That Pain In The Neck Might Not Be Your Boss

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“Pain is such an uncomfortable feeling that even a tiny amount of it is enough to ruin every enjoyment.” ~ Will Rogers

Is your boss the cause of that chronic pain in your neck? Or is that pain — or the pain in your back, butt, shoulders, hips, hands, feet, knees or joints — stemming from something medical? Should the latter be the case, it might be an ailment that is often undiagnosed, misdiagnosed or even made too light of by some medical professionals. It might be arthritis.

And before you dismiss that idea out of hand, be advised that arthritis can afflict people of any age, including infants, children, teens and young adults. According to statistics from the Arthritis Foundation, about 300,000 infants and children have been diagnosed with arthritis, and nearly two-thirds of people in the U.S. who have been diagnosed with some form of arthritis are of typical working age — 18-64.

And that’s not good, because working while in chronic or increasing pain can range from annoying to difficult to impossible.

The Long Road To Discovery

It took me several decades and doctors, and more than one boss, to learn the source of my increasingly annoying-to-scary symptoms and figure out the treatments for them. (In fact, my bosses were quite understanding and tolerant; but, in looking back I feel I was worth it!)

A chance visit two years ago to a new dermatologist for a periodic examination changed everything. Thinking the little patch on my elbow might be psoriasis (it wasn’t) the doctor suggested I see a rheumatologist to rule out my having psoriatic arthritis. I didn’t have that either, but I was diagnosed with two other kinds of arthritis: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The former had been developing for decades, as it is a normal part of the aging process; the latter is an autoimmune disease that produces a range of symptoms, some of which fit mine to a “T.”

When I finally became enlightened I was dumbfounded that not one of the top-notch specialists in internal medicine, cardiology, neurology, gynecology,  gastroenterology, etc., that I had consulted over many years had suggested that arthritis might be the culprit behind my suffering. These otherwise excellent doctors made numerous suggestions as to the causes and remedies, all of which missed the mark:

  • Stiffness and achiness – assumed to be “muscle pain”; taken off a medication; physical therapy prescribed.
  • Needle-like pains in my chest – chalked up to stress and anxiety; suggested a beta blocker, losing weight and exercising more.
  • Overwhelming periods of fatigue – told to listen to my body, get more sleep, stop using artificial sweeteners.
  • Recurring numbness in my fingers and toes – prescribed a vitamin B6 supplement.

Now, some of the above suggestions are fine in general, but they did not address the underlying cause of my symptoms. To add to the confusion, many years earlier a neurologist had diagnosed as arthritis my first lower-back-pain attack, which incapacitated me for four days. However, I was given no further guidance and in answer to my question about a remedy was informed that nothing could be done. Because I had been concerned that I might need back surgery, finding out that it was “only” arthritis seemed pretty benign. How wrong I was.

Because arthritis symptoms can come and go, be terrible one day and gone the next, the various aforementioned remedies recommended by my doctors seemed to work for awhile — until they didn’t any longer. Diagnostic tests to rule out heart, pulmonary and neurological issues indicated no problems in those areas. Once when I had pain in my shoulder I was sent for an x-ray, which showed some arthritis. When I asked the orthopedist what I should do he said nothing could be done.

Neither I nor my doctors seemed to be able to connect the dots! If just one of my doctors had referred me to a rheumatologist the mystery of my symptoms could have been solved years ago.

After I found my board-certified rheumatologist (who is also a DO) I discovered that there are many kinds of arthritis, all of which cause degrees of pain that can be restricting and debilitating.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis, the common form that we associate with aging or the result of an injury, usually involves pain and/or restricted movement in the hands, knees, hips, legs, spine and sometimes the ankles, feet and toes, as well as that pain in the neck.

Symptoms of RA include feeling stiffness upon rising in the morning and after sitting for long periods, suffering stinging needle-like pains in various parts of the body, and experiencing overwhelming and scary waves of fatigue.

With arthritis in general, symptoms can come and go and be affected by an outside force like the weather. Sometimes sufferers can go into remission for months and years only to have symptoms return to some degree.

Check It Out

The lesson to be learned is don’t live with chronic pain without checking it out and persisting until you get answers. Besides arthritis there are other kinds of rheumatologic diseases and disorders. There are also many autoimmune diseases that can play havoc with your system. And there are diseases and conditions that can sneak up on you because they might not be accompanied by pain or other symptoms to warn you until they are quite advanced, such as type 2 diabetes, glaucoma, cataracts and colon cancer, just to name a few. Scheduling regular checkups and tests can help to catch and treat these nasties early.

And then there’s Lyme Disease, a tick-borne illness that is often difficult to diagnose and treat; here are two patient accounts of their experiences with Lyme, in the Huffington Post and New Jersey Herald.

Another condition that frequently goes undiagnosed is sleep apnea, which can leave you exhausted during the day and be downright dangerous if untreated. So if your significant other complains that you snore at night, you should find out if it’s sleep apnea. Stopping yourself from snoring at night can also improve the sleep and health of your partner!

Sometimes these diseases and disorders are fairly straightforward to diagnose and treat and other times they are trickier. But my advice is to persist in obtaining both a correct diagnosis and effective treatment.

I have family members and close friends of various ages who are managing assorted diseases and conditions, some that were contracted when they were quite young. My mother’s side of the family has enjoyed longevity and my whole life I have drawn comfort from that fact. Recently, however, I have learned that the same side of the family also has suffered from a variety of autoimmune diseases, which all seem to be related — meaning if you get one you are a candidate to get a second one. The bad news is autoimmune diseases presently are not curable, but the good news is they are for the most part manageable. And many charitable research foundations are funding and searching for cures and better treatments.

After you have determined that the pain in your…wherever…is likely not caused by your boss, you should check it out without delay. You might want to start with your primary care doctor (PCP) for a thorough examination. If something shows up in those tests your doctor might order additional tests or refer you to a specialist. If your tests come back normal and your doctor has no recommendations, you might want to cut to the chase yourself and find a good board-certified rheumatologist to rule out any rheumatic diseases. There are many other kinds of specialists to consider, as well. It might take a bit of research, patience and persistence on your part, but it will be worth it to find out the cause of your pain or any other disturbing symptoms. If you have an insurance plan that has no referral requirement and reasonable copays, that will help you move full steam ahead. If not, you might have to persuade your PCP to refer you to one or more specialists in your network or investigate other insurance plans.

Next Steps

Once you have located a specialist and receive an accurate diagnosis you will be on your way to regaining control over your life and, it is hoped, getting better. Here are some general guidelines that are wise for everyone to practice, but are especially helpful in managing diseases and conditions.

It’s understandable if about now some readers might be snapping a few pencils in half. The topics of pain and suffering are not always fun to address; but my intent in writing this piece was not to alarm but to enlighten so that the source of that pain in the neck — or wherever it is — can be identified and treated.

And should you discover that the pain in the neck — or elsewhere — is your boss, well, that’s a topic for a future post!

Until next time,

Jeanne

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