Friday, October 11, 2013

Oh, My Aching Neck!

Have you ever had a car accident with neck and back injuries? How about unexplained headaches and other body pain that is almost unbearable? If so, you can identify with my story... 

To begin, I would not say that I am accident prone, but I have had my share of accidents.  My first car accident occurred shortly after my husband and I were married. We were driving through a small town and stopped at a traffic light. The car behind us, however, did not stop, and we were hit from behind. This resulted in a trip to the Emergency Room where I was diagnosed with whiplash. The next day at school, I almost fainted, and I found out that I also had a concussion and was supposed to be at home resting. Sometimes you are not given all the information you need to be told at the ER! The dizzy spells and headaches continued, and I was hospitalized for 2 weeks of tests and Physical Therapy. Later tests showed that my headaches and dizziness, or vertigo, were also caused by the "crystals" in my ears being out of alignment due to the car accident. I was then put on Antivert medication. Recovery took a total of 8 months until the "crystals" in my ears were re-aligned.

Next was the "Tarzan" episode!  It was a beautiful day, and my husband, 3 sons, and I were hiking through the woods in the mountains of Wild, Wonderful West Virginia. Everything was going great until my boys talked me into swinging on a grapevine swing. They had tried to talk their dad into this adventure, but he refused saying he weighed too much and the "swing" might break. It felt exhilarating swinging in the air until I was given a hard push and almost hit a tree. When I let go briefly so my hand would not get smashed, the swing shifted mid-air. "Wham!" I hit the ground with a thud! Many headaches, neck pain, and dizziness followed. At the Doctor's Office, I was jokingly called "Jane"  and asked where "Cheetah" was, referring to the "Tarzan" movies. Many doctor visits followed until I was again released from Doctor's care. 

Believe it or not, the second car accident was worse than the first - DOUBLE WHIPLASH - plus back and neck injuries. I experienced major physical problems that were more severe than before: migraines, severe headaches, neck and back pain, and dizzy spells. I kept the curtains and blinds in my home closed to block out light, and my children had to walk softly because any flash of light or noise could set off the headaches and migraines. I tried Physical Therapy, Water PT, traction, cortisone injections, and workouts with a trainer at a gym to strengthen, but nothing seemed to have lasting effects.The pain medicine and muscle relaxers would not stop the pain; they would only make me sleep. Unfortunately, when I woke up, the pain was still there, so I took the medicine only when the pain was excruciating.  Most of the time, I sat in a recliner with 5 pillows strategically placed, armed with my Tens Unit, and alternated ice and heat to get relief. 

One day while I was teaching, I had pain in my left shoulder, and tingling went down my arm to my fingertips. I had headache, my face was tingling, and my lips were numb. I went to the ER, afraid that I was having a stroke. I was there over 5 hours, and several tests were performed, all with negative results. I was given medication that made me sleep, but again the pain returned when I awoke.

After approximately 2 years, my Physical Therapist suggested another doctor, and that was the turning point. This doctor had been studying neck injuries that have not healed properly, and he sent me to a TMJ Specialist for evaluation. I was diagnosed with TMJ Disorder, and told that my neck had healed wrong for 2 years, causing the extreme pain! I was fitted for a mouth splint, and placed on a soft diet. I was also referred for Biofeedback classes to deal with the pain and told my pain was very justified due to my injuries. It helps somewhat to know that you are supposed to hurt, but it doesn't make the pain go away. The Water Physical Therapy continued along with Facial PT and injections in the TMJ joints. The pain lessened somewhat, but it was still excruciating at times.

I was unable to work full-time, and one of my doctors talked to me about going on disability, adding that he would fill out the necessary paperwork. Another doctor agreed that disability should be considered, adding that I had already exceeded the physical level that I should be at due to my injuries. I was devastated, and I went home and cried like a baby! My husband tried to reassure me that everything would be okay. "Don't worry", he said."  If you are on disability, you will still be able to draw a paycheck."   "I don't care about the money!" I wailed.  "I have wanted to be a teacher since I was 6 years old! I don't want to quit!"  I then burst into tears again. 

Someone suggested that I try acupuncture, so out of sheer desperation I made that first call. I prayed, "Lord, if it's meant to be, let this be easy". When I called, I was told that I could come for a free evaluation and consultation that same day.  My first thought was, "Lord, How much easier could this be?"  After the evaluation by the Acupuncturist/Neurologist, I was told that my first session could start that day if I were willing.  I will admit - I was terrified of needles, so I was very apprehensive about that first session. Surprisingly, the pain from the needles was minimal compared to the pain that I had been experiencing. With the first session I felt some relief!!  I was almost afraid to raise my head from the pillow, but when I did, the pain was not as bad as before!   I continued with weekly sessions along with Therapeutic Massages, and gradually the pain lessened until I could manage to take care of my home and family on a daily basis as well as return to work.

Recovery was gradual but steady, with some "set backs", until I improved enough to be put on an Acupuncture "Maintenance" Program which I still continue today. In addition the Acupuncture,  I have added Pilates to my fitness routine. I usually do Pilates 3 times a week as well as additional daily stretches. On alternate days, I do cardio workouts, and sometimes Yoga. I have found that when I do not exercise regularly, the pain returns, and I do not like to hurt! I also like the way that workouts make me feel overall. My abs are stronger now than when I was in high school, and Pilates has helped my overall strength level as well as lessened my pain dramatically. Now I rarely ever have the need to even take a Tylenol! 

If you are experiencing unbearable pain similar to mine, don't give up! Continue to seek answers. I pray that God will direct you in the right direction, and you will have a success story to share!

Nancy's Notes:
See also: "Healthy? Who Me?" and "Tarzan"!

Thankfully, I don't need these items anymore!

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