Showing posts with label pain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pain. Show all posts

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

A Tail Of Woe

In July last year while driving around the Scottish countryside ferrying my family hither and thither to see my sister and her daughters, one of whom was performing at a Highland show, I realised that a pain had developed in my, how can I put this delicately, left butt cheek.

It wasn't a sharp pain - there hadn't been a snap or noticeable tear - just an insistent, growing twinge that I thought was mildly interesting, took note of and dismissed as something that would probably heal itself.

But it seemed to get worse the more I drove, so much so that I had to pull over even though we were late and take a break at a family restaurant in the middle of nowhere.

I couldn't figure it out. Was it my back? My leg? Had I been sitting down too much? Was it because I was driving an automatic now and barely used my lower left limb anymore to depress the clutch and such?

I didn't know. Or care. I figured it would heal itself. 

It didn't.

I slowly realised that I hadn't had a holiday in years. The last one was to Japan in Spring 2018 and had actually been quite hard work, traveling and sightseeing as well as - yes - literally working. I mean a proper holiday. Lying in a hammock on the beach drinking Malibu out of coconuts kind of holiday. For two weeks.

Also, all the chairs in our house were hard. My office chair, the dining room chairs, even the sofa was one of those dreaded straight up and downy types with no reclining option available. Gone were the days of my youth when I could lie on my old leather recliner 'neath a Velux window twixt the rafters, lost in a good book, gazing up at the clouds. No no. It was straight up and downy sofa or go to bed or nothing.

So I spent a few hundred quid on a decent office chair and hoped that would solve the problem. Alas not. I started taking the bus places instead of the car. That didn't really help either. I mean there was less actual pain which would spark up when sitting down, but the issue never went away. It was just dormant. Hiding. Waiting for its chance to pounce like a lion stalking a gazelle preparing to sink its sharp fangs into it.

I figured I'd spent too much of my life sitting down and now my body was rebelling. 40 years of pressure and trauma on the butt area and you can't expect it to be all sunshine and roses. Such the toll of being a (failed) writer.

Sometimes the pain would be less. Like when I relaxed or took a nap. I began lying down on my front for twenty minutes per day, stretching out and taking a load off. Did going to bed early help? Seemed to. Also once I noticed when I had to face something I really didn't want to, the pain flared up. Was it exacerbated by stress? Was it psychological? Another time I tried to work standing up for the whole day, and this actually lead to the worst next-morning pain ever. Was it all in my mind?

Another thing that seemed to make matters worse was the embarrassment factor. "Why ya not sitting down, Chris?" "I have a pain in my butt." "Oh, you mean you've been sitting down too much you lazy bastard?" "Could be, but I actually think I'm quite an active person." "Why ya still not sitting down, Chris?" "My butt still hurts." "Oh, you mean you still haven't figured it out yet and you're dumb as well as lazy?" "Why ya not driving over to see your mum, Chris?" "Butt hurts." "You lazy, dumb, uncaring, lying bastard."

In November I went to the doctor and told him my tale of woe. He thought it must be my back where a nerve was being trapped by two unhelpful vertebrae. I figured that could be right. My father had back problems and I've had them in the past too. So the doc gave me a bunch of back exercises and said come back in 8 weeks. I did the exercises and after a while my backbone felt absolutely wonderful - better than ever - but my butt still hurt.
Location of the Piriformis muscle
I researched online and found a word - Piriformis. It's a muscle in the glute area in very close proximity to the sciatic nerve. Sometimes pinches it. I also found a stretching exercise - the Pigeon Pose. Tried the stretch a few times and it seemed to be hitting the spot, but I didn't know if it was doing harm or good. Introduced it into my morning back stretching regime. Nonetheless, the pain persisted.

Around Christmas time I decided, right, proper holiday for me, and what the hell, a nice black faux leather recliner armchair for less dreaded up and downy sitting. It's all in the angle. Force. Trauma. When people asked me to drive somewhere I just said no. Medical condition. Sorry. 

But even that didn't solve it.

Went back to the doc and said, "Doc, my back has never felt better but my rear still hurts. Could it be the Piri something?"

"The Piriformis?"

"Yeah, that." And I showed him the Pigeon Pose and he said, 

"That looks like yoga," as if yoga had been debunked years ago as mythological, occult hogwash. He practically held up two fingers at 90 degrees, backed off and hissed.

"Begone!" he shouted. "I shall refer you to a physiotherapist! And a priest!"

So I waited for the letter instructing me to come and see a physiotherapist. I knew the waiting list would be long, so I tried to keep active to improve circulation and sprinkled it with holy water as I figured that was what a physio and priest would probably recommend.

A few weeks later I met a chap at my local community council who wanted to have a sit down chat with me about something. I said no thanks, but how about we go for a walking chat instead? While strolling through the wooded area along a river I told him I had a pain my my lower back / upper leg area, and he immediately said, "The Piriformis?" We had a jolly good discussion about life, peace, and meditation, and touched upon how stress can affect the central nervous system. I figured, damn, I need a retreat and vow of silence for two weeks to beat this thing.

Then the Coronavirus hit, and with it, lockdown. In a way this had a positive effect on my chronic pain because it meant no driving and less work. But more stress of the suspenseful Hitchcock, Rear Window kind. Pun not intended. My wife suggested I film a river for 3 hours and upload it to youtube as people want to relax but can't go out. I didn't really buy it but thought what the hell, anything to get out the house for a while.

So I packed up my camera, tripod, microphone, laptop, camping chair, some lunch and flask of coffee, and set out on the most boring yet relaxing film shoot of my life. Found a spot near a fallen tree, pointed my camera and mics more or less at the river, went and sat on my camping chair and wrote the next chapter of Jake Jones & The Coffee Cup Killer, expecting my rear to complain bitterly for an interminable while thereafter. You can watch the abridged 90 minute version here:

Everything was so green and peaceful. The trickle of meandering water. The fluttering to and fro of birds. The silent contemplation of trees. The distant hum of humanity. And Jake Jones was flowing as well as the water. The only worrisome moments were when I had to relieve myself in the bushes, but even that did not result in my getting arrested. Happy days.

About five hours later I packed up and went home in a happy, meditative stupor. To my surprise my backside was fine. My rear end was in fact feeling great. My gluteus maximus was practically singing psalms all the way home and reciting Wordsworth for the rest of the day.

It was then I realised sitting on the camping chair hadn't hurt which made sense. Rather than a hard, foam-covered unyielding surface, the camping chair kind of cupped my body, like a bra, or having my butt in a sling. And the calm, soothing effect of sitting writing near a river probably helped my central nervous system as well.

Things continued pretty much in the same vein, until, on May 25th I stumbled upon a wikipedia page about Piriformis Syndrome, and thought, Oh, this is actually a thing. 

The page recommended not just stretching once a day but every 2-3 waking hours. So this I've been doing. Today is Day 8 and it seems to be helping. Now when I Pigeon stretch I barely feel any tension. I'm still a little reticent to sit down on a hard chair or go for a drive, though, as I can feel something there lurking on the sidelines - a peckish, salivating lion stalking in the long grass. Watching me. Watching my ass. But hopefully some day the beast will get bored and wander off to leave my hindquarters alone.

So that's my Tail of Woe. May you never experience chronic pain, or if you do, you're able to solve it fast and effectively.

Piriformis Sydrome image from: