Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Muscle De Jour

The muscle of the day is: the infraspinatus! I worked it with the tennis ball this morning, and wow, it felt so good! I can usually tell when I'm working an active trigger point. The pressure reproduces some of the pain, along with a kind of energetic rush or tingling sensation.

I'm coming out of my latest step back, in the two-steps-forward-one-step-back rhythm of my dance with chronic pain. I've been through this cycle so many times that now I do not become too anxious or upset when the downward swing happens. I know that I will pull through, and undoubtedly, I'll learn something valuable in the process.

This latest episode started the same day that I had a fantastic session with Rachelle, my ease of movement therapist. I'd felt incredibly light and loose that morning, on top of the world. But that afternoon, my boss handed me an assignment that boiled down to "justify your position." Times are tough economically here at the U, as elsewhere, doubly so because of the flood damage. As I worked on the assignment, I could feel the tension tightening my back like a guitar string. The pain also fed back into the tension. Every twinge seemed to birth a litter of anxious thoughts and emotions. By the end of the day, the last trace of the morning's bliss had evaporated.

Over the next several days, the situation worsened. The pain and tension affected my stretching routine. Releasing muscles was nearly impossible. I felt a strong desire to pull against the already too-tight muscles, which aggravated the pain whenever I mindlessly gave in to the urge. I could tell that a new stretch Rachelle had suggested was triggering something in my left shoulder that sent waves of tension outward, into my low back and hip. I knew I would have to back off, but easing up proved to be a struggle against a rising sense of failure.

Throughout my descent, I managed to continue my mindfulness practice, staying with all the sensations and emotions and thoughts as best I could. I continued practicing the inhibiting and directing I'd learned from the Alexander Technique. I knew that, as bad as I felt, I still felt much better than I had on my good days a couple years ago. And this time, I was able to consciously see what was going on during the entire episode, what had triggered it, what made it worse, what made it better.

Gradually, I found my way into a less painful, more relaxed state. And now, I have more insight into my condition, more confidence that I can work with it and can continue toward wholeness. And one of the good things that came from this latest bout with pain is the infraspinatus. I dug out my trigger point therapy workbook, got on the floor with my tennis ball, and experimented with my shoulder muscles, and now I know that the shoulder pain I've been living with for years can aggravate pain in my low back and into my hip, and I know how to treat it.

I know how to treat it for the moment, anyway. Dealing with chronic pain is like playing whack-a-mole. I've learned that if I let myself think that I've found the one true cause of my pain, the one thing that I can fix and make myself all better, that is when the trouble starts. The key for me has been to continue to listen to my body, continue to let it talk to me, and not let my mind get in the way. My mind wants to diagnose and cure, but chronic pain does not work that way, and in fact, the mind's need to be in charge and to fix things can lead to worse pain, not less.

So, the muscle de jour is the infraspinatus. It feels so good working with it. But it's just the muscle of the day. There will be another tomorrow.