Aches and Pains and Stress, Oh My!

This isn’t my week, so far… I don’t know if it’s because of my three days of eating “crap food”, but I feel like a complete physical mess. I’m sure it’s more related to poor sleep, but was that caused by my poor nutrition or just from staying up too late two nights in a row? I have no idea… This is where it’s hard to draw conclusions.

My trigger points, especially the ones in my hips and legs are incredibly painful. I went to physical therapy yesterday and it was miserable. My therapist said she didn’t think it would last long, maybe one more day, but last night was pretty brutal. I could not get comfortable in bed for anything.

Aside from that, I have a fever blister on my lip and had to seek treatment for a female problem.

I feel like I should just wear an “out of order” sign for a few days.

A little history on these issues…

I’ll start with the fever blisters. I have dealt with them since I was a child. I used to get them on the side of my face, near my eye – weird, I know. Now, I seem to get them only on my lip and nose. Usually they come when I have some combination of illness, stress, or have been out in the sun too much. They used to be pretty rare. I feel like I get them a lot more often than ever before.

I’m not sick and I haven’t been out in the sun (it’s rained all weekend), so it appears stress is able to cause these all by itself. The weird thing is, I don’t feel terribly stressed. In fact, I feel like I have done so much to reduce the stress in my life. I’ve focused on my breathing, have done yoga, have changed the way I pray, I take relaxing baths in the evening, I have been staying more centered during conflict and am letting things go more quickly.

I’m even wearing a device called a Spire that measures my breathing rate and consistency and can predict tension, calmness, focus, and activity. It reminds me to breathe when it senses I am tense or haven’t taken a deep breath in a while. I’ve used the Spire for two weeks now, and I think it’s been very helpful for my awareness. Often I don’t think I am tense, but the Spire tells me I am based on my breathing. It’s been very fascinating. I just don’t know that anything is helping…

Clearly my body thinks it’s stressed, even if I don’t agree.

I also struggle with these trigger points, which are essentially knots in my muscles. This is a good resource on the subject, if you’re interested in learning more:  

Pain Science Website
I’ve had these knots as long as I can remember, I just never knew what they were. When I would sleep in a hard bed or lay on the ground, my hips would hurt. I always thought it was that my hip bone was making contact with the floor. Last night, lying down to sleep hurt so badly and I felt around and the sore spot was not my hip bone, it was one of my trigger points. That makes me wonder how long trigger points have been a problem for me.

For the past 5 years or so, whenever I would have a massage, I found myself constantly apologizing to the therapist for all of my knots. I just carried a lot of tension, I thought, but I never understood why. As I mentioned earlier, I never really felt stressed. There were times that I would get stressed, and I could recognize that stress, but I never felt stressed enough to warrant the knots I had in my muscles.

There have been many times when people have encouraged me to take a deep breath or relax or have made a comment about my stress level when I did not feel stressed. I have since accepted the fact that maybe I am more stressed than my brain recognizes, which is why I have actively tried to reduce stress in my life. Maybe my “normal” is so high stress that my body can’t tolerate it, but to me, I feel fine; I feel relaxed.

Maybe this is why I can’t sleep well. My deep sleep is pretty minimal and I wake up many times during the night. I realize that deep sleep is the healing, restorative type of sleep and that seems to be what I am mostly missing.

Or, maybe it’s the fact that I can’t sleep well that causes my these trigger point issues. I think this is a chicken and the egg issue… and I have not figured out which one comes first.

As a child, I was diagnosed with TMJ syndrome, but it was more of a muscular issue than a joint one. I wonder if that was caused by trigger points?

I’ve noticed that I tend to get cricks in my neck or my back and I started seeing a chiropractor for those a couple of years ago. He would adjust my back, but the most release came from him pushing on certain parts of my muscle and moving my shoulder or arm. I used to think he was some kind of miracle worker, but looking back, I think he was doing myofascial release.

I don’t see this chiropractor any longer because I got the impression me blamed CrossFit for my knots. I went along with that idea because I had no other answer at the time, but it always bothered me to hear “CrossFit is bad”, as I knew my coaches were sticklers for technique and I felt my form was generally good. There is only one “knot” problem I believe I caused by a bad lift, and that was my mistake, not CrossFit’s.

I actually learned about trigger points and myofascial release rather serendipitously. Around Christmas of last year, I woke up with a really bad crick in my back and assumed I slept wrong. I had stopped doing CrossFit by this time, so I really had no other explanation as to what happened. I tried an Airrosti chiropractor and learned they do a form of myofascial release therapy. It seemed to make things better in the short term, but the pain set back in rather quickly. I blamed the only thing I had left to blame… stress.

Around the same time, I was referred to a specialist for a different medical concern and was deemed fit for surgery. Having just learned about myofascial release, I decided to Google this other problem and “myofascial release” and was excited to find a physical therapist who used myofascial release for this particular condition. Unfortunately, they were in Round Rock, but I was desperate for a non-surgical answer, so I drove three hours to try out this form of therapy. It was during that appointment that I learned about trigger points and began to understand that my muscular “knots” and this other problem were likely related to each other. The therapist encouraged me to try PT before having the surgery and I am very glad that I did, as that problem seems to be resolved.

I’ve since changed physical therapists two times (Round Rock was a little too far, and the Medical Center downtown was not much better during rush hour) and am now focusing on my trigger point pain. All three therapists have agreed that my body is just one big trigger point. Some days are better than others, but today and for the past few days, they have hurt significantly.

I have had one visit with a general practitioner about my back issues to get a referral for physical therapy (as my previous referral was for the other problem). I’ve never been to a doctor who could diagnose me with myofascial pain syndrome or fibromyalgia, but I feel like the symptoms are there. I just don’t know if there is any benefit to going down that road. It’s clear I have trigger points and have had them for at least two years. They’re in my neck, shoulders, upper back, lower back, hips, thighs, buttocks, etc. They produce referred pain and headaches. They can be pretty miserable and I have to figure out how to stop them.

I had a talk with someone who suffered from fibromyalgia for many years, who knows my stress levels and sleep problems very well. She felt that stress and sleep were both related to her fibromyalgia symptoms.  She used to take a lot of medicine, but finally figured out a way to lower her stress levels and get the rest she needed and now, she feels much better. That’s part of my journey as well. I don’t know if that will help, but I feel like I owe it to myself to try. I also think it’s worth exploring the role of nutrition on this trigger point pain, sleep issues, and stress in general. That’s my motivation for embarking on my odyssey.

I’ll end this with an interesting plot that may or may not be meaningful. This graph is only looking at total sleep (the deep sleep number, which I believe is more important, happens to be all over the place), but after each of the three days of bad nutrition, you can see total sleep decreasing. It looks like it took one more day to fully bottom out. Last night was the first night of the upswing (but, no significant deep sleep, unfortunately). Maybe this is a sign of good things to come, and if I can continue to have better sleep, I should have less trigger point pain. I can hope, at least 🙂


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