Tag Archives: piriformis syndrome

How I Came To Embrace Alternative Medicine

It all began when I got back from a two-and-a-half week vacation in the United States last January. As I resumed my normal routine of running, yoga and the daily schlep to both kids’ schools, something didn’t feel quite right. Specifically, there was a throbbing pain on the left side of my bum.

I’d had recurring trouble with my piriformis muscle before, so I began doing some stretches that I’d learned during my last round of physiotherapy. But after things got so excruciating that I had to give up yoga and started popping painkillers on a regular basis, I booked in to see an osteopath at a nearby facility. (I’d seen an osteopath successfully for a different injury a few years back.)

Osteopathy didn’t work this time around. The pain didn’t go away. Instead, over the next few months, it migrated to other parts of my back – upper and lower. There was one point when I could hardly walk. Meanwhile, my migraines – which have grown in intensity over the past decade or so – were getting progressively more frequent, despite changing – and upping – my meds.

Enter Pilates. At the advice of a friend who’d also had severe back pain, I began doing intensive Pilates and massage with a physio-therapist in my neighborhood three to four times a week throughout July and August. She also did acupuncture on my back and neck and gave me this weird magnetic patch to wear on my back on the airplane and when I sat at my desk for long intervals.

The upshot? I feel fantastic. Sure, I spend 40 minutes every morning doing back exercises (because eventually we all turn into our mothers.) But other than the occasional twitch to remind me that I still have something called a Lattisimus Dorsi muscle and it isn’t necessarily my friend, I feel really great. I’ve resumed running three times a week. And most importantly of all, I haven’t had a headache in 16 days…which must be a record for since moving to England five years ago.

I wouldn’t say that the cumulative effect of this experience has been to make me an evangelist for alternative medicine, but it has certainly moved me much closer in that direction. I’ve never had an issue with popping pills to address aches, pains and all manner of illness, and I still don’t. But I now feel that alternative medicine – whether used alone or in conjunction with traditional medicinal cures – can be hugely helpful.

And apparently, I’m not alone. More than one third of adults and nearly 12% of children in the United States now rely on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), according to a large Federal survey released in 2008.  Non-vitamin, non-mineral natural products are the most commonly used CAM therapy among adults. But use has also increased for things like deep breathing exercises, meditation, massage therapy and yoga. What all of this suggests is that CAM is becoming normalized within our health care system, as reflected in the fact that several CAM provisions were included in President Obama’s health care reform bill.

So the next time that back gives you some trouble and you reach for the Vicodin, give it a second thought and call a physical therapist instead. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised.

 

How about you? Have you ever tried alternative medicine and found it useful…or not?

 

Image: Pain by Racchio via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

 

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Signs You're Working Too Hard

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Sometimes it’s the off-hand comment that really gets you thinking.

So there I was in the playground yesterday, about to pick my daughter up from school, when I started talking to a friend who was also waiting for her son. We were midway into a vague, “How’s it goin’?” sort of chat, when she suddenly commented, seemingly out of nowhere: “You seem so busy. Do you ever eat lunch?”

I laughed, reassuring her that I did, even while suppressing the memory of stuffing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into my mouth but two hours earlier as I galloped up a hill towards a bi-monthly appointment with my life coach (whom I see to help me…relax.)

But it gets better. As we talked some more about my work schedule, my double-school-run-afternoons and my husband’s recent business travel, she asked – in all seriousness – “Do you ever watch TV?”

She meant it in the nicest way, of course. She’s a really nice person. But, still, it cut me like a knife.

I mean: Do I ever watch TV? Am I so busy that the image I now project is that of a pop-culture-bereft, ready-meal-popping freak show who zips around North London on her collapsible bicycle desperately trying to keep up with her life? (Don’t answer that question. And by the way, does falling asleep to the Director’s Cut of Pride and Prejudice count as “watching TV”?)

So I gave it some thought. And I realized that I have been working too hard lately and trying to do too much. And I really need to relax. Here are five other tell-tale signs that you need to take a break:

1. Strangers tell you that you look rushed. It’s one thing when a friend tells you that you seem over-worked. But when even a stranger expresses concern that you’re too busy, it’s really time to take note. I was in the pharmacy the other day – where, because of the multitude of medical problems afflicting my family – the pharmacists are basically my extended family. Again, seemingly out of nowhere, the owner of the shop stepped forward and observed: “You always seem to be in a rush.” (“Why do you say that?” I wanted to reply. “Because I just knocked 42 of your contact lens solutions on the floor when I whooshed in here to grab my prescription while – literally – jogging?”) Once again, she meant it in the nicest way. This lady brings the descriptor “kindly” to a whole new level. And that made her remark all the more telling.

2. Muscle pain migrates to new corners of your body. Remember my piriformis syndrome? Thought I had that licked, didn’t you? Nope. It’s back. Only it has inexplicably migrated to the left side of my body. As soon as the pain started about six weeks ago, I recognized the symptoms instantly. And for a while, I ignored it. (Even though you should never ignore pain. You heard it here first.) But you know it’s time to cut back on what you’re doing when your body is basically screaming: “Hey! Pay Attention to Me!”

3. You feel relieved when you *have* to read your favorite magazine. I love The New Yorker. But despite my Sabbath Saturday resolve to devote more time to reading this magazine, I’ve fallen off the wagon. There are three – quite possibly, four – issues sitting in my magazine rack as we speak. One day last week, I found myself waiting for one of my kids for an hour with nothing to do but read my New Yorker. And I felt…relieved. As in: “Thank goodness this hour presented itself miraculously in my life!” Not as in: “Gee, I love the New Yorker and I think I’ll spend an hour reading it this afternoon because I want to.” What’s wrong with this picture?

4. You mistake tragedy for comedy. I love Indie films. The bleaker, the better. So when I recommended Winter’s Bone to some friends recently, I was puzzled when one of them, while passing me on the school run, shouted out: “Hey, thanks for the movie recommendation. We had a lovely evening. But it was a bit…grim, no?” To which I responded: “Grim? Really? I found it kind of uplifting.” When I recounted this exchange to my husband later that evening, he looked at me as if I were smoking crack. Like me, he also loved the movie. But “uplifting”? To paraphrase his reaction, when you mix poverty, drugs, murder and rural American sub-cultures, that’s not generally characterized as “uplifting.” Just sayin’.

5. You read Nora Ephron. I like my books much like I prefer my movies: heavy and (often) dark. (For me, the Dragon Tattoo series constitutes “light.”) So when my book club chose Nora Ephron’s Heartburn as its selection this month, I was initially disappointed. Not my cuppa, as they say. Boy, was I wrong. It’s not a great novel by any stretch. In fact, it’s not so much a novel as an extended rant by Ephron against her ex-husband for cheating on her when she was seven months pregnant. (And who can blame her?) But, man is Ephron funny. She has a terrific voice. And sometimes, we all just need to laugh.

Fortunately, I will have a chance to take a break later this month when I travel with my family – and my mother – to Berlin, one of those European cities I’ve always wanted to visit. Let’s just hope that whole terrorist threat thing has lifted by then. Speaking of grim…

*****

I was very grateful for this shout-out on the New York Times Freakonomics blog for my recent piece on health care reform in the U.K.

Image: Eat On The Run by Brave Heart via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Confront Pain

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I went to see a neurologist last week. I suffer from migraines. And while they aren’t nearly as bad as those endured by some of my friends – i.e. I don’t vomit, I’m not light-sensitive, etc. – they aren’t pleasant.

I really should have done this awhile ago. My migraines have been steadily increasing in frequency and intensity for several years now. But you know how it is:  you need to go see your G.P./primary care doctor, get a referral, and then block out the time to actually deal with the problem, rather than just suffering through.

But because I really didn’t want to overdose on Ibuprofen, I finally took the plunge and went to see a specialist. (I also finally broke down and went to see the dentist about a different but equally persistent problem I’ve been having with my teeth.)

If – like me – you’re avoidance-prone where pain is concerned, here are five reasons not to ignore the problem any longer:

1. It won’t go away on its own. Rather, it will just get worse. In the case of my teeth, it turns out that I wasn’t just clenching – as I’d long believed – but grinding. The dentist could actually show me where I’d worn down my front right canine tooth so that it was no longer pointy, but flattened out from grinding so much over time. That’s not good, especially since we all know that smiles are key to a happy marriage.

2. The fix is often quite simple. I think one reason that many of us put off going to the doctor to address an ongoing problem is that we fear that the fix will either not exist (why bother?) or be too complicated (requiring many more time-consuming doctor’s office visits.) And sometimes that’s true. But a lot of times, you just need a new medication (or mouth guard). That proved true for me in both cases. So it’s actually more efficient to go early to the doctor, rather than spending all that money on painkillers that don’t actually do the trick.

3. Pain feeds on itself. I have a pretty high threshold for pain. Which is why I tend to wait until a limb falls off before I go and see a doctor. (Even as I write this, I have a pain I’m ignoring in my upper left shoulder – a reminder that I ought to be stretching!) But even if it’s manageable, pain tends to feed on itself. It makes you tense. You become irritable. It’s distracting. You sleep less well. (The National Sleep Foundation reports that 2/3 of chronic pain sufferers experience sleep problems). So it’s better just to take the plunge and eliminate the pain effectively once and for all.

4. It can lead to other positive changes in your life. As you know, I’m a big believer in yoga for all sorts of reasons. But in addition to the fact that my life coach told me to do it, another reason that I do yoga is that physical therapist I saw for my Piriformis Syndrome told me that he thought it would help. I’d already done yoga when I saw him, but had stopped because of the pain in my, um…ass. He reminded me that yoga would actually help control that pain, not aggravate it. So I resumed yoga, and it turns out he was right.

5. You get ideas for blog posts. When I was in the neurologist’s office last week, we talked about what I do for a living. I actually joked with him that he should “Stay tuned for a post on visiting the Neurologist.” Et voilà!

Image: Headache by ehaver via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

Night At The Museum: Why I Hate Camping

I figured out something important about myself over the weekend. Or, more accurately, I figured it out again:  I’m not a camper.

This realization came to me whilst attending a sleepover at the British Museum on Saturday night with my 8 year-old son. He’s a “young friend” at the museum and as with all things, membership has its privileges. In this case, he was invited to attend an evening of workshops surrounding the current Montezuma exhibit, followed by a sleep-over and early morning access to the exhibit.

What’s not to love, right?

Well, a lot, actually. At least if you’re me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m in awe of the quantity and quality of things that British museums – especially this one – do in the way of inspiring and educating children about art and history. It’s one of the things I love most about living over here. By way of example, in a mere four hours on Saturday night we decoded Mayan glyphs, made a Mexican headdress, chanted to some Aztec Gods and listened to a Day of the Dead Story teller. In short: brilliant.

But then there was the actual sleepover. And here I was less charmed. As I lay there around 2 a.m., wide awake on a cold, stone floor amid the Assyrian statuary…in a sleeping bag (graciously loaned by a neighbor)…with my 8 year-old son lying next to me, grinding his teeth…in a room full of snoring strangers….under the watchful eye of “A Winged Bull For Sennacherib’s Palace” I thought:  Right. This is why I hated camping all those years.

I know. I know. It’s not real wilderness-style camping. But it bears enough similarity to warrant the comparison. To wit:

*relative deprivation from creature comforts (e.g. bed, heating–those statues are cold!, shower, normal food)

*living in groups and listening to/participating in other people’s personal rituals (e.g. sleep, eating, teeth-brushing)

*that curious modern creation that is the sleeping bag

It probably would have helped if I’d had an air mattress instead of the yoga mat I brought to add an extra layer of comfort. (Not.)

It probably also would have helped if I were ten years younger and didn’t yet know the aches and pains of that pesky piriformis muscle that’s been acting up so much lately.

And – to be honest – it probably also would have helped if I were just a different person. I don’t know. Someone who really excelled at Girl Scouts, perhaps. Or didn’t find it really strange to brush my teeth in front of 20 other people.

But I’m not. And much as I love my son, I don’t think I’ll be repeating that exercise anytime soon.

But I’m happy to have learned all of this – again – about myself. Because at the end of the day, adulthood is about realizing who you are and what you enjoy in life.

I had the exact same realization the other day when looking at a friend’s vacation pictures on her computer. As I watched slide show after slide show of her recent family holidays, I realized that in every single one, she and her husband were engaged in some sort of “extreme sport” – whether it was kayaking or mountain climbing or windsurfing.

Whereas when my husband and I take a holiday,we tend to go to a lot of museums (in the daytime!), frequent cafés and catch up on The New Yorker.

Which is, I suppose, a long way of saying “to each his (or her) own.”

It’s also a long way of saying that the next time I spend a Night at The Museum, it will be on film.

Image: Night at the Museum by Frangipani via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

Help! I've OD'd on Ibuprofen: Medicine and Social Media

There’s a new study out suggesting that more than 60% of Americans go on-line to get their health care information. Whereas in the past, they might have called a doctor, relative or good friend for advice, these days people are reading blogs, listening to podcasts or posting comments, often relying on user-generated information.

To be sure, there are downsides to this trend. Pressed for time, some people are likely to try to use social media as a way to avoid actually seeing a doctor. A friend of mine likes to joke that he now just takes a photograph and emails it to his doctor with the subject line: “It hurts here.”

Over-reliance on the internet can also lead to over-reactions. Try plugging the words “red rash children” into Google. It comes up with about 99 different potential causes, ranging from Leukemia to a minor skin irritation. Guess which one you’ll gravitate towards?

Then there was the time I thought I’d over-dosed on Ibuprofen. I’d been having trouble – again – with Piriformis Syndrome and lost track of how many pills I’d taken in one day. I leapt to the computer, Googled “Ibuprofen” and discovered that adults are only supposed to take something like 1600 mg a day. I’d already had at least 2000. My heart started racing and I frantically reached for the phone to call 999 (911). I was convinced that I was going to die. (Never mind that the dangerous side effects of Ibuprofen run to digestive – not coronary – matters.) By the time the ambulance arrived, the medics practically laughed in my face.

On the other hand, I think there are a lot of upsides to this trend as well. I’ve had friends use the internet to correctly identify serious illnesses whose symptoms had flummoxed their doctors.

In a thoughtful article in the New York Times last week, Pauline Chen (M.D.) talks about how blogs, Facebook and Twitter have been instrumental to her practice as a physician. Among other things, they’ve helped her and other doctors like her monitor patients, share information, widen illness support networks or just provide a quick word of encouragement.

And yet, ironically – as Chen notes – there are very few guidelines in this information age for doctors about how to use social media with their patients.

Call me crazy, but as long as we’re about to plunge in and try and totally re-configure our health care system, shouldn’t we be thinking of how social media might be used to further the goals of medicine? If nothing else, it’s free. Which is more than you can say about most things right now.

What do you think? How has social media shaped your experiences with medicine?

*****

Speaking of middle-aged technical blunders, the Onion has a hysterical article about the creation of after-work centers for the middle-aged. My favorite bit:

When not scheduling a Julia Roberts movie night or field trips to Gerald Ford’s birth site, the staff at The Den is busy showing patrons how to set up their AOL accounts and download MP3s of Sting’s latest album…

Image: P2090106 by Bright_Star via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

Piriformis Syndrome: A (real) Pain in The Ass

As I mentioned in a post a few weeks back, one of the things that happens as you grow older is that you find yourself learning about parts of your body you never knew you had.

In my case, I have an ache in my piriformis muscle which is, quite literally, a pain in the ass. Turns out, I suffer from something called piriformis syndrome, which is – let’s face it – a bit less dramatic than Stockholm Syndrome, but sounds momentous nonetheless. While they can’t be sure, the doctors here think it came about because I run a fair bit.

For the most part – and per my mother’s example – I manage this pain through assorted stretches and the like.

But once in awhile, it really gets  the best of me. Like yesterday. Despite taking round-the-clock ibuprofen coupled with a stronger (prescription) anti-inflammatory, I had this piercing, stabbing pain that started below my sacrum and extended all the way down my right leg to my ankle. (As a new found expert on Piriformis Syndrome, allow me to explain that the piriformis muscle is sometimes wrapped around the sciatic nerve, such that when the muscle becomes inflamed, it literally squeezes the nerve, with ripple effects all the way down one’s leg…ah, the joys of WebMD!)

I’ve been here before. Last fall, I did several rounds of physical therapy to cure this problem. I had this really hot “physio” massaging my bum twice a week for two months which, in another day/time/galaxy, might have been considered sexy.

In the event, it was just really painful.

When things get really bad, I start popping pills. Last summer when “the syndrome” first presented itself, I spent a week in bed taking muscle relaxants while watching the Olympics. It was my very worst nightmare of the 50s housewife come true:  prescription pain killers coupled with daytime TV. The doctors were reluctant to give me the meds because, apparently, people get easily hooked (and having now popped a few myself, I can readily see why…).

But it’s not just this muscle that tells me I’m aging. It’s the “Sensodyne” tooth paste I recently bought at the pharmacy. And the osteopath I needed to see last year for the persistent pain in my shoulder.

The bottom line: We’re getting old, folks. Or at least I am.

I think about the only positive thing to come out of this whole experience is that, having never been a sporty sorta gal before, I now have a bona fide sports injury. My father would be so proud.

*****
Great article in The New York Times recently about the effects of friendship on health.

Image: Pillz by Rbatina via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl