I have been blessed with debilitating neck pain for years.
It’s absolutely insane: Everyday pain for at least the last 11 years or so.
When I went to my doctor at the time (my early 20s), she quickly said, “Oh, well you have EDS.”
“Okay, why don’t you get a cattle brander, and just burn it into me. Yes, I know I have EDS! DUH! I’m not here for a diagnosis, I’m here for help!”
Mmmkay, maybe I didn’t say that out loud, but I definitely thought it.
Instead, I said something along the lines of, “Well what can I do about this? It’s extremely painful.” I don’t just go waltzing into doctors offices. If I ever bring myself to one, you know there’s something very wrong.
She didn’t spend long at all talking about my neck. She left the room, came back in with a two-sided piece of paper with blue and black ink. She offered the neck stretching material to me, without much said.
Since this experience, I’ve been on a roller coaster ride regarding my neck, with wip-lash-like side effects and all.
I’ve tried painkillers, muscle relaxers, heating pads, ice pads, numbing pads, every cream over the counter, behind the counter, cream with freakin ketamine. I’ve tried this pillow, that pillow, and no pillow. Massage. Float tanks.
It wasn’t until I began my steady practice of (gentle) yoga did I realize the secret to true health. It’s all about turning IN, not looking outside yourself for the answer you seek.
So I got hooked on a few easy, and gentle neck stretches. The more I practiced them, the more I was able to turn my attention to where my neck tension was actually lying. “Oh my god! That space between my neck and shoulder, owwwww ooooooo….”
Shortly after, for a few month phase, I found myself getting lost in the posts on the EDS support page Inspire.com.
There, I came across a nurse explaining that often times, people’s neck issues can be resolved by strengthening the neck muscles. She went on to say that in America, people go under the knife before ever doing one neck exercise!
Personally, I know a handful of people that have undergone surgery, and my watchful eyes tell me, “Do what you can now to avoid that!”
For the past few years, the neck exercises have been very beneficial. Also, I realized that being konked out at night, may have been helping my sleep, but it wasn’t helping my neck. It seemed as if I would just konk out in one position, and stay like that for the whole evening, only to wake up to some serious neck tension. On that note, a couple of years ago, I also tossed my pillows aside. I’ve been successfully using my own contraption: one of those microwavable scarves that’s only the length of a pillow, and I placed it into a pillowcase. Best pillow ever! It’s flat enough so my head is not on an incline (which I believe is so unnatural for your neck’s alignment!), and the little beads or whatever is in it allows me to shift it, fold it up, and position it perfectly underneath my neck.
To be honest though, my neck still hurts: not as excruciating, but it’s bad. Well, it hurt up until this afternoon:
It all started with an offer. One of my yoga instructors from my Teacher Training asked,
“Hey, would you like my old massage table? I don’t know why I’m asking you, but do you want it? Think about it for a couple of days, and if you don’t want it I’m just going to give it to Goodwill.”
I stood there kinda unsure of what this was all really about. I mean, I don’t practice massage, and she knows that. However, ever since I created the that EDS Group on Myspace I’ve had this vision: A Healing Center.
So I told my teacher I’d give it some thought. I’m trying to downsize all my belongings, and this is quite an on-taking. Plus, do I really need it? It’s an older one, but I like how she said, “I don’t know why I’m asking you….” I mean, she knows so many people!
Of course I’m googling all sorts of stuff. Massage school cost, massage schools near me, massage table cost… Then I saw it… “Myofascial release.” Wait a minute…. I thought to myself, “Connective tissue disorders are all about fascia, myofascial, all that tension!”
Throwing myself further down the rabbit hole I came across a seminar, near me, in a few months. My thinking, “If I don’t buy anything from now, I can probably have enough dough to go!” Good thing I just watched the documentary The True Cost. Did you know that the fashion industry is the 2nd most polluting industry on the planet? That’s after oil. That alone makes me never want to buy brand new clothes again… well, maybe I’ll just get yoga pants once in a while!
After sharing my unclear vision with my boyfriend, he made me realize… “Why don’t I just read up on this stuff before I go spending all sorts of money that I don’t have.” We’ll see, it’s still a few months away.
So I don’t know about you, but if you have neck pain, it’s a GLORIOUS MORNING when you wake up and think “OOOO YAY! THE PAIN ISN’T THERE! MAYBE THAT WILL LAST ALLLLLLL DAY…………” and before you know it, it creeps. Like some creepy creeper just creeping up on you.
That was this morning (GLORIOUS MORNING), and then that was later this morning (creepy creeper). After designing the most awesome yoga class ever (or yet), I was at a standstill. “THIS NECK is holding me up. Always! Always! Always! I can’t stay anywhere for too long, cuz I have to go home and tend to my neck. I can’t do this, I can’t do that. I’ve had enough!”
I lean over to the bookcase, almost pull every book off the shelf, and I finally, successfully slide out The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook. Flipping through I just randomly found my way to the section on neck tension. I don’t even start at the beginning, I’m just finding my way through.
“Pressing on these points, mmmkay, pressing on those points, uh-huh. Okay, why did I leave this book on the shelf for a year?!”
I grabbed my Body Back Buddy to make more use out of this experience, and massaged along points of the trapezius (the upper back): that always feels so good. I flipped through a few pages to an image of No Symbol over top of a guy using the Theracane (a similar tension releasing tool to the Body Back Buddy). Reading along I come across this warning of not to use the Thercane on the “suboccipital triangle.” That there is a vulnerable vertebral artery that can be damaged with deep massage. The book proceeded to tell me that “It’s important to do a quick vertebral artery test,” so for some reason I did it, and to my surprise I failed. What?!
When I read the symptoms that might arise for someone with obstruction of the vertebral artery, I instantly thought, “That sounds like POTS!” (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia, common in EDSers). Whilst doing the test, which consists of: (while seated) look up to the ceiling, then turn your head all of the way to the right so that you are looking at the ceiling behind you. Hold the position for 30 seconds, but if you experience “dizziness, vertigo, nausea, feelings of faintness, and/or vision problems” STOP and see your doctor.
Within just a moment of looking back, my vision went black with silver sparkles all over the place. I quickly brought my head back as I thought, “AH! That’s what that is?!?!?! That happens to me sometimes when I’m coming up from a Sun Salutation in yoga. I just thought it was POTSy-dizziness or blood pressure issues! It could be an artery near my brain!? Am I crushing it?”
I’m alarmed, because my poor, late mother, had a “sub-dural hematoma” just after her 33rd birthday. I’m 31. The last time I asked my dad about this he said, “Well they just called it a sub-dural hematoma. They didn’t know what really happened to her.”
She was knocked into a coma. Had to learn how to talk, walk, the whole nine yards. I had my third birthday at the hospital. I was only three, so I thought it was fun, but it stands as the most depressing home video we have. Luckily, my mom persevered, and became fully functional over the course of a year.
However, at this point, a possible reality is sinking in, and I think of a four lettered, dirty word.
I continued to read, but I guess I must have read the following paragraph incorrectly. It clearly stated that I should not do the following practice, but I must have skipped a word, and I did the practice. I pressed along my neck, where the skull and neck meet. I’ve done this before with two tennis balls in a sock, but this time I used just one tennis ball, putting all of the focus on one area (directions below). For the following fifteen minutes, my neck pain was completely gone. It only returned as I took to the computer:
I Googled “Obstruction of the vertebral artery”, clicked on Wikipedia, and read about how even Vertebral artery dissection can be Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome related.
Continuing my search I found:
“Vertebral Artery Compression
Patients who report symptoms of decreased blood flow with certain head positions (also known as vertebrobasilar ischemia) often describe dizziness, vertigo, fainting (syncope) and/or visual disturbances with head turning. These symptoms can be a result of an obstruction of blood flow due to compression of a vertebral artery.”
I’m no doctor, and I don’t play one on T.V., but I’m quite surprised once I see “underlying connective tissue disorder affecting the blood vessels, and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.” I thought back to all those times I dipped my head slightly back, and my vision dipped into blackness. At this moment I finally realized that I was doing the same thing that doctor was doing: I was labeling my issue as “EDS”, shrugging it off. But what can I do about it?!
My mind was running: I just failed this darn test, my mom was never quite the same after her “subdural hematoma.” I’m not trying to say anything, but hmm.
Okay, so how can I fix this problem?
After some poking around, and direct searching, I found that “myofacial release” can be beneficial.
I set up my station:
My yoga mat, bolster, a folded blanket, a heating pad, a yoga block, a tennis ball, and my phone to set my alarm.
I propped my legs up on my bolster, so the bolster was under my knees, blocks underneath my feet. I placed the heating pad on the blanket and put that under my neck. I kicked back for about 25 minutes, letting the warmth soothe my neck muscles.
Then I put the tennis ball on the yoga block, and I kicked back again. With the ball positioned where my skull and neck meet, I made micro-mini circles allowing the pressure of the ball to make contact with my neck tension. Staying on each spot for about at least 20 seconds or so, I moved across the back of my neck: from right to left, slowly and mindfully, making sure not to massage roughly across the “suboccipital triangle,” which is about an inch away from the spine, just below the line I rolled.
I rolled the ball across the space between the top two points of the triangles.
After applying light pressure across my neck, from triangle to triangle, I lifted up off my mat and realized that my pain was gone. It’s been over four hours and my neck pain has diminished greatly. I know tomorrow is another day, but it’s also another opportunity to release this tension, and to call the doctor!