My Health Journey:
Unexplained Chronic Neck & Shoulder Pain
In this blog post, I will be sharing my journey to discovering the mystery behind my chronic neck and shoulder muscular pain.
I had this chronic pain 90% of the time for a few years. And a lesser, not chronic, pain leading up to that for a year or two.
I am so happy to report that I am now pain free in my neck and shoulders!! Praise God! And have been for over a year now.
It really was a frustrating, stressful, long, and confusing journey to being pain free. And that is why I’m here today. I hope to help you on your journey if you’re experiencing chronic neck and/or shoulder pain.
There are obviously a lot of reasons someone can have neck and shoulder pain. Most people jump to the obvious conclusions. Mine was none of the obvious things, and that’s why it took so long to figure it out.
In this blog I explain my journey to figure it out. My journey can be helpful to you, because it talks about a lot of the obvious reasons that maybe you haven’t ruled out yet. But also, it will reveal one thing you have probably NOT considered, or heard about before.
…And that thing is food sensitivities.
I will cut to the chase and tell you that it was a dairy intolerance that was not only causing me chronic pain and inflammation, but also drastically worsening anxiety in my life.
Continue reading as I talk about where my pain was and what it felt like, so you can compare it to yours. And to learn about all the different things that I ruled out that COULD be causing YOUR chronic pain and inflammation. Just because mine was dairy, doesn’t mean that’s the cause of yours.
I hope something in my journey help you or a friend!
WHAT THE PAIN FELT LIKE
I want to start off by describing the pain so that you can know if this is the same kind of pain that you or someone you know is experiencing. I should state that it was not nerve, disc, or bone pain. It was muscular pain.
The pain would encompass the entirety of my trap muscles. Here is a link to go look at the trap muscles, and some information about their function if you so wish to read it:
I wanted you to see that they are quite a large muscle. They reach down into your mid-back, run underneath your shoulder blades, and tie into the tops of your shoulder and up the neck into the base of the head!
So, when these are hurting, that’s a lot of hurt! And not easy to massage or get to on your own.
This is how I would describe the pain itself….
Like a deep ache. A burning sensation. I would describe it to the chiropractor as my muscles feeling so tight, as if they had been constantly doing a workout all day with no relief. (Like if you were to hold a dumbbell away from our body at a 45-degree angle, using your bicep. And you just held it there all day. Can you imagine how much your bicep would burn and ache?)
I would constantly crank my neck around trying to pop it because I would feel so much pressure at the base of my skull. (I learned later that this was from the muscles being so tight that they would pull the neck vertebrae out of alignment constantly). Sometimes it would pop, but it never actually helped the pain. And most of the time it was too tight to allow anything to pop.
I would grab at the tops of my traps (shoulders), and try to squeeze them off and on all day. Sometimes this gave me some relief, but usually only for about 20-30 minutes.
I could never get comfortable laying down or sitting. NO PILLOW worked, or stopped the pain while sleeping or upon waking, some were just better than others. I would constantly have to readjust while sitting or lying on the couch, and even sometimes I would have to get up completely. To either stretch or lay flat on the hard ground which seemed to also give temporary relief. I could never allow myself to just fall asleep somewhere odd, or even while cuddling with my husband because of the repercussions of how I would wake up feeling if I did that.
This also caused me a decent chunk of headaches that radiated from the base of my skull, and would travel, in a line, up around the side of my head and deposit the most amount of pain in my temple. (One side or the other).
As you can see…. This sucked! It was highly distracting and annoying, and in some cases would either keep me from doing certain activities, or cut them short at the very least.
If you are experiencing this, you know what I mean, and I’m sorry for you! You could also be feeling this in other parts of your body as well. Let’s move forward and hopefully get to the bottom of this for you.
WHEN THE PAIN STARTED
Through our marriage, my husband and I have had the unique blessing of going through a few of the same struggles at the exact same time. (In this case, pain is not a blessing, but the fact that we could relate to each other, and help each other work through it was a big deal).
So, it all started when we both randomly started waking up in the mornings feeling like 70-year-olds. We had a very nice memory foam mattress for about a year and a half or so, and had been sleeping great on it. Both of us had been the type that grew up sleeping on whatever our parents gave us, even after we got married and moved out, and didn’t really give it a second thought.
So the fact that we had to start considering that our mattress was bothering us both all the sudden, was weird. We were around 23 by the way. NOT OLD!!
We didn’t have any chronic pain at this point for a while. We would both just wake up feeling stiff as a board, constantly stretching and trying to crack things for an hour after being awake. It would subside as our blood got moving, and we would go about our day normally.
We moved shortly after this, and decided to get a new mattress at this point. Thinking surely, the issue would be resolved.
After spending money on a nice, new, NON-MEMORY FOAM mattress we still woke most mornings feeling like we had aged drastically overnight. (There is a lot of controversy out there about memory foam helping you or hurting you).
At this point we were really starting to get confused.
We finally considered the accident we had been in several years before. It had been pretty bad, but we had no obvious or immediate injuries. We thought, well….we are BOTH feeling it, it has to be the accident.
We were young and “invincible” at that point, so neither of us had gone to the doctor after the accident had actually occurred. So we had no x-rays or anything.
OUR EXPERIENCE WITH THE CHIROPRACTOR
Some time passed as we lived with our small discomforts.
I then started having a few other issues we couldn’t figure out, (I will not go into that in this blog post), which led us to do some research on the symptoms, and doctors in the area who talked about it on their websites.
My husband found a holistic doctor/chiropractor about 35 minutes from us who described my symptoms on his site, and all the different things he could do to help.
After some time and consideration, we felt led to go to a chiropractor.
We thought, sure…. Let’s kill two birds with one stone. This will help us get back into alignment from that accident, and we should start feeling better all around. Assuming the pain was a chiropractic issue.
Once again, wrong…. Sigh.
(I want to add in that I am definitely an advocate for a good chiropractor. We both still go to one, and have been going now for about 5-6 years. But, in our case, the chiropractor did not help specifically with the chronic pain we were having, but it did help with a few other things).
We did get motion x-rays done and find out that we both had torn ligaments in our necks! That is no small matter. A torn ligament can take a very long time to heal, especially if you’re not aware of it and taking care of it properly. And also, they never quit heal the same as they were before, because of scar tissue and what-not.
We thought, “Finally! The answer….. this has to be why we have been why we’re having pain. And once this heals, the pain will be gone!”
At this point we had started having more regular and consistent pain.
I think that if you asked a lot of people their opinion on neck and shoulder pain, a lot of their first reactions and thoughts would be to go to a chiropractor. Which totally makes sense.
But, in our case….. we became discouraged as time passed, we received plenty of chiropractic care, and dished out lots of money for it. But….the pain didn’t stop. After being patient, and “giving it time”….. discouragement set in, and also some confusion. (I do want to say that after my ligament healed, my headaches did drastically reduce by probably 80%. That was a huge deal. But I still had the neck and shoulder pain, and consequently an occasional headache).
WORKING ON MY POSTURE
I would discuss these things with the chiropractor. And they would have a few different answers/explanations. The main one being POSTURE.
If you go to a chiropractor, you already know that they are huge advocates for good posture. As am I. And when they would say these things to me, I thought:
“I have better posture than most people I see and know…. And they’re not walking around with chronic pain. I’m not even on my phone or computer that much….”
I was skeptical, and didn’t want to accept this as the answer, but I was desperate. SO I worked on being aware of my posture all throughout the day. I did certain stretches for better posture and alignment.
Did the pain go away…..?
TRYING MASSAGE THERAPY
After my continued complaints to my chiropractors… (yes, we went to multiple different ones) …. they started suggesting regular and routine massage therapy.
They talked about my stress levels and how I could be carrying stress and tension in my traps.
Onward to Massage Envy I went. (They were the cheapest if you sign up for a membership, and didn’t pay individually for massages).
This went on for a while. I honestly don’t even know how long. Probably a year.
I gave it a good honest try. My experience with massage therapy was that it was inconsistent. Sometimes a massage would give me up to 70% relief for up to a week! Like I was walking on a cloud….
But then other times it would seem to almost agitate my muscles further, and they would hurt worse for a up to a week!
(When you’re getting massages regularly for pain, they are typically deep massages. They aren’t always pleasant, and they are not foo-foo massages).
SO, once again, was my pain gone? NO.
After voicing my concerns to the massage therapist, AND they could actually feel all the knots and tension that I had in my muscles…. They then suggested that I try acupuncture…..
GOING TO AN ACURPUNCTURIST
I did not realize this about myself before, but I really do not give up easily. Especially when something is really affecting my daily life and happiness.
Did I want someone sticking a bunch of needles in me?! Heck-to-the-no! But this just shows you how desperate I was to be pain free and feel “normal” again.
I remembered that a friend had actually told me about her experience with an acupuncturist not too long before, so I got the recommendation, and started going.
(For a time, I was doing this and massage therapy at the same time. Double hammering the pain).
Long story short, I had a very similar experience with acupuncture as I did with massage therapy. Sometimes it would help for a bit, and sometimes it would make it worse. I would often get stiff necks or parts of the trap under my shoulder blades would seize up for a few days. Miserable.
Either way, the pain never stayed away long. Hence, these were not reliable or permanent fixes.
(On a side not, if you’re wondering…. Acupuncture was not as bad as I expected. 90% of the time you felt almost nothing. And it could also be very relaxing. During most of my sessions, I often fell asleep for 20 minutes until they came back in the room to remove the needles. I think there is real potential in acupuncture, depending on your ailment and the reason for it).
I was really fighting the discouragement at this point. Would I have to live with this pain forever?
I was now spending a lot of money monthly on theses routine services, and they were taking up a couple hours a week on my schedule.
All so I could have a small amount of unpredictable relief here or there.
Needless to say, I prayed and talked to God about all these things all throughout this process, and tried to follow his leading the best I knew how. I feel that He led me to most of these things, and that they were not pointless or fruitless. There are a lot of benefits that came from that journey, and some of them I am still reaping from today. (Connections, knowledge, understanding, me writing this very blog post…). Plus, all these therapies have multiple other health benefits as well.
Over time, I slowly stopped going to acupuncture and massage therapy. I continued the chiropractor though, and didn’t know what my next step was to be.
Unfortunately, I started experiencing many other health symptoms at this point. (Once again, I will talk about them another time). This led me to a functional medicine doctor in my area. We usually go to holistic doctors, but the reason we liked this doctor was because he was a mix of both! He didn’t agree with the normal medical route and routines, but he knew that there was a time and place for medicine and certain procedures. And he was trained, equipped, and licensed to go that route when necessary.
I was not going to him for the pain, I was going for other reasons. But his first recommendation to ALL his patients is to do a 90-day elimination diet. Where you cut out all inflammatory foods for 90 days. And then slowly introduce them back into your diet, one by one.
Once again, something that I DID NOT want to do. This was very hard you guys.
But I took the opportunity to do this thing with the accountability and help they were offering. And also, at the same time, to get a food sensitivity test. (A blood test to check for SENSITIVITES to foods. A sensitivity is different than being allergic to something. When you have an allergic reaction, it is obvious. But, when you are sensitive to something, you can have reactions inside of your body that are not obvious, and you do not see).
FINALLY FINDING OUT ABOUT MY FOOD SENSITIVITIES
And FINALLY, we get to the good part.
I got my food sensitivity test results back near the beginning of my 90-day “diet”. So this gave me a little bit of insight.
I was cutting out all the foods that the doctor said are typically inflammatory for most people. But my test results showed me that I was decently sensitive to dairy, (there are different severities of sensitivities).
Whaaaaatt?? I was very surprised. But hey, I was already cutting that out because it was on the doctors list of inflammatory foods.
After the 90 days are up, you slowly start choosing what you want to reintroduce into your diet, one thing at a time. So some things are actually getting fasted for longer than 90 days, by the time you get back to them.
I took a while to try dairy, because I knew it was on my test results. And wanted to pay extra attention to it.
The happy ending to this long story…..
By the time I reintroduced dairy into my diet, I had not been having any neck or shoulder pain for a little while! (I don’t remember how long, but I know it was the most normal I had felt in years). And when I tried eating dairy again, the pain returned within a few days.
I stopped it again. Pain gone.
I tried it again….. pain returned.
I HAD FINALLY FOUND THE ANSWER!!
I would have never thought that something I was eating could be causing be to have chronic muscle pain.
I have since learned that I was having a sensitivity to the dairy….. causing an inflammatory response in my body. For whatever reason that response was showing up in my trap muscles. They were highly inflamed.
That is why all of the described methods above were not taking the pain away. The root cause and source of the pain was inflammation. Therefore, unless you take care of the inflammation…. Then the pain will just return again and again.
THE MORAL OF THIS STORY
There are a lot of different causes of neck and shoulder pain discussed in this blogpost. As well as, many means of therapy and treatment.
If you’re struggling with unresolved neck and shoulder pain, (or even if you just started having it), does that mean that the cause will be food related for you as well?
No. But, it could be.
It took me a long time just to learn about all of these different types of treatments, and how they were beneficial to my life overall. So, I am hoping that I can either save you time, or possibly find the answer you’ve been seeking for a while.
Try any of these treatments if you have not already. If they don’t seem to be working after a good fair try, consider looking into getting a food sensitivity blood test. Even if it’s not the source of your pain, it will be very beneficial for you to cut out foods that are agitating your body.
I hope this helps you in some way. I am in no way a doctor, or liscenced anything. But I have learned through having many struggles the past 8 years….. that struggles can be very good teachers of many different lessons. And so I have learned a lot about health. I will be writing more future blog posts on many different health topics I have personal experience with.
I have one final tip to give you, and then send you on your way….
In your health journey, make sure you include the Lord. His will IS for you to be well. Whether it is supernaturally, or holistically, or medically. Just formally invite Him into your situation, out loud in prayer. Ask Him to lead and guide you to the right answer for you. He has always done that for me, even if it took some time and patience, and keeping my eyes and ears open. He can get information to you in weird and unexpected ways. (Like even when you’re talking to a vet about your dogs diet!…. Another story for another day).
If you have read this far, thank you for stopping by.
Until next time, take one day at a time.