Since I was a child, I had neck pain.
It wasn’t too bad, but I remember being frustrated that I couldn’t seem to move my neck very much when doing neck stretches in karate when I was a kid.
Then, at some point, my Mom’s chiropractor ordered an x-ray for me because she wondered if my neck was causing the frequent migraines I had (yes… I had them back then too! Although, they were more typical migraines back then).
The x-ray found that my C3&4 vertebrae were fused together. A birth defect called Klippel Feil Syndrome (KFS).
As a teenager, I continued to have pain, but it was my normal, so I didn’t think too much of of it.
Then, when I was working on my undergraduate degree, there was an accident and I ended up with two discs (C4&5 and 5&6) herniated.
Immediately one arm went numb and weak, and I’ve spent the years since living with a great deal of pain.
Not only does my neck hurt, but it causes muscle pain in my shoulders, and nerve pain (neuropathy) in my left arm. My arm has also become increasingly weak and useless.
This isn’t pain that arises sometimes, or at the end of a long day, but is constant. It does get worse when I am stressed (after all… Who doesn’t carry stress in their shoulders?), or with certain physical activities, or sometimes just for fun! It doesn’t go away with a tablet or rest, but I do take a lot of medication and have many coping strategies to deal with it.
Then, last year, my GP convinced me to see a pain management specialist.
I went, and lucked out with one of the nicest, and most knowledgeable doctors I’ve ever met. He made me feel comfortable and listened very well. This is so important!
Pain is subjective, and whilst you can do some tests to determine the source of the pain, these may not always tell you the extent of the patient’s pain, or they may not show anything at all, even though the patient has a lot of pain. Many pain patients describe not feeling believed. They explain that doctors dismiss how extreme their pain is, or don’t take their concerns as seriously.
I’ve experienced this myself. Doctors telling me to just go home and take an aspirin when my pain levels are so high, I feel like I can barely breathe. Or doctors ignoring your pain because they have decided you can’t be in as much pain as you said you are in.
It is these experiences that make chronic pain patients nervous when dealing with new doctors. I, however, have been so fortunate to have had good GPs and my pain management doctor, who took me seriously.
My pain doctor told me he would not be happy until we found a solution to help me better manage my pain levels, and so that is the journey we are now on.
To be continued…