A couple of months ago, I started to have a bit of a twinge in my thigh from time to time when I stood or moved a certain way. At first, I figured I must have pulled a muscle hiking – but I couldn’t remember hurting myself. Then the pain started to get more frequent – and more painful. After about three weeks, I wondered if it might be related to an auto-immune condition I have that has caused some deterioration in my sacral joints. Or maybe it was related to some deterioration I have in my spine due to the back fusion I had in my teens. Or maybe I was just deteriorating because I’m getting older – sigh.
I started to get worried. I have a big hike coming up in under four months – and I need to start weight training and hiking more to get ready – and the pain in my thigh was a huge pain in my ass!
I started taking a prescription of ibuprofen that my rheumatologist had given me earlier in the year in order to help with inflammation when I have a flare up. It didn’t even touch the pain. Since my insurance requires an authorized referral from my primary care doctor in order to see my rheumatologist, I attempted to make an appointment – but she was full, so a physician assistant saw me instead.
The PA was very nice, but seemed baffled by my pain. At last, he decided that I had a bone spur or something in my hip, which was impinging a nerve. I was sent for x-rays, which showed that my hips are absolutely fine. The PA now seemed really confused, but stated that he now thought the pain was being caused by my auto-immune condition or my back fusion. He put me on massive doses of steroids and anti-inflammatories. He also told me to stop hiking or walking and to just do gentle stretching.
I thought this was bullshit advice. As I had explained to him, I felt absolutely great when I hiked or walked. There was no pain at all! The pain happened when I had been sitting for a long while and then stood up or walked for those few minutes after getting up. And since I had no pain when I was hiking or walking, why would it be better to become sedentary? Wouldn’t better advice be to try not to sit so much (which, I admit, is difficult when I work at a computer all day and my company refuses to invest in standing desks)? I also hate taking medication, but I went ahead and followed through with that – and except for some crappy side effects, the medication did seem to help temporarily.
I got my referral to my rheumatologist, who was also a bit baffled. However, she didn’t think this was related to my auto-immune thing. She really felt like it was a pulled tendon or muscle – although she did say it was possible, although unlikely, that it might be nerve pain from my lower spine. She ordered enough additional x-rays to give me leukemia and said she would see me in March to follow up if it was still giving me grief.
I was still freaking out a bit. I always like knowing the “whys” of things. Once I know what is happening and why, I can deal with just about anything. It’s the not knowing that gets to me. And since I didn’t know, my mind was spinning stories about the why – and none of them were good. I kept telling myself that if I couldn’t do the 400-mile hike in Spain this spring, I could still have a nice vacation there – but just the thought of not hiking depressed me. So, I decided to attack the issue on all fronts.
I was already taking my anti-inflammatory drugs — and would for some weeks more. But I also researched anti-inflammatory diets and cut out processed food and sugar (for the most part – sometimes you’ve just gotta have a cookie!), which led to losing a few pounds. I incorporated stretching into my daily routine (again, for the most part – sometimes I sleep in) and I found a medical massage therapist. I’m lucky that I totally over-estimated my medical costs this year and put way too much money into my Flexible Spending Account. Since I have to use it by the end of this month or lose it, I asked a doctor in my clinic if he would write a letter of medical necessity for me to get a massage a week. He looked over my chart and agreed – and was nice enough to say that I could get these massages for a year, if needed.
My medical massage therapist is a tiny German woman who is extremely nice. She explained that she likes to use cupping as part of her massages and asked if I was familiar with it.
Like most people, the only thing I knew about cupping was that Michael Phelps and the other swimmers at the Rio Olympics had cupping done and sported huge bruises because of it.
The news was all over cupping and explained that warm cups were placed on the body, which suctioned up the skin. This would (allegedly) increase blood flow and decrease pain and inflammation, which would lead to better performance among the athletes.
I thought it was hooey.
However, my masseuse told me that she did not use the big cups and she did not just leave the cups on one place. She used smaller, silicone cups of various sizes, which created suction – and she would them move these around the body.
She explained that traditional massage was always downward pressure, but that cupping allowed that pressure to be reversed. She also said that the fascia (a connective tissue that surrounds muscles and organs) gets tight and knotted, which impacts not only the muscle beneath it, but other, surrounding muscles. This myofascial decompression helped to loosen up stiff fascia to allow it to return to a healthy, pliable state, which in turn allows the muscles beneath to have more movement and less pain.
Eh – why not? I’m always game to try something new, I try to keep an open mind, and I don’t mind admitting I’m wrong (in the very rare instance that I am – hah!)
So, for the past month I’ve been getting weekly medical massages that incorporate this cupping. At first, my masseuse used very small cups that didn’t create a lot of suction and it wasn’t uncomfortable – and I admit, I could see results! Because of this monster back fusion I had nearly forty years ago and the lack of lateral movement in my spine, my shoulders tend to hunch a bit and I don’t have the movement in them that normal people do. After a few sessions of this cupping massage, I found it much easier to stretch that area and I could tell that things were loosening up. My range of motion was better and the area was less painful.
So, when she suggested we move up to a larger sized cup, I was all for it. I have to tell you – sometimes this hurts like a bitch! Now, I have areas on my body (my shoulders and down the middle of my back) which don’t hurt at all. In fact, when she cups my upper neck, near my ears, I find it downright enjoyable (now that I wrote that, I can see how that sounds kind of sexual and creepy – but it’s not, I promise. Plus my masseuse is not really my type).
But there are other areas where the cupping feels like it’s pinching the crap out of me – especially when she goes over the area time and time again. It becomes so tender, I find myself tensing up and holding my breath and I have to concentrate on breathing deeply and trying to relax. I’m a trooper – and I may like pain a little – so I power through and I’m glad I did the next day when I’m doing my stretching. But this morning I woke up and saw this:
Last night’s session was more owie than usual. Maybe she used even larger cups or created more suction than she normally does. I’m torn between thinking I’m some sort of badass and….…okay, I just think I’m some sort of badass. Because I have the marks of a warrior, dammit, and I’m a premier athlete like Michael Phelps (let me live my dream, K?). Plus, someone at work asked me if I was getting some action because I also had a “hickey” on my neck – and I like that they think I’m a femme fatale.
Did I mention that my thigh pain is now nearly non-existent? I don’t know if it’s the cupping, massage, medication, diet, or stretching — but I’m happy…and I’m hiking this weekend.