Solving chronic muscle pain – first do no harm

Where do you turn when chronic pain is affecting your quality of life?

This is a very important question because our desperation makes us extremely vulnerable. Some unlucky souls find themselves irreparably harmed as a final result in their search for healing and recovery.

I still remember the first sharp pain that grabbed my hip and sent me to the ground gasping all those years ago. No warnings. Nothing leading up to the searing pain. It came in like lightning (even sort of felt like lightning) and disappeared just as quickly.
I never knew when it would strike.

I continued on with my regular workouts and my sessions with my personal training clients. But the pain persisted—it never stayed long. Just a short, tearing, burning sensation that came out of nowhere and was gone. It was difficult to even describe to people. But each time it left me gritting my teeth and clutching the front of my hip. No one was able to help. Friends, my, then, husband, doctors, coworkers all had differing views on what steps to take to remedy the mystery pain. I was at a loss and didn’t know where to turn.

But as the incidences increased, I finally decided it was time to take action.

Treatment began, as it so often does, with physical therapy. But after six months of every possible PT modality with zero change, I started looking elsewhere. Chiropractors, acupuncture, 2 MRIs, steroid injections, lidocaine injections, Thai massage—I even looked into hypnotherapy—but nothing seemed to be helping me. And some things even made the pain worse, increasing it until I arrived at a point where I was crawling up the stairs in my house, and butt-scooting down them.

Not my finest hours. The surgeons wanted to cut me open at this point, but that was the last thing I wanted.

Something had to change. And they were the ones who knew “best,” right? Shouldn’t I trust the people in the white coats?

But then, just prior to getting sliced open, I met sports massage therapist extraordinaire, Shawn Rose. She walked into my training studio at the best possible moment. I knew I had to book an appointment. She released, stripped and elbowed my body into submission. Each two hour session was the most painful time of my life, but she was the reason I could walk, and am still pain-free today.

I could have saved thousands of dollars had I started with her, but here we discover that conundrum so many of us run into—where exactly do we start when we are dealing with injuries and pain? What is the best treatment modality, and how do we pick when our choices seem to increase on a daily basis, and when everyone has an opinion? Who’s opinion matters most?
It definitely depends on who you ask.

Most surgeons, obviously, suggest surgery. A massage therapist may tout the unending benefits of massage, while an acupuncturist feels their modality is best.

You get the picture.

It can be difficult and stressful trying to choose what treatment to pursue, especially when a substantial amount of cash may be involved.

And we tend to place our trust with the doctors—they have the degrees; they have the education; they are the ones with the answers…right? Shouldn’t we listen when they recommend surgery? Why do we have the tendency to defer to those in positions of authority when they are as human as we are, and just as fallible?

In my opinion (because that’s what matters, right?) surgery should be the last resort. It is highly invasive; there is no undoing it; the cost, both financially and physically, is high; lengthy physical therapy sessions could follow; often there is no guarantee of diminished pain; recovery time could be longer; and there’s a great deal of risk involved.

But there are even greater risks involved.

A recent study by Heartland Health Research Institute based in Iowa, explores preventable adverse events, or events that seriously or fatally harm patients in medical environs, in Iowa, and its six neighboring states. Numbers nationwide have always been difficult to nail down due to differing research criteria and questionable statistical methods. The Heartland Health paper reports that in Iowa, numbers of patients seriously injured range from 64,500-112,200 patients; while those fatally harmed range from 959-4,300 patients!

And while those numbers are a bit loose, and more accurate numbers across the country are difficult to come by, the truth remains, that no matter the exact number, there are an inordinate number of preventable deaths in medical facilities each year. Serious reform must occur, and until it does, it might be wise to search for alternative treatments before blindly going under the knife.

Try other treatment modalities first, unless you are dealing with something that obviously needs surgery, such as a finger reattachment. If other treatments offer no relief, then talk to your doctor about surgical options. But, again, remember doctors are fallible and ill-equipped to handle chronic pain and soft-tissue injuries, nor are they body mechanics like physical therapists and massage therapists and Rolfers—perhaps myofascial release and body restructuring will bring pain relief, rather than surgery. There are absolutely incredible physicians out there, but they are rare.

Treatment options other than surgery exist and may be your miracle cure, like Shawn was for me. You are your own best judge—you just need to listen to that little voice inside telling you what you need to do. Trust that voice. Not the person in the white coat. They don’t always have the answers.

Put on your own lab coat. Ask yourself the tough questions. Educate yourself on the benefits of all modalities. And choose based on your needs—not the suggestions or needs of others. You always have your own best interests at heart.


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