Understanding PD
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Well it’s now been 5 days of this shoulder pain. The spasm began quite insidiously, slowly wrapping itself completely around my left shoulder, neck and scapula. The type of tightness that radiates a gnawing throbbing sensation down your arm and up your neck giving you a headache to the point your eyes water. At first I responded by increasing my yoga stretches and taking more time using my foam roller. I then graduated to lying on the floor, carefully positioning a tennis ball along my spine, trying by brute force to knead the muscles to a softer state. But to no avail – the pain continued. Yesterday I finally admitted defeat and made an emergency appointment with my massage therapist, an experienced kind woman with strong hands that usually makes me feel like jelly when I leave her clinic. As I lay on the draped table, praying that she would have better luck than I did, she commented that this was the worst she has seen me yet, that the muscles were like cement and completely stuck down. She worked that whole hour, diligently trying to get the spasms to release themselves but was unsuccessful...and now a day later, this distressing, unrelenting pain continues to wear me down…

Pain. Part and parcel of this experience I guess. Most of the time, discomfort in muscles and joints is secondary to lack of spontaneous movement, rigidity and abnormalities of posture. Nerve pain such as sciatica can also occur. Dystonia, which can be described as severe, prolonged, forceful twisting of large muscle groups is also a common cause of pain in PD. Other times it may be due to the muscles overwhelmed by their constant cycle of contraction – relaxation that comprise the relentless tremors and still other times it may be secondary to the rhythmic uncontrollable body movements known as dyskinesias. Some also experience central pain syndrome which is described as strange, unexplained stabbing or burning pain in various areas of the body but it is thankfully quite rare. Regardless of it etiology, chronic pain is often a significant issue that compromises quality of life in Parkinson’s Disease and something that really requires a multifaceted approach.

First and foremost a complete review of your medication regimen with your physician is necessary to see if adjustments in timing or dosage may be effective. Massage therapy is usually a great release for muscle spasm and physiotherapists can often work with us to develop stretching and exercise routines. Ancillary treatments such as heat, acupuncture and so forth may also yield positive results. If all else fails, there are pain medications and / or muscle relaxants that may be necessary and effective.

In my case because this has been such a recurrent problem for me, I often try and take
a proactive strategy, incorporating stretching, walking and yoga into my daily routine. The results of my diligence however are monumentally frustrating. Given the amount I stretch, my muscles should be as supple as that of a child instead of an old, brittle woman. But unlike most “normal” people, once a day is not nearly sufficient and my hectic schedule (or maybe more honestly, my apathy) doesn’t allow for the multiple workouts per day that would be the most beneficial.

I often wonder why most descriptions of Parkinson’s Disease don’t mention pain as being a significant symptom, the standard explanations usually focusing on the motor aspects of the disease. Of course these definitions are not incorrect but this disease challenges us in many ways and dealing with pain, is no exception. And it is one issue that often significantly affects quality of life, which is something none of us want to lose…it is much too important and unfortunately very often, difficult to maintain. But we continue to pursue it, committed to remaining as active and productive for as long as this disease allows.

And as I stretch my arms above my head, contorting them into positions that may stretch my uncooperative, stubborn muscles,
I know this pain will pass eventually. Of that I’m sure. When that relief will come is a little less certain but overall my spirit is more willful than my body and it will carry me through.
Suggested Reading
Pain in Parkinson's
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And it is one issue that often significantly affects quality of life, which is something none of us want to lose.
Treating Pain
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Because Parkinson’s remains an incurable illness, the goal of any treatment intervention must be quality of life…