pain being relieved at the first dose..but within 15 minutes of taking the oral drops, I felt a release in my head, then down my neck and upper back. A sort of heat took over and it sounds crazy, but I felt like bloodflow came back those areas. I slept well for the first time in months. I didn’t feel dizzy, dopey, or even sleepy…I just felt better and relaxed as I went to sleep. I finished my bottle in about a month, sometimes I take 3 small doses a day, sometimes I take none. I have the best results when I take it consistently, it seems to really keep the headaches at bay.
If you’re wondering how cannabidiol works, here is a quick breakdown from my friend Staci over at CrossFit Cleveland on how it works, what it can be used for and how it effects the body. And here is the company I choose to buy my product from: https://cleanremedies.com/ in case you want to research the origin of the product, processing info and mission statement. There are a LOT of CBD brands available and if you don't educate yourself on the different types, categories, strengths, etc. you might end up buying a bottle of sugar oil, then claiming CBD is a bunch of bologna since the crappy product didn't work for you ;)
Some other pleasant side effects since taking CBD? I am calmer, my anxiety has SIGNIFICANTLY decreased, my depression has completely disappeared since I have been able to manage the pain...and I’ve been able to return to physical activity!! (the relief of anxiety and depression came first, so I know it wasn’t just a result of greater well-being associated with fitnessing again). The best part? I’m enjoying life again and smiling more! I enjoy cooking again, I have the energy to play with the kids and do the one million things moms do every day for their children. That’s what’s been the worst part of all of this…the relentless fatigue. I could barely function as a human, let alone a mother. So mostly, I gave up taking care of myself in order to have the energy to take care of them. And we all know, that's just a disaster waiting to happen.
What does this long ass blog post mean? It means that yours truly has found SOMETHING besides hardcore prescription meds and invasive procedures to ease my pain. I'm not stopping here. I am moving forward with physical therapy and will continue to work on improving my posture to help support healing and slow the progress of spinal disease. After all, while I have been treating the inflammation, the stenosis has not been fixed. The docs tell me there is great success in treating stenosis and loss of curvature with physical therapy and surgery is absolutely the last resort for all of us. This experience has been life-changing and I am truly thankful to Staci for sharing her experience and giving me hope for my chronic pain. Most of all, I am thankful to Clean Remedies for producing such a clean, natural alternative to the heavily medicated path I was facing.
I made the choice to share all of this with you because I want you to know that I understand the toll that chronic pain can take on your mind, body and spirit. And there are answers out there that can either replace endless OTCs or work in conjunction with modern medicine. I want to make this very clear: I will NEVER suggest that someone stop taking medication prescribed to them by their doctor. It is not my place. I am not a medical professional and my advice is not to replace the advice of a medical professional. However, there ARE options out there and this one has rocked my world.
Stay tuned for more information! I will continue to share my experience and knowledge regarding CBD oil, as we will be soon be carrying it at CrossFit Cervus! I assure you this choice was made solely to help others out there who suffer from chronic or acute pain and muscle soreness. CBD has been proven a safe, effective tool in recovery and increased performance. It can be taken orally, used topically...the possibilities are endless.