Neck Strain

It’s been a long, long while since I’ve posted. Since last August or so, I’ve been dealing with neck strain (though at the time, I really wasn’t aware of that). Headaches, odd sensations in my ears like they were plugged up, until the symptoms culminated in my left hand’s pinky and ring finger going numb.

Over the months of January and February, I’ve been recovering from this strain. Most recently, in the last week, I’ve been able to resume almost normal activity. I’ve been writing and working in what bits I can, and in the other, resting.

I’m writing this because I need to figure it out and because I’m hoping others may benefit from what I’ve gone through.

To cover the beginnings of this, I was in a car accident a long time ago, when I was 19 or 20 years old with the first car I had, totaling it in the process. I didn’t think anything of it, but my neck was stiff a lot, especially when I rode the bus in to work.

This stiffness eased when I took a steady yoga class at the University of New Mexico and I think that helped a lot of the headaches that I was having. I continued to practice yoga as much as I could as I felt better.

When I moved back to California, I didn’t have a lot of money, and so my desk was the same as it was when I was in school: a folding card table and a folding chair. These are horrible work environments. My legs would often go numb and only come back to feeling when I stood up (a symptom I’m still dealing with) and, as I had a laptop, I’d be constantly looking down, hunching over—which is bad posture for the back and especially the neck. I was probably only saved in those first few years because I didn’t do a lot of computer work and I began to work out and stretch again.

The working out and stretching was probably the only thing that kept me mobile and doing well. But that changed in the last few months. I often didn’t have time to stretch, so I would skip it, when before I was stretching every day—a mistake I see know. Stretching and moving is so important anyway, but vital in the situation I was in. Over the last few years, I’ve been working more and more on the computer and less and less doing other types of work or even entertainment. Still, same set up: card table, folding chair. In November, I came down with a cold and the flu knocking me out of my work out routine and out of my stretching routine. As I participated in National Novel Writing Month, I was working more than normal on my computer. Late in the month, a few days after my birthday, I was playing a computer game for longer than I should have. The next morning, I had the numbness in my fingers. I don’t think my bed at the time was helping as it was a bit broken.

On top of all this, I’ve dealt with a lot of family and living situation issues. I don’t think I tend to naturally have a lot of anxiety, but over the last few years, the situations left me very anxious and, as a result, my muscles wouldn’t or couldn’t relax. I couldn’t relax. It’s only been in the last month that I’ve felt just how much tension I was holding in my neck, shoulders, back and legs. I went to a massage therapist and a lot of the tension left, but I was still feeling very anxious. In early January, with help, I bought a used car. The second or third day I had it, I was visiting  friend in Pasadena and I believe I had an anxiety attack. I was so worried that I would get a parking ticket, or it would be towed, or something horrible would happen. I knew that it was quite irrational, but I felt it nonetheless. It went away eventually, and I don’t feel that level of panic that I did that day.

At the very end of January, I went to see a DO about the numbness and muscle tension. We talked and agreed on an x-ray to rule out other issues, physical therapy (which I’ve just gone in for an evaluation), and two pills: a muscle relaxer and an NSAID. The muscle relaxer, cyclobenzaprine (better known as Flexeril) is also an anti-anxiety med, from the research I did online. After taking the medicine for ten or so days, I felt almost normal—then pulled my neck again doing physical labor (because I bought a new car, I needed a little extra cash).

Another straw on the camel’s back: diet. I used to take a really good multi-vitamin a long while ago, but thought I’d drop it as it was a bit expensive. The one I replaced it with was decent, but cheaper. Then I ran out a couple months back and didn’t want to buy any more. I also tend not to eat a lot of vegetables, though I’ve tried. I believe I was low on magnesium, and found it is a mineral many American’s are short on. I bought a decent multivitamin again and supplemented this with extra magnesium. But that’s not all! I also discovered that I am gluten-intolerant (if no Celiac—don’t really want to get tested). Which of course inflames the body and reduces ability to absorb nutrients and relax.

As you can see, the odds were quiet stacked against me. I’ve been in rather poor health for someone thirty years old. In some ways, though, I’m glad this happened at this point in my life. Though I’m not in prime youth, I can still heal fairly quickly. After pulling my neck, I can now move around, mostly pain free. I still have a neck twinge that tells me I need to rest (the same twinge that used to announce a headache was imminent) and some residual soreness, but I rest and relax at least a few hours a day, making sure to stretch and use a rolling foam pad and a tennis ball to work out some of the knots.

I’m not 100%. I’m probably not even 70%. But I know in a few weeks, I’ll feel better than I felt in years. Probably better than I felt since I moved back to California in 2009. The road of recovery is long and that, I think, will be my biggest challenge. I tend to overload myself with work and that in turn will break me down and leave me where I was. So I have to rest, learn to say no, and slowly work back to health.