My Healing Journey With Chronic Pain

I would like to share my story with chronic pain so that it may help others on their healing journeys.  I have always been a very athletic and adventurous person who enjoyed running,  biking, weight-lifting, hiking, skiing, scuba-diving, and playing sports with my kids.  Although I am small in stature, I had no qualms about working with large patients with neurological or orthopedic injuries.  My world changed one day in June of 2007 when I sustained a back and SI (sacroiliac joint) injury while working with a CVA (stroke) patient.  The MRI showed a moderate disc bulge at L5, S1 and I had a severe sacroiliac joint strain.  I had pain and numbness into my leg and  knee which did not follow a “typical dermatomal pattern.”  The pain was like a “hot knife was twisting” in my R lumbar and sacroiliac area.  Acutely, I learned that ice, sacroiliac stabilization belt, anti-inflammatories,  electrical stimulation, and moving around/stretches seemed to help take the “edge off.”  I used a Saunder’s home lumbar traction unit for a couple of months.  The traction did seem to help relieve some of the leg pain/numbness and brought the back pain down a couple of notches.  I underwent two prolotherapy injections into the sacroiliac ligament (inject dextrose to promote scar tissue formation to help strengthen the ligament).  The first injection seemed to help, but the second injection seemed to scar down the sacrum into an already torsioned (twisted) position. I opted not to have an epidural, but in retrospect, I probably should have had one.  The inflammatory cascade that ensued followed the course of the nerve roots and produced more scar tissue.  I believe the inflammatory process led to a cartilage defect under the patella (knee cap) where the burning and numbness persisted for more than two years.  The fascia began to harden and contract in my leg, buttock, lumbar, and thoracic areas.

A year and a half later, I was still in pain every day, and sitting was limited.  I had been treated by another physical therapist who used traditional manual therapy techniques and resisted stabilization exercises, a massage therapist who did some Upledger craniosacral techniques, a chiropractor, and traditional medicine.  My option with traditional medicine was to have an epidural and/or pain pills.   I exercised at least an hour every day and did traditional single plane stretches, stabilization exercises,  strengthening, self-massage, walking, and some biking.  Emotionally, I was very frustrated, sad, and angry about the prospect of living with pain every day for the rest of  my life.  I grieved for the activities (especially running) that I had to give up.  I could feel that my sacrum was rotated, but I couldn’t correct it.  I felt like a failure as a physical therapist since I could not “cure” myself.  I started to search for continuing education courses that would help me improve my treatment techniques, and hopefully help myself as well.  My symptoms began to improve after attending a Gary Gray “Chain Reaction Transformation” seminar on functional exercise.  During that course, I learned how to stretch and strengthen in all three planes of motion.  As I performed the exercises, it started to help break up the scar tissue. I was more sore the next day, but then I felt better.  I was introduced to Monavie juice in May of 2009.  After 3 weeks of drinking the juice, my pain improved markedly, but I could still feel the myofascial restrictions.  In the summer of 2009 I attended my first John F Barnes myofascial release course.  I was initially more sore after the first day, but the pain improved after the 2nd day of treatment.  I attended a second John Barnes course (Fascial/Pelvis) a month or two later.  After this second course, my sacrum was corrected and I could run without pain!  I didn’t think I would ever be able to run again.  I attended John Barnes’ myofascial unwinding course in the fall of 2009.  I had a wonderful, very profound experience both as therapist and patient during this course and realized the amazing healing benefits that this treatment provides. I’ve learned that in addition to the myofascial restrictions, we also have sub-conscious holding patterns that our bodies continue to fight until they can be processed through a deeper level of unwinding.

For me this process involved experiencing the sharp pain of my initial injury (brief and temporary) and then I learned how to breathe, relax, and soften the tightness in my body. I learned how to “take my brakes off” and trust my body’s wisdom to move and stretch in ways that it innately knew, and never harmed. A powerful transformation occurred when I attended John Barnes Women’s Health Seminar May 2010. During a compression technique, I was surprised to experience the sharp pain again in my back, but I breathed, relaxed, and it quickly went away. I still had a sub-conscious holding pattern. For the first time I (fearfully) placed my foot in the exact position it was in when I was injured (while lying on my back). I could feel the “pressure of the floor” and I pushed…no pain! This sounds very strange, but my brain saw white light and the words “You are strong again” came to me. At that point, I started pushing my leg forcefully (with resistance by one of the instructors)through a range of motion that was pain-free! I felt like I had re-gained my power! My body had just processed that sub-conscious holding pattern and realized that there was no longer any pain. This journey takes courage, a development of body awareness (listening to the body’s subtle movements and focusing on relaxing the tight areas), and everyone’s experience is unique to them. I continue to attend additional John Barnes myofascial release courses and other continuing education.  Through self-treatment,  exercise, and treatment by other MFR therapists, I have managed to control my symptoms and enjoy the activities I love!

Common Questions about Myofascial Release

How does myofascial release work and how do I keep my body healing?  Do I need to be seen by a MFR therapist forever?

Myofascial release works by stretching/loosening the fascia that is tight or adhered.  It also stimulates the body’s natural healing process. Tight fascia can exert up to 2000# of pressure/square inch and compresses whatever is underneath it.  It may compress a nerve, blood vessel, or muscle.  A chiropractic adjustment or a traditional relaxation massage may only provide temporary relief, because it doesn’t address the underlying collagenous layer of the fascia.  So if there’s an imbalance around the vertebrae, the vertebra will “slip back out” again.  One has to use a sustained pressure that’s not “forceful” for 3-5 minutes and some gentle “unwinding” (like stretching) of the area in order for it to relax.  Usually my patients notice a definite improvement in 1-3 sessions.  I also instruct them how to incorporate relaxation, breathing, and self-stretches, and how to use a foam roll for self-help treatment.  I have found personally that once an area is injured, it tends to flare up periodically, and the fascia will have a tendency to re-tighten along the original lines of injury.  Doing self-treatment and stretching/strengthening the area help tremendously, but it may be an on-going process to keep yourself pain-free.

How does myofascial release feel?

The amount of pressure applied to the body is applied gently at first and then may become more deep as the patient’s body softens, and the tissue elongates. Stretching and isolated muscle contraction may also be used to improve muscle balance.  Tequniques are used to reduce the body’s “guarding patterns” after it has become injured.  The patient may feel warmth where the therapist’s hands are located or may feel warmth in another location.   This is a sign that the tissue is releasing its tightness. The patient is encouraged to relax, clear their thoughts, and turn an inward focus on their body.  Where does it feel tight or painful?  Visualize sending increased blood flow to that area.  This tequnique stimulates the internal parts of the brain that are involved in the body’s natural healing ability.  Research has shown that the outer part of the brain (neocortex) , which is the reasoning part of the brain, and asks “why” is not involved in the healing process.