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I am very late in blogging about my last GP appointment, as things have been very busy here and I have just not had chance. It was months ago but I do want to just say that she was excellent again and confirmed to me that even little gentle stretches that are not held long are beneficial and to just give it a try.
I have been doing these exercises (well, 7 or 8 out of the ten, as a couple feel wrong and the other I can only do sometimes due to my shoulders seeming to dislocate a bit) every day for weeks now and I am feeling that they are certainly getting easier. I can hold them for a bit longer and can do more than I could at the start. I think there is a looser feeling, though I am still getting pain in this area. It has been painful for many years so I am not going to get rid of the issue any time soon! I think the fact that the area feels good afterwards, even if it builds tension back up pretty quickly, is a start in the right direction. It feels like it increases blood flow.
Giles explains how to do the exercises on the video so I won’t explain them. I tend to do them in the morning. If the area feels very stiff when I wake up, as it often can, I put a heated wheat bag around my neck for a while before I do the stretches to make sure the muscles are warm and ready. I stretch while being aware of my breathing – stretching on the out breath. I don’t do a full stretch, only feel the first small pull, and go a tiny bit further. I have found that any holding of the position leads to increased pain so if I start at the full stretch (before pain) I cannot hold it long as it becomes uncomfortable. I just find a mid-point so that I can hold it for a little bit longer. In areas the seem to become sore very quickly, I just do several very gentle stretches in succession.
I had terrible headaches when I started these stretches, but this was due to a medication increase. It did however stop me from doing the exercises some days and I stopped for a week or so to test if they were contributing to the head pain. There did not seem any link so I am now more confident and do them every morning. My headaches have improved.
Now that I have seen some benefit from this area I would like to expand my stretches to include other areas of the body. As I said in my last post, I have various sheets with diagrams of exercises given to me over the years by physiotherapists. I just need to find which ones will be most useful to spend my energy on in terms of being useful in pain/tension relief and take it really really gently so as not to flare up my pain. I find that I can injure myself incredibly easily. I get days of pain from very simple things, like leaning over to cuddle someone for a couple of minutes, or holding a shopping basket on my lap when in my wheelchair, even when not really supporting it, just holding my arm in that position… Life feels very hectic at the moment, so I won’t be starting any new exercises just yet.
I do believe there are serious problems in muscle function that are unrelated to underuse of muscles due to inactivity in people with ME. I am just trying to keep things moving and maintain the function that I have rather than necessarily build myself up. We will see how it goes. I just want to minimise the long-term impact of living like this if I can, in terms of secondary problems such as osteoporosis and loss of core strength, which is already a problem for me; which could make things harder than with just having ME/POTS etc. in future.
I have wondered about contacting the physiotherapist from the local CFS service to get help and advice with this, but I have not found them very useful in the past. I wonder if they would do a full assessment of me? Something to think about for next year. In my much more recent POTS specialist appointment she suggested seeing a physio, in relation to my mobility getting worse (I was saying I could not go out without my wheelchair these days and did not think I had dramatically improved since seeing her (though some acute symtoms have improved), particularly in relation to leaving the house/stamina). She did not ask why my mobility was worse or suggest exercises specifically for helping with POTS symptoms. When I asked her a couple of years ago about leg exercises (meaning very gentle movement) she said not to as it was too early… I am sure there must be something I can do, but I am not sure the CFS physio will be very responsive to my needs as he overestimated what I could do when I saw him before, and I am worse now… we shall see. I think an in-depth phone call will be in order before I waste energy going down there for an appointment.
I went to the hospital today to see the POTS specialist again. I had a good time! I was a bit worried about how i would feel, and considered ringing them in advance asking them to wheel me from the entrance to the ward, as i had to go alone and it was an early appointment again, but decided i would be ok. They have moved and last time when we went to the new location for the first time i felt very disorientated. This time i had to use a different entrance and it was actually better, though a bit of a walk. I have improved a bit the last couple of days so felt ok to walk a bit.
I was impressed with the hospital entrance which had a shop, cafe, starbucks, hairdresser etc and was really pleasant. I thought i would have an easier life if i lived there as everything was so close together and convenient! I went into the shop on the way out just because i could (i miss shops, not that it had anything i wanted really).
Anyway, so the apppointment: I saw her early as the person before me did not turn up (a “DNA” – i had not heard the term for ages and it took me a few seconds to realise she meant they had not rung to cancel: “Did Not Attend”. I like the term – good for medical appointments!), so she had extra time to spend with me which was good as i had a few things i wanted to talk about.
I told her that apart from the first few weeks this three month period since i saw her last have been pretty hard, probably due to the virus i had which i have not really got over… at least i have not regained the levels of energy or strength i had before that. She asked about my typical day again to identify any peaks and troughs in function to adjust my dosage to help me through the low points. She suggested taking a higher dose first thing, staying the same at lunchtime and re-introducing the late afternoon dose which i am pleased about as i seem to have a big slump late afternoon. So that was the POTS stuff done really, she commiserated me on the virus situation as the same thing happened in the period before i last saw her. Hopefully i can avoid catching any more and maybe experience more of the glimpses of feeling stronger that i have had between these long running lows. There HAVE been times where i have managed to do more, feel better in myself and bounce back quicker, but is it hard to remember them after so many weeks that feel like regression almost to the old days before i even got POTS treatment.
I also wanted to talk to her about my pain and discomfort issues. The last few weeks my muscular pain and tension have been particularly bad. I have had to lie flat on my back a lot more (which i forgot to say) just to rest my upper back as i am having trouble sitting comfortably, even in my one comfy and supportive chair in the house. My skin has been very tender and painful to touch, particularly in areas where my muscles are rock hard underneath. I have been having regular massages which have helped a little bit, but only in a very temporary way. I have also made a bit effort to stretch the worst areas every day, which feels good immediately afterwards and i am sure had helped, but again not dramatically.
I have also had an increase in skin itching and sensitivity, which may or may not be related to the increase in other pain, as well as more pain/discomfort from my already sensitive bladder, meaning that i feel a continuous feeling of needing a wee, especially in bed when lying on my side or when there is any clothing pressing on my stomach. The itching is also worst in bed and we now only have one sheet i can sleep on that does not cause itching, despite the others feeling quite smooth to the casual touch. She thinks the itching is probably just another symptom of my automonic nervous system not working right. She has previously given me a blood test to investigate the itching so there was nothing else to do really.
She gave me a CK blood test to see if there is anything going on with my muscles. While i do not want this to come back positive (after a quick internet search!), I am so impressed that she takes everything seriously and does not just dismiss it as a typical ME symptom and adopt the “what do i want her to do about it” attitude of most other doctors i have known. I am reassured that if there is something she can check out she will. As usual the taking of the blood was painful, as when a needle is inserted into my veins typically nothing comes out, and today was no different. I warned the nurse before we started and she said today we might be lucky, i said i doubted it. It is like my blood is just sitting there and not going around my body with any force at all, which explains a lot. So it needed to be wiggled and a very sharp pain shot up and down my arm and persisted long after the blood was taken. Ouch! I am used to that though and am not really bothered, though it did make me a bit flushed in the cheeks and lightheaded. She also tested my urine to see if i have any infection but that was negative.
She said there is colleague who does work on muscles that i could see but i can’t remember if that was if the test comes back positive or negative – i am not sure what he can do for me – we moved on quickly to talk about other research she is doing on muscle function and ME and she asked me if i would take part (yes). It involves a muscle biopsy but she says it is pretty much like having blood taken, and seeing as that is usually painful for me i think i will cope with it. Not sure when that will happen. She seemed surprised i am so keen to take part. I am just enthusiastic to do anything i can to help with much needed research and it is good to feel i am doing something worthwhile with what limited energies i have. It is something i CAN do. Plus i like going there, it may seem sad but it often feels like a social occasion. I have known them for over a year and seen them as often as any real life friends this year! They are friendly and take time to chat. It is nice to have some social contact and be out and about.
I have made an appointment with an osteopath for Tuesday as i really need to try something new with my upper back problems in particular, although they don’t just treat backs. I am hoping to also get advice about stretching my problem areas, even strengthening them perhaps, or am i getting carried away here? Also i wonder if my pillow is the right one for me (i am constantly fighting with it to get it fluffed up to the right depth) and if he can advise me on sleeping arrangements, seeing as i spend so much time in bed. It may be making my shoulders more painful if lying on my side is putting too much pressure on them, and it has been too painful to lie on my side much lately, but i do prefer it so maybe a higher pillow (tempur?) would be helpful, but i don’t want to spend a fortune on a fancy pillow then it be no help.
My partner is away for the next few days (though she seems to be coming down with something this evening so we will see what the morning brings – virus alert!). It is the last planned trip she has this year except one overnight trip which should be ok. I am really pleased about that as i don’t think these periods of self-care have been kind to me when i am already struggling. The compound effect of several days alone can really have a big impact on me and take some getting over. Apart from the Osteopath appointment i have nothing much happening while she is away, and i am feeling ok about it now that my pain levels are gradually improving. Maybe in a few weeks i can actually have some spare energy to do some of the creative things i have on my list, as recently i have been just doing the bare minimum in daily tasks and i am getting a bit frustrated. Where is the fun? Where is the creative sparkle that makes life worth living? I have been limited even in computer time, tv time and reading abilities… this blog post may be a sign things are improving! Woman can not live on stretching and resting alone.
On Thursday i had a full body massage and (possibly) learnt more about my body than i expected! Certainly i am asking more questions!
It was much needed as I had had a bad headache for 3-4 days and even when that improved i was left with so much tension in my head, neck and shoulders that it was still painful to touch many areas. I often/always have these tender points, in my upper back, shoulders, jaw, scalp etc. They are little knots of pain and i am unsure what i can do to ease them. Anything which helps seems very temporary and they always return to their previous level of tenderness within a short time. These symptoms were at their worst before i started to take Midodrine, which did seem to ease the almost nightly headaches (as more blood was flowing to my upper torso and head – which is kind of useful to have!), but every now and again they do resurface and there is always that underlying muscle pain and tension. I am wondering if the higher dose of Midodrine i am on is causing this clenching up of my muscles, (i did have worse upper back pain the last time i tried to up the dose) but of course it could be a myriad of other causes…
So that was my motivation for going, as well as the fact that i have a busy weekend away coming up (my sister’s wedding!) the prospect of which is causing me some anxiety, as travel and social situations always do, due to how difficult they can be to take part in and the impact they can have on my health for weeks afterwards – there have been moments where i have doubted i am well enough to go at all, but i am feeling more positive now, and looking forward to actually attending a family event for once!
I have not been for a massage for a long time and it was so good. As always when i go, i realise how much it was needed, discover areas of pain and tension i was not immediately aware of, and think how much it would help me to have a massage much more regularly. I do not know if that would create any long term improvement, or prevent my muscles getting into such a state or if the relief is just temporary… I think it would take a lot of massages and more than i can afford anyway!
When the massage started she did my face and front of shoulders and upper arms, and immediately on touching my upper arms, said there were a row of knots down the front (it was very sore there with even a light touch, which i have been aware of for months). She asked me if i do weight training! Apparently they are “Weight-Lifters Knots”!! I did laugh at that. I explained to her that i struggle to lift even small things, like the kettle, and that my muscles do not behave like normal muscles, as they quickly lose power and energy and over-react with pain and tension for a long time if “over worked”…. She was very surprised and said that she would have thought i was a weight lifter if i had not told her… She asked again to clarify: “so you couldn’t go to the gym and lift a few weights?” “Er, no, really, most days i cannot get as far as the corner shop, i rarely leave the house… i could not get to the gym, never mind do anything when i got there” or words to that effect… As keen as i am to educate people about ME and spread awareness it is quite a pain to have to use time when i am supposed to be relaxing (and I am paying) to explain this stuff but i answered a few more questions (no, i don’t just fall asleep all the time, i am not just tired, i am ill… etc etc blah blah blah).
Anyway, it is reassuring that my muscles appear normal in size etc after 3 years of pretty severe ME and ten years in total of being unable to do any kind of “exercise” as the term is generally understood, though i was more active for several years than i am able to be now. It is something which has baffled doctors and led to people being disbelieved and denied benefits (still are, if you read the guidelines for decisionmakers for DLA on ME/CFS which suggest there should be muscle wasting in evidence to qualify as severe… will find link if anyone interested, but can’t be bothered now!) as doctors would expect more muscle wasting considering the lifestyle we claim to lead. There have been different theories about why it only happens in people who are very severely affected but it is not fully understood how our muscles maintain their tone.
It seems that my muscles are reacting as if they are overworked. In a way they are (yes i am a closet weight-lifter!): As i say, they struggle with everyday tasks like lifting a kettle, moving a chair, lifting a watering can. What is even harder and has a more long term effect is anything repetitive, like rubbing to clean the bath before i get in, chopping something, rubbing my scalp when washing my hair, and i generally avoid this kind of activity when i can as it leads to muscle pain, long term aches and cramping, as well as adding to a feeling of general weakness and exhaustion afterwards. Some days are better than others, depending on my general state and if i am already in recovery from something or struggling in general.
So far, so much i already knew. What i found intriguing was that, as well as my upper arms, my lower legs at the sides (from ankle bone up, on outsides of legs) were also incredibly sore to the touch and knotty under the skin. I have been having really sensitive skin in these areas (upper arms and legs) as well as itching. My legs in that area are so sensitive that if something touches them unexpectedly (like in bed) it is like a bolt of electricity running through my whole body. I have a real problem of certain areas of skin being so easily irritated and therefore often itchy that it affects my sleep as well as what clothes i can wear. I have to “sweep” out the bed before i get in to get rid of any tiny bits of dirt or dead skin or whatever that has been carried in from the floor, as any of this stuff (which i call “Gravel” as it is so sharp to me, though tiny) can cause a major episode of itching. I find if there is dead skin on those areas it triggers itching and if i moisturise after a bath and the dead skin rubs off (gross i know, but it does) the itching stops, despite me having rubbed it, which is usually something i avoid as it can trigger the itching. I was starting to think that my nerves were over sensitive and that i had a problem with my skin and pain, though i had no idea what to do about it. This may be partly true but the massage therapist seemed to think that the knots and tension in those areas may be partly causing this extreme discomfort i am having in the skin of these areas. I suppose it makes sense as that underlying tension must affect the skin and could make it more tender and sensitive in the whole area surrounding the problem.
I have heard varoius people asking about skin itching and if it is a symptom of ME. There was a letter in a recent ME Association magazine, and one on a message board i saw recently too. They caught my eye as i have had these problems for a long time. The consensus seems to be that, no, itchiness is not a symptom, but it seems to me in bodies that are riddled with problems that there can be knock-on implications causing almost anything!! (what a cheery thought). My sister has ME and also has problems with itching and sensitive skin.
I have another problem of itching which may or may not be related where if i have a shower my lower legs in particular always react very severely and start to itch. It can last for several hours and all i can do is sit in bed and stroke the skin gently which seems to confuse the nerve signals a little. It can be so painful that i am in tears and is obviously exhausting and distressing. It is like nerve pain, i think the word itching does not do it justice! I never shower now, and the rare occasion that i have (when no bath available) it still happens.
It also sometimes happens after a bath, particularly if the water is not hot enough. I think there is something to do with temperature, as it seems to happen when i get out of the bath and the cold air hits my legs. It first happened when i was 13 years old, so i wonder if there is a hormonal influence. The stimulation of the shower may trigger the itching sometimes, or it could be a problem of being upright, as in the shower and when i get out of the bath. These days i have a very strict ritual around my bath, the temperature, shaving (stubble and hair seem to aggravate the problem so i have to shave every 2-3 days, which is a big comittment when ill), standing for as little time as possible and exposing my legs to as little cool air as possible on energing from the bath. I get straight into bed and moisturise with my tried and tested “safe” moisturiser, then lie there allowing any itching to subside and i cool down slowly and in a controlled manner. I have also noticed it can be worse in Autumn and wonder again if the dead skin as my (usually meagre) tan fades is irritating my skin… so many questions.
Of course i have told a few doctors about this over the years and they have no idea! There is no rash and that is where the discussion ends…
Anyway, i had another massage today (trying for a compound effect) which was great again. I asked her what her advice would be to weight lifters who have “weight-lifter’s knots” and she said that stretching can really help. I already do stretch tense areas, but kind of randomly. When my POTS was at it’s worst i couldn’t even stretch up in a chair without serious dizziness but that is better now… Maybe i should make more effort to do it several times a day and see if it helps… so many things to fit into my day though!
I am starting to do some exercises… only very small ones and only when i feel up to it, so not even every day, although i will try. I have been trying to ask people (doctors, physios, alternative therapists) for ages to help me with my upper back pain and to help me strengthen my core muscles in my back in case any weaknesses that have built up there due to my life spent mostly sitting or lying are contributing to my problems, but no-one has been very helpful. I find holding myself up to sit or stand very energy consuming, uncomfortable and difficult and i am sure i am not using certain muscles enough that deal with these postures. Whether this is anything i can do anything about, i don’t know; as my muscles do not behave normally and tire very quickly and therefore cannot be strengthened when tired.
So anyway my mum has been given some physio exercises to build up core strength as she has back problems too. Also i am inspired to try by Rachel M who has gently built up some strength in her arms and shoulders and is now touching her toes!
The first things i am trying to do more often is to touch my toes, and to “hang” forward in this position a while to open up my shoulder blades as well as to stretch the backs of my legs (hamstrings?) as it is quite uncomfortable and i have to bend my knees in order to touch my toes at all. This is due to inactivity and inability to walk far and i don’t see why i cannot improve this very gently.
I also want to do the yoga “pose of a child” as this also opens up my upper back and i really feel this doing some good in this, my most painful area. It makes my shoulder blades fall upwards (!) which is obviously not a postition they are used to as they feel almost as if they get stuck there and it hurts, so i don’t do it for long! Also my circulation is not good so i cannot stay like this for long and have to get up very carefully. It seems to make my thighs ache afterwards, who knows why.
I am also doing one where i point one elbow at the ceiling and one at the floor and link hands behind my head and stretch, then swap the arms around to do it the same both sides. No picture of that one… it is a bit odd but you may be able to work out what i mean. It is also supposed to stretch the shoulders etc. This is one of my Mum’s physio expercises.
There are lots of other things i would benefit from but i am starting with these…
This afternoon i had my first Hot Stones Massage. It was really good! I had it done just a few doors from my house, so not far to stagger home again and it is on special offer – £30 for all of August (usually£45) – and it lasted nearly one and half hours!
It was really nice because it covered practically my whole body and i was amazed by how many painful and tense areas i had – i knew my upper back, neck, scalp and shoulders were bad as i have been in quite a bit of pain and had daily headaches since coming back from the festival as it was hard to care for my posture when away from my usual chair, bed and travelling etc. – but i was amazed by how bad my leg muscles were and also in the bridge of my feet. My upper arms were also very sore. I knew my head was tense and i could have done with another half an hour just focussed on that, but apart from that the massage was very focussed where it was most needed… So i have booked another one for the same time next week 🙂 i can’t wait… i think that two in a row will mean that things have chance to improve much more: cumulative effect! I am going to try extra hard this week to keep my newly massaged body stretched, relaxed and massaged where i can to keep up the momentum!
The stones were really nice – they start off very hot but cool quite quickly so the person keeps leaving to swap them over so it is not like a normal massage where the hands barely leave you for the whole time, but you are left with the heat of the stone in-between times so it is still very relaxing. The stones are rubbed over you quite gently but it is supposedly the heat which penetrates into the muscle and releases the tensions. My back would not even click when i sat up and felt amazing, so i think it definately works! When she had done each foot she placed three little stones between my toes! That made me laugh – she said that quite a lot of people’s toes can’t hold them in place… a talent i didn’t know i had! Also after doing my arms she left a large stone in each hand, which was nice to hold.
Since i went to Scarborough i have had a new perspective on alternative therapies – i have tried quite a few before, but went through a phase of thinking what is the point, as however nice they are, none will ever “make me better” and you can spend so much money on them – but when in Scarborough and having a treatment of some kind each day i realised that the value gained from something that helps you to relax, takes you away temporarily from reality and gives you a sense of well-being and makes you feel good can be immense and although may not heal you in any absolute sense, can contribute to positive change on some level, even if it is just in mood. If it can help shake these tension headaches away i will be happy as i am taking painkillers every evening and i don’t feel comfortable with that for more than a couple of days in a row, but have had no choice lately. Obviously i can’t keep having a massage every week, but i think it is good to know it is there for when i really need it and so convenient being on my doorstep… roll on next Tuesday!