Friday, March 05, 2010

Pain and Ignorance

The more I learn about chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia, the more it is clear to me that medicine is still in its infancy.  From the New York Times:
The cause of this disorder is unknown. Physical or emotional trauma may play a role in development of the syndrome. Some evidence suggests that fibromyalgia patients have abnormal pain transmission responses.
It has been suggested that sleep disturbances, which are common in fibromyalgia patients, may actually cause the condition. Another theory suggests that the disorder may be associated with changes in skeletal muscle metabolism, possibly caused by decreased blood flow, which could cause chronic fatigue and weakness.
Others have suggested that an infectious microbe, such as a virus, triggers the illness. At this point, no such virus or microbe has been identified.
Pilot studies have shown a possible inherited tendency toward the disease, though evidence is very preliminary.

Could this be any more vague and tentative?  We're only about a decade away from dismissing the whole thing as 'crazy woman syndrome.' 

Fibromyalgia is one of the reasons I became a bodyworker.  I saw people close to me suffering from it, and I saw the medical establishment making their suffering worse through ignorance, indifference and judgement. I may not be able to cure people's pain, but at least I can do someone the honor of taking it seriously. 

People with chronic pain, for the most part, cope with it by coping.  That's not a tautology.  Coping is a fluid process, different for every person and at every time.  Exercise may help, or not.  Pain medication, ditto.  Massage, sometimes.  Acupuncture, heat therapy, yoga may work, then stop working.  It never ends.

One thing I have observed, in over a decade of giving and receiving bodywork, is that there seems to be a powerful and complex relationship between fascia and the nervous system.  I have noticed that often the subtlest forms of bodywork can have the most profound affects.  I don't pretend to understand the mechanism behind it, but there are a couple of areas where I'd like to see some research done.

One is network spinal analysis.  The theory behind it is that by stimulating the spinal cord in areas where it attaches to the spine, you enable the body to release spinal tension and adjust itself.  After one treatment by an NSA chiropractor, I found my hips releasing the turn-out stress of twelve years of ballet training, and re-aligning in their natural forward-facing stance.  This chiropractor reported that many of her clients saw significant improvement from conditions as serious as MS, from treatment over time. 

The other is the M.E.L.T Method, a simple self-care technique that uses balls and rollers to rebalance and hydrate connective tissue.  It is now primarily used by athletes and personal trainers, but the results I've seen have been so dramatic that I'd like to see more research into its effectiveness on fibromyalgia and other chronic pain syndromes.

The more bodywork I do, the more it seems to me that the mind/body dichotomy is meaningless.  I'd describe it as a mind/body continuum.  At the very least there is a constant feedback loop going in both directions, both consciously and unconsciously.  An adjustment at any point in the loop can have wide-reaching effects; my interest is in finding the most efficient points of intervention.


Desert Cat said...

From K's place: "I landed a job at the nicest wellness center in Center City within two weeks of moving here. The more I work, the more clients I get, because people who have seen me come back and refer their friends."

What do you think of the difference between being an entrepreneur and an employee doing this work? I'm guessing it has its plusses and minuses. Would you consider striking out on your own again in Philly, or is it a different environment for that sort of thing versus NYC?

Pretty Lady said...

The plusses are that somebody else does the marketing, bookkeeping, washes the sheets, answers the phone, screens out the creeps, maintains the schedule, refills the massage oil and cleans the floors. I see a lot more clients and I get to go downtown regularly.

The minuses are that I used to make $100 a client; now I make $30 plus tips, and Philadelphians are lousy tippers.

I'll probably build my private practice once we get settled in a place of our own, wherever and whenever that happens. Eventually I want to get my DPT--doctorate in physical therapy. This will take several years and will be expensive unless I can qualify for some serious scholarships, so I'm biding my time and looking for places to volunteer.

Rebecca said...

I am very happy that I came across this post of yours, and have been enjoying other articles further down. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia 2 years ago after going through a full year of low grade fever, years of acidic like aches, and waking up every morning feeling like I had been hit by a bus. I do think that it is caused by traumatic events (though mine I would never classify ghastly, just super rough), and this perhaps triggers a change in sleeping patterns (also completely changed during the traumatic times). Deep sleep deprivation means that your body has no time to restore itself, so I am guessing that this could be the cause for the aches and pains everywhere. I have recovered from the past experiences and am a very happy person, finding great solace in my painting as before - yet the illness lingers. Yes, you are right, people with it just learn to cope and accept it. The most important thing is that it does not affect me being able to paint - that would be the greatest trauma.