Friday, May 27, 2005

One problem, many explanations

I am constantly amazed by how many different ways there are to understand the same thing. Case in point: my shoulder this week.

On Monday morning I woke up with a stiffness across my left shoulder blade. It had been a restless night and I must have slept on it funny. I felt I couldn't pull my shoulder blade back into my back. I had planned to go to yoga that morning, and thought that would help loosen it up over the day.

I cycled to yoga and before the class, in a pre-class what-do-I-do kind of moment, I clasped my hands behind my back and stretched the stiff spot. There was a crunch and a pop and I thought, "That has either cured me or injured me."

I was careful not to overextend that muscle, the one that holds in my shoulder blade, for the rest of class. Even when the teacher was talking about how that very muscle helps to open the chest and what that means for us and our mental state. Our culture, she said, hunched over computers etc., tends to have very closed upper chests. That space between the shoulders and the collarbones is "the dry spot" on many, lacking in awareness. The teacher pointed out how opening this area can also change your mental outlook: make you feel more optimistic, open up your life and your ability to accept and love. As evidence she mentioned how hunched over people are depressed (or look depressed) and open people are (or are seen as) more optimistic and accepting. Richard Freeman, the head of the studio and the most famous yogi in Boulder, had once said that he thought the reason people remained closed in their chest was that they were afraid of ecstasy.

Okay, so that is theory number one: Opening the chest helps you be open to love and acceptance and enlightenment. As it seems to be that muscle, the muscle that helps me open my chest by pulling my shoulder blade, that I have injured, I guess this won't be my week for love and enlightenment.

Yoga did not cure the problem. Shoulder in fact hurt more afterwards and the bike ride home was difficult. When I get home, I take some homeopathic arnica and rub some arnica gel into the muscle.

The next day, my writing group meets at my house. A member of the group is a new-age oriented massage therapist and a life coach. I tell her I hurt my shoulder and she takes a look. She asks what I have been thinking about and what stresses I am holding in that part of my body. She does a quick massage. It feels better. I ask her if I should try to move it a certain way or avoid moving a certain way. “Change your thoughts,” she says. I ponder that. She asks when I am seeing my acupuncturist again. The answer is Sunday. "She can probably help," she says.

Theory number two: body is reacting to stresses, need to decrease stresses and the body will heal. Acupuncture may help.

The next day, after another sleepless night, shoulder is much worse. What thoughts am I thinking? How can I be open again? Every time I try to relax, there is a shooting pain through my shoulder and a spasm. Luckily I find I get relief if I hang upside down. Am worried it is not getting better. I wonder what to do besides taking anti-inflammatory painkillers and trying to relax.

I call the doctor, though I know they will likely help little and charge me a high co-pay to refer me to a physical therapist where I will have to pay another large co-pay. The nurse will call me back.

While dropping Rees at school in the morning I see his classmate's mother who is a physical therapist. I ask her what she thinks is up and what I should do. She says it sounds like the muscle is hurt and overly tense and that I should take a high dose of ibuprofen (specifically, 600mg, 4 x day) and get a sports massage to try to calm the spasming muscle down. She says the masseuse at her clinic is good and charges $1 a minute. That is cheaper than my co-pay.

Theory number three: muscle, for whatever reason, is tense and spasming. The pain is causing more tension and, in a vicious cycle, the tension is causing more pain. Need to convince muscle to calm down with anti-inflammatories and massage.

Doctor's office calls back. Their response is that they can do little, but I can take painkillers and anti-inflammatories and wait a week or two for the muscle to heal. I ask if massage might help. "Well, it might help as it will increase the blood flow to that area. It certainly won't hurt."

Theory number four: You've pulled a muscle. Nothing to be done, no do's or don'ts for movement, just painkillers and time. Massage might speed healing.

I make an appointment for the next day with sports massage therapist.

Next day shoulder feels a bit better. Was it the high doses of ibuprofen? The effort to relax and have positive thoughts? Time? Being upside down?

Massage therapist works the muscles. She doesn’t find a tear or much inflammation, but says it is in spasm. She thinks I have simply slept on my arm wrong. The change in the weather and having the window open can cause the muscles to do strange things she says. She tells me to drink lots of water for the next day or so to help rid my body of the lactic acid that she has released.

Theory number five: I slept with the window open as the weather changed which caused my muscles to tense and spasm. Massage will help relax the muscles and release the lactic acid and speed healing.

Next day (today) I feel sore but in a different way. I feel I am on the way to healing. Certainly it is easier to have positive thoughts if I am not in chronic pain.

Still, I wonder, what is the mind-body connection? What is it that yogis and healers know that doctors don't? What is it that physical therapists know that doctors and mind-body therapists don't? Each has its own detailed theory about cause and effect. And it is notable to me that the most scientific of these schools of thought is also the one that seems to have the least to offer. It sometimes seems that the more we know the less we know.

I await my acupuncture appointment on Sunday for the new theory there. Probably low spleen energy or something. Very interesting....this magnificent and mysterious body.

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