About three weeks ago, I felt an odd numbness in my hands as I left work. I'd just studied Carpal Tunnel Syndrome the week before in massage school-- I've been trucking through as a partial student since last September, and am almost finished with the anatomy and pathology classes-- so the sensation raised some internal red flags, but I dismissed it as a) possibly the power of suggestion at play, and b) most probably fleeting. I know myself, and my late night health-related Google search tendencies (I tend to conclude that I'm dying), well enough to know to give aches and pains some space before siding with the worst case scenario. But, later that evening, when the numbness evolved into shooting pain, I threw all in for 'woe is me.'

I've been so busy with my present pursuits-- working, writing, blogging, baby-lifting, cooking, driving all over town-- that my future in massage therapy has taken a back seat in my mind. Actual hands-on training will kick in this fall, at an increased pace of four to five days per week, but for this past year classes have been a once weekly, low-key endeavor. Enrolling, however, was a long-contemplated move; I'd been talking about it for almost a year before Aaron told me I'd better just begin lest I drive him bat-shit insane. Programs in New York were prohibitively expensive-- 26 grand, no joke-- (plus, I got pregnant and was working full time in an unrelated industry), but Austin's options, with flexible schedules and a more realistic price tag, proved viable. And so I began. Now that my primary tools were threatening to bail on me (and just before game-time, no less), I was reminded that I really do want to do this, and wondering if it would happen at all. 

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The thing about carpal tunnel pain, and pain in its surrounding areas, is that there are almost a dozen other problems that can present similar symptoms: thoracic outlet syndrome, tendonitis, shoulder injuries, tightness in the scalenes. These conditions don't respond in the same way to the same treatments, though, so it can be challenging to address the pain without first identifying its source. What's not really treatable is tissue build-up within the carpal tunnel itself, which happens over time through over-use. My pathology textbook mentioned cortisone injections and surgery as typical treatment options in this kind of scenario, but added that cortisone isn't long-lasting (it also comes with a host of nasty side-effects), and surgery doesn't guarantee relief (in fact, scar tissue can worsen the pain). This section closed with a note about acupuncture proving helpful in the event that these other options don't work. It seems obvious to me that less-invasive measures like acupuncture should be a first, rather than final, step in moments like this one, and I'm already wholly sold on Chinese medicine, so by day three of near-constant (but not stationary) pain, I made an appointment for some sweet needle action. 

It worked. For 25 blissful hours. Then, in the midst of my working-writing-blogging-baby-lifting life, the pain came right back. As I rounded the corner on the one-week mark since it began, I felt burning in the carpal tunnel itself. Which made me feel all-around miserable. I kind of went back into the done-deal corner, pouting about my life's passions being so short-lived. I even started to talk about surgery, saying that if the pain persisted, I wasn't ruling it out. This sparked something of an argument between Aaron and me. He felt-- rightly so-- that the topic was entirely premature. I felt I was stating the obvious. Not that surgery was a foregone conclusion, but I didn't intend to live in pain without doing something to address it. That's when Aaron broke the actually-obvious news to me that I would actually need to address my situation, myself. As in, take it easy on the working-writing, baby-lifting, etc. I insisted that there was no way-- I use my hands and arms all the time, literally-- but he held his ground. If I wanted to heal, I was going to have to slow down. If I wanted to slow down, I'd need to get creative.

I am creative, but I'm also impatient, and I expected that healing should have happened by now. But Aaron was right-- I was abusing my hands through their protest. If they could heal, I hadn't given them the chance. I mentioned the pain to a few friends, and learned that two of them had experienced an identical pattern: excessive typing + baby lifting= angry hands, wrists and forearms. Both had healed completely with rest, braces, Salonpas patches and massage.

I realized that I'd been thinking, maybe without even really articulating it for myself, that my sustained pain indicated that, short of surgery, management would be my only option going forward. Yet here I am in massage school learning all about how workable pain is. Here I am having only recently refused to accept pain and discomfort for my child, and pushed through to a real solution (despite doctors claiming one didn't exist). Here I am believing-- or thinking I believe-- that our minds and bodies are incredible, intelligent forces possessing endless creative (and healing) potential. Yet given the opportunity to put this stuff to good use, I instead took on a pretty disempowering position. Seeing that, I was also able to see how easy taking on an empowered approach toward healing was. It was just a matter of… doing it.

So I decided that I can and will heal this pain away completely. I'm continuing with the acupuncture, and I ordered some wrist braces and patches. They helped. I was a little weirded out by the way the patches work-- they contain non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which are absorbed through the skin-- but took it as a good sign that they did. True carpal tunnel syndrome doesn't respond to NSAIDS. That mine did indicated that my pain was most likely caused by inflammation, instead of a structural problem. Yoga helped, too, which hinted at the same conclusion. I also got ergonomic supports for my computer at work, and paid some attention to my posture. I've been relearning how to type, as well-- I am an expert, speed-of-thought four-fingered typist, but that amounts to a lot of tension-- without much abuse-distribution-- in my wrists and hands. It's a slow and annoying process, but it'll be worth it (I'm using this free and surprisingly funny website… and I've promised myself one of these sexy beasts upon completion). Kaspar wants me to carry him around, like, all the time, but he's heavy-- babies grow at far faster rates than moms' muscles can keep up with-- so I'm trying to get down on his level, offer hugs and my hand to hold, and encourage him to walk his cute little self to wherever he wants to go. He's not thrilled about it, and it doesn't work all the time, but I'm lifting him less than I was. That's the point.

I determined that every time I notice pain in my hands, wrists or arms, I'll choose to think "My hands/wrists/arms are healing." I even busted out this healing meditations CD. I decided that, like any desire or goal, I just had to put it out there, along with real effort, and let the chips fall in my favor. True to form, I met a woman, by chance, who'd had severe carpal tunnel syndrome about 15 years ago-- like, she was sporting red, swollen streaks up the insides of her arms, and could barely move, at the time. She'd taken part in a study at UT, here in Austin, in which a third of the group (all comparably afflicted) was given surgery, another third was given a placebo, and the final segment (her's) was given a daily regimen of Niacin, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, and two bananas. In addition, they wore the ubiquitous braces, and received regular massage. This woman had two small kids when this all went down-- she didn't exactly lay low-- but she did follow those basic directions, and her pain went away. For good.

Needless to say, I'm downing the bananas and supplements, and, this past weekend, I got a targeted pain-relief massage from a pro, a wonderful woman who works at the school I'm attending. She did a full intake evaluation and then gave me the massage of my life, working my hands and arms. She said I have an overuse injury (duh, Taylor…), and that I will "of course" recover. She gave me some exercises to do to straighten out my body alignment and facilitate this process, and showed me some ways to keep my wrists open. She also gave me some Biofreeze samples (adding that I can get an organic version… I don't remember the name) to use instead of the patches. And she eased the pain, just... released it. I was so grateful for her knowledge, her smile, her abilities and her hands. 

I marveled aloud that perhaps, on some plane, I've had this experience now-- just before game time-- to not only remind me of my desire to become a massage therapist, but also to teach me a thing or two about what it feels like to need one. To receive the help that MT's can provide, which is real reversal of painful muscular patterns, and information and techniques for the client to utilize-- getting clients squarely on the path of self-healing. She told me that she has absolutely learned the most from her own injuries and pains-- more from those than from her extensive training, even-- and that her thought process with each ailment has been inquisitive; she presents herself with a basic question: "I wonder how I'll fix this?" How, not if. 

They're small words, but it's such a big difference.

I'd love to hear about any self-healing success stories you've got stashed away-- what ailments have you fixed, and how?
07/24/2011 18:45

Fascinating change in perspective! I had an experience like this last year. I woke up one morning with sores inside my mouth. I couldn't eat anything except ice cream and broth for two weeks, and went to four or five doctors after the dentist, but none of them identified my problem. They could only tell me what it wasn't. This was the hardest part though because they couldn't tell me when, or IF the sores would go away. I did antibiotics and everything. At first I panicked thinking the sores were a symptom of something bigger, or that they would never leave, but then I calmed down and took to my bed. I rested and took vitamins, and I expected that my mouth would heal. Of course it did heal! Good luck getting your hands to heal too.

08/04/2011 19:19

Whew, carpal tunnel is not fun as a mom! It got really bad this spring, got the splints, which helped the pain go down, but didn't help any other carpal problems-numb hands in the morning, unable to close the hand with out something popping, pain while chopping veg... Anyway. I had a friend who is a massage therapist, and she REALLY worked my forearm, I was hooting and hollering it was so bad. Later my arms were on fire, so we did ice. Two days later, no pain, no swelling, nothing--all of it was gone! : ) Then I cleaned my carpet, and ruined myself again! : (
In my humble opinion, massage therapy is way better than what your Doctor can do for you--NSAIDS, splints, or surgery (exceptions taken of course). Too bad acupuncture, chiropracty, and massage are not prescribed and covered by insurance. I am even skeptical of physical therapy at this point, which is super expensive compared to a Massage or acupuncture.
I did try acupuncture for a tietze's syndrome flare-up. It helped that and my whole well being. It was bliss---and I was semi skeptical! Can't wait to go back.


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