“Besides focused attention, other factors that enhance neuroplasticity include aerobic exercise, novelty and emotional arousal”, Daniel J. Siegal
I have been absent from writing on his site for over two months because I did not practice what I preach. While I have been an advocate of neuroplasticity, that is, the power to change our brains, I have not heeded that which I know to be an approach that is safe for those of us with fibromyalgia. In fact, aerobic exercise, novelty and emotional arousal are the three key ingredients of a health lifestyle for those of us with chronic pain. Focused attention is therefore paramount for us; we need to be constantly in touch with the changing circuits of the mind. Mindfulness meditation is one of the key links to focussed attention, to living in the moment. But, it is the combination of the four elements cited above that present a balance for those of us with the overstimulated nervous system that challenges us daily.
Following an almost daily routine of a body scan/mindfulness meditation practice, exercising moderately every day, I thought I had the system down pat. Then, I began a new exercise regime, that is, I wanted to prove to myself I could use a treadmill, and in fact, go faster every few days, with more uphill gradations. It was indeed a ‘novelty’ for me as I had never been on a treadmill before. I became proud of my new exercise capabilities. Then, suddenly disaster struck. I developed excruciating pain in my left hip/buttock/leg. A spiral downhill to pain, inability to sit, stand, walk without extreme discomfort led to discontinuing mindfulness meditation and complete absorption with bodily pain. I became a couch potato with different diagnoses from different health care providers: bursitis, torn buttock muscles, herniated disk, femoral anterior gliding syndrome, probably needing a hip replacement. None actually focussed on my fibromyalgia.
Four shots of cortisone later, including one in the x-ray department with an injection directly into the ball joint, massages, physiotherapy appointments, medications that included hydromorphone, among others, have been the bane of my existence this spring. Planned trips cancelled as even a short car ride would only activated the pain. I became a social isolate.
What began as a novelty, aerobic achievement, and emotionally an activity that became meaningful to me became my downfall. I was too distracted to meditate. I cried, groaned, whined and could not get over the sense of hopelessness that pervaded me and those around me. Will I need a hip replacement? I am slowly lifting myself out of the abyss while the last cortisone treatment lasts for a few more weeks (hopefully). I can’t help but blame myself for this over extending of my capabilities. I over-exercised, did not pay attention to the messages from my body and now this crisis of movement is haunting me. For those of us with chronic pain we must be diligent about forcing the body to do that which it is not accustomed to doing and can only cause more pain. “No pain, no gain” is a motto which should be cast aside!
I have found a team of a physiotherapist and massage therapist with whom I am in agreement about the protocol for me to help regain strength. Based upon the principles of Somatics, which uses the concept of pandiculation ( dynamic stretching which has a neurological effect) to override muscle reactivity/guarding, I contract the muscles then slowly contract them more than they are already engaged, lengthen, and then relax them. Repetition gives the control back to me so I can relax and move more freely.
The first physiotherapist I saw did not know how to treat me but applied a heating pad and ultra sound. Of course neither of these worked. Finally, I visited a clinic where both the physiotherapist and massage therapist practice Hanna Somatic Education and it is there I have settled.It is my brain that needs to change as it is from there that the pain evolves. It is from the website ‘adiemusfree’ where I obtain much of the information regarding pain. I have written about this elsewhere, but in the meantime I cannot sit for long so I must sign off.
I urge the readers to read what can be most helpful regarding pain from Hanna Somatic and ‘adiemusfree’. It is their approach, rather than the bio-mechanical model which has not helped me over the years, dealing with chronic pain. In the meantime be kind to your body, pay attention, do not over- extend your exercise regime.