Living with Arthritis Pain
As a yoga instructor for twenty some years, not too many people would know I have suffered from severe arthritic pain for the past seven years. At one point about four years ago, when I got out of bed in the morning, I would be hunched over like an feeble old man and in tremendous pain. Walking hurt. My back and hip took almost an hour to feel pliable enough to function normally throughout my day. Can you imagine what it felt like to teach yoga in that condition? Yet, I did, because I thought yoga would make me feel better. Most of the time, it made it worse, because I neglected the problem.
Initially, when the pain first started to come on, I went to see an orthopod. When he entered the office, the first task he asked me to do after I described my pain was to reach down and try to touch my toes. I bent over and my palms hit the floor. He said, “Get out of my office.” And he wasn’t kidding.
“But,” I said, “you don’t understand. I’m in great pain when I do this. I used to be able to do more and now it feels as if all of my muscles are seizing up.”
He pointed to the door and I left in dismay. It took me about four more years and many more worsening moment of pain before I would try to see another doctor. This time I went to my primary care physician at Vanderbilt. The regimen was Tramadol for the pain and inflammation. This helped considerably. In fact, just being able to handle the pain of living with arthritis is half of the problem. Still, I could tell that my body was fighting me at every step forward.
I have to say, this was a hard thing to admit as a yoga teacher and practitioner of the healing arts. I was also a vegetarian for a long time. Almost everything I ate and did for my spiritual and physical body seemed like the best thing I could possibly do. Yet, genetically, my father and mother and sisters were all plagued with the same disease. I thought I could stop it from affecting me, but I couldn’t. When the migraines compounded my problem, there was nothing I could do but try my best to find a cure.
There is a method of body healing called “Active Muscle Release,” which I was introduced to by the Titans on-field practitioner, Preston Wakefield. This technique finds the problem joints, presses into the muscles and then activates the joints and muscles with particular movements. It just so happened that my nephew Mark Guandolo was also studying this technique. He sent me a few videos of some exercises I could do with a fitness ball and a round cylinder similar to the long noodles children use to float in swimming pool, but wider, harder and shorter.
What I discovered was that my IT band was so tight that none of the muscles in my hips and back and iliopsoas could relax. So, we would roll on the side and front of the leg on this cylinder. When we would come to a place where it was painful, the practitioner would move my leg. It got to where I could do this on my own. I did it every night, along with about six different exercises. For the migraines I began a prophylactic medicine called Topomax, which almost completely got rid of the migraines.
My entire exercise process took about fifteen minutes a night. Along with this, I also began acupuncture at 7 Directions Acupuncture in Edgehill and also at East Nashville Acupuncture in East Nashville. These two places are community acupuncture facilities which charge a minimal 15-20 dollars per visit. So, I would go one to two times a week.
After about six months, I can tell you that there have been times that I have actually felt as if I have no arthritis. It does flair up when it rains or when the seasons are changing, but nothing like it used to. I have taught this method to private clients as well, with great success.
I still take the Tramadol every day for the low grade pain. But the exercises keep me mobile and active like I remember feeling when I was 20 and 30.
If you’re having trouble with joint pain, leg pain, back pain, or hip pain caused by arthritis, there is hope!