Battling Pain



Larissa has been battling severe pain in both her arms since December of 2001.  She has generally been reticent to discuss her problem with persons outside her circle of close family and friends.  For years Larissa thought she would soon find something that helped her and that she needn't bother acknowledging her problem as anything more than a transient nuisance.  She now knows the pain is not going away and has decided to be open regarding it; not to invite sympathy but simply to let people know what she is dealing with and, possibly, to help similarly afflicted musicians.  The following is a brief account of Larissa's battle with chronic pain.

Larissa's pain started in her elbows.  She immediately cut back on her playing and saw a well-renowned physical therapist.  Unfortunately, the physical therapist was unable to provide relief... so, she moved on to another... and then on to a series of orthopedic surgeons.  For quite some time she was doing various stretches and taking prescription strength anti-inflammatory arthritis medications.  After two years with no results and doctors telling her she had to have surgery, she decided to try an alternative approach and began having regular acupuncture treatments along with herbal and natural anti-inflammatory supplements.  None of these treatments afforded Larissa mollification.  It was during this time period that her capacity to play marimba had decreased from eight hours a day down to three hours (on a good day) and the pain was affecting her ability to use her arms when executing simple daily tasks. 

Six years after her arm pain first became extant, in December of 2007, Larissa developed severe tendonitis in her wrists.  She knew she had to take care of this quickly so it wouldn't develop into the same kind of problem she had with her elbows.  At a consultation with a  hand surgeon, she was given cortisone injections in both wrists and both elbows.  After they discovered that the injections only increased her pain, the surgeon put both her wrists in casts to immobilize them, give them time to rest and, hopefully, reduce any inflammation.  When this immobilization therapy did not fulfill its intended objective, the doctor felt that her only option was to go ahead with surgical procedures on all four joints.  According to the doctor, the surgery had a very high chance of simply increasing her pain.  In the end, that was not a risk she thought worth taking. 

Larissa then learned about a kind of physical therapy called Cranial Sacral Therapy (CST) and decided to give that a try.  She received CST treatments regularly for a year and-a-half, including sessions with one of the top CST practitioners in the country.  There was no result and her pain was increasing steadily.  At this point, Larissa had stopped being able to perform most tasks; even brushing her teeth became a riotously painful event.  She was down to playing only an hour or an hour and-a-half (on a good day) and some days couldn't even begin to practice.  Larissa doubled her efforts to find something that would help.  To supplement the Cranial Sacral Therapy, she added acupressure treatments and energy balancing.  She tried Watsu massage, deep tissue massage, and Alexander Technique.  She had blood tests done to look for any autoimmune diseases or other possible underlying issues.  She underwent a procedure called Electro Dermal Scanning and followed its corresponding treatment plan for six months.  None of these avenues produced results.  

Larissa was getting very worried that she would never find relief and was contemplating what life would be like if she had to give up playing marimba.  Because this was a very dire prospect, she decided to try one more thing.  She saw a rheumatologist in the hope of being able to find a new heavy-duty medication for inflammation.  This doctor sent her on to a specialist at the Mayo Clinic where she had a series of blood tests, nerve tests, x-rays, and MRI scans.  Larissa was diagnosed with Central Sensitization Syndrome, a central nervous system disorder that causes the brain to fire unnecessary pain signals.  Basically, while there is no physical problem, her brain still thinks her nerves and tendons are inflamed -- it is holding an inaccurate neural imprint.  The negative aspects of this diagnosis are, first, that the brain continues to increase the pain as time passes as if the physical condition were degrading; second, there isn't currently any standard treatment for this type of disorder.  The upside is that now she knows that she is not causing damage to herself by using her arms.

After receiving the diagnosis of CSS, Larissa explored new avenues, including neural medications, numbing patches and wearing a TENS unit, in an attempt to get her brain to recognize that it doesn't need to be sending all these pain signals.  Unfortunately, Larissa was unable to find success with these methods. She then began a new course of acupuncture treatment in 2013.  After two years of weekly treatments Larissa began making positive strides in managing her pain.  It has now been a year and a half since she has needed to wear arm braces to play marimba.  Her abilitly to do basic daily activites has increased and she no longer worries about having to stop doing the things she loves.  While she is not where she wants to be, after 15 years working to manage her pain, Larissa knows she will persevere and remains hopeful that the future will continue to bring relief.