When Motherhood is a Pain in the Neck – Literally: A Cautionary Tale

Health & Wellness on 11.10.11
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Photo credit: Alfred Pasieka/Getty Images

It's been a rough three months. First there was a three-week-hand-wringing health scare that turned out to be a paper tiger. (Whew.) Then there was a collision that totaled my car and rattled my nerves. This was followed by four or so weeks of flu-cold-flu, aggravated by the new crop of germs attendant to my daughter starting preschool. All of this and the pace of work never slowed down, particularly the work of being a parent.

Then one day I couldn't raise my head from the pillow, literally. Searing pain shot down from the base of my skull to my right shoulder and into my arm. And while I have certainly experienced my share of new-mom back pain in the early days, this kind of agony was a whole new spine-twisting experience, one that required my husband to help roll me out of bed - each morning, for two weeks.

For fear of sounding geriatric, I shall spare you the full picture of what it's like to suddenly try to navigate your world without the ability to turn your head, pick up your child or raise your head from a pillow. This is more of a cautionary tale of how you can avoid the dreaded Neck and Shoulder Pain Menace.

Do the opposite of what I did below and you'll find yourself the proud owner of strong and supple neck, shoulder and back muscles, not mention a winning disposition and a glossy coat:

Worry, Worry, Worry
By now we're all pretty well versed in the whole mind-body connection. I finally get it now: You are what you think. Negative thoughts beget negatives thought. I found this out when I sat down in my closet (the only place I can find privacy since becoming a mother) and tried to meditate for 10 minutes. Oh, the awful things that came tumbling out of my noggin! Since then I've been working on quieting my mind, observing my thoughts, and rewiring them as positive little nuggets of love. For instance, "Shoulder still hurts. I feel so old. Will I ever get better?" becomes, "Every day you're getting stronger and healthier, buck up you sexy beast, you!"

Never Get Another Massage Again Because Your Masseuse Moved to Thailand
Shea, a wonderful massage therapist, known for whipping a knotted muscle into shape with the swipe of her elbow, moved to Thailand to work with kids and help better their lives (go, Shea!). So I quit getting a monthly massage and figured that I was saving much-needed money. I am now back on the massage therapy wagon and even exploring acupuncture. I no longer think of these things as bon-bon eating extravagances. I think of them as essential to keeping me healthy.

Become the Hunchback of Laptop Lane
I love having a flexible job: In addition to having committed office hours it allows me to fire up my computer during my most productive times (usually outside of regular office hours), but it also means that I'm carrying a beast of a laptop with me at all times. Couple that with the fact that I'm usually using non-ergonomically friendly surfaces - like a low-to-the-ground coffee table -- and it's hunchback city. This sort of contortion is the death of your neck and shoulder muscles.

So what's a wandering writer to do? My physical therapist recommends stopping every 30 minutes or so and turning your head gently from side to side and then up and down. It's also helpful to roll your shoulders back and down and then hold for five to 10 seconds to release tight back muscles. (For more information, click on this article.)

Quit Stretching; Ditch Yoga Altogether
In the not-too-distant past I would rise at 6 a.m. and stretch/do a little yoga for about 45 minutes. It was a life saver in terms of putting me in the right frame of mind for the day, not to mention warming up my muscles for the wonderful knock-down hugs my daughter gives me in the morning. But the habit faded away and I began to feel as though I needed an oil can to get me out of bed. So now one of the first things I do when I open my eyes in the morning is to give my neck and shoulder muscles a good rub. Then I turn my head to one side and grab the chunk of neck muscle on the opposite side of neck and knead from base of ear to my clavicles. Rinse and repeat on the other side.

Forget How Incredibly Lucky You Are
It's easy to get caught up in the minutiae of life, focusing too much on what's wrong rather than what's right. Suffering is just part of the gig of living, but it's really one sliver of our existence. If you don't appreciate the odds of how unusual it is that we even exist, consider this little factoid from a blog post by Dr. Ali Binazir:

"So what's the probability of your existing? It's the probability of 2 million people getting together - about the population of San Diego - each to play a game of dice with trillion-sided dice. They each roll the dice, and they all come up the exact same number - say, 550,343,279,001."

That's a perspective changer, huh?

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