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How we manage pain with tools: MS and pain.


Pain comes in many flavors. I base mine on a scale of 1-10. One is feeling strong and healthy, and a 10 is an emergency room visit. Why are we talking about pain? Most Multiple Sclerosis patients experience pain on a daily basis. Not only do they experience pain, but it has many facades. Sometimes it seems at random, other times it's plain persistent.

One type is definitely nerve pain. When your nerves can’t communicate with your brain properly, the brain sends a signal that there is a problem in that area. No different than a power (electricity) guy getting phone calls when a certain neighborhood goes out. He knows where to work. Same idea except in your body it has to tell itself. I’m not a scientist, nor do I have any formal schooling in anything medical. I have lived, and still do live with pain on a regular basis. It’s important to keep up with your personal maintenance.

Another type of pain is Muscle atrophy. The term muscle atrophy refers to the loss of muscle tissue. These muscles appear smaller to the sight and physically are smaller than normal. The onset is common with having a deficit in physical activity due to an injury or illness. Other times it can be poor nutrition, genetics, and a few medical conditions can all contribute to muscle atrophy. MS is a major contributing factor. This can be painful, especially when accompanied by swelling. Physical therapy fights and slows the progression of Muscle Atrophy in patients already exhibiting symptoms by moving the extremities and forcing blood flow to critical areas.

Then there’s the constant pains from bad posture or bumping into things all the time. Even sometimes we have pain for no good reason at all. Just in the way our nervous system works. This is how MS works. When your nerves can’t communicate properly with the rest of your body, there is pain indicated to the brain.

For myself (Frankie) and my pains, I was a professional cabinet maker for 17 years. I was lifting and repeating motions all day long. I was told by different doctors about 10 different hypotheses. Everything from I bumped my elbow, to slouching, to leaning over a work bench all day. It wasn’t until I seen an Orthopedic Specialist that he found an actual impingement on my nerves in my C-spine. My disc in between the vertebrae was protruding into my nerves by a mm or more. In my case there was a physical problem that referred pain all over my upper body. This included my upper and mid back, shoulders, neck, base of skull, under shoulder blades. It was the worst pain I've ever experienced. Enough about the pity party. Let’s look at some tools that help you get through the day. These tools are my favorite go-to items. All of these have helped me work longer, sleep better, or relive pain immediately. Each has it's own unique purpose and are listed in no special order.

1.Thera-Cane Link to product

This candy cane shaped tool has long reach. Before I realized I had a ruptured disc in my c-spine. I had all sorts of reference problems all over my back. Tammy would massage me but couldn’t get “deep”. She reverted to elbows and boy, let me tell you. But I didn’t want to nuisance her every day after work, who wants that? When a friend of mine showed me this tool things changed.

The shape allows you to depress a large amount of pressure into a pin point location. Depending how much you can endure will determine how hard you press. It gets to the middle of the muscle. Once you find the right spot you depress it and hold for 30 seconds. Release, move the tool a few inches and do it again. Working up and down the sore muscle. Be warned, it applies tremendous pressure and is made of hard ABS plastic. Don’t dismiss it because it’s plastic. This thing takes a lot of force. I put it through the motions regularly still.

2.Tennis ball and Sock Link to product

Same friend showed me this trick first. You take a normal tennis ball (or lacrosse) and stuff it into a long sock. Then you hang the sock over your shoulder like a backpack. The ball hangs somewhere near your shoulder blades. You back up to a wall and grind on the tender spots. Rolling around the edge of your scapula. The back side of your armpit will also benefit from some release. Roll it up and down, side to side.

You'll feel stuff cricking and cracking but it feels so good. It releases the toxins in your muscles, and allows new oxygenated blood in.

You can graduate to a lacrosse ball once you've practiced for some time. Lacrosse balls are much more dense.

For me, it started with referral pain in my forearms and wrists, especially on the right side(dominant). It was sporadic from side to side though, if I even had pain at all some days. I was in and out of doctor offices over a period of 3 years. My pain was moving into my wrists and getting deeper into my neck muscles. I was losing grip strength and had constant throbbing. I had shooting pain in my neck, it was horrible. I suffered for some time and worked all the while. This sock trick helped me get through my day to day for a long time. I still have one laying around. and use it as needed.

3.Cupping Therapy

This one is new to me, but ancient in practice. I say new, I mean relatively new like 18 months from time of writing this. The idea with these is to increase blood circulation or “Qi” in targeted areas. I’d recommend grabbing a trigger point map like this. These happen to be on or near the same general locations that acupuncture treats, like this map. Acupuncture is a highly precise technique and not to be compared to cupping. I am just implying that the locations on the body map have a very similar pattern. If you wanted to go a step deeper look into chakras. There are few styles of cups today that have their own uses. In old times candles were used with glass “cups”. They would heat up the cup and place it. As it cooled the lower pressure would create a suction, Like a canning jar except not as hot. Now a days we have silicone and other compounds that make vacuum possible easily. The one I’m speaking of is the silicone style. Pressure by hand type like this gives you more control of how much pressure you want to apply.

When Tammy is treating me. She generally uses massage oil lightly. She grabs one of the 4 sizes in the kit, normally #3 and applies it with moderate suction. She drags it around the area and it slide rather easy because of the oil. It's "carrying" a bubble of your skin underneath it. It stimulates the area by increasing blood flow. She lands on a trigger point and leaves it there for 5 minutes. Then applies the other 3 in the same fashion.

It leaves a hickey every time, not painful at all. I also don’t feel immediate relief that night. But the next day I feel loose and better. I like it and still use it after 18 months of owning them. If it's a problem area, we wait for the marks to go away before another round. It’s easier for her to apply these and walk away. It's not such a chore for her to help me out. I always feel guilty asking her for help, but with these it's really only 2 minutes of her time.

4. Impact / percussion massagers Link to product

These are the future living in current day. They are not the perfect nor do they help with every muscle problem. It definitely didn’t help Tammy’s Sciatica. But what it is good at is getting deep into those trapezius muscles on the upper back. With a helper you can really penetrate tight muscles and release those knots. We also use it for both the Latissimus Dorsi and Teres major (google them). These are the muscles that make up the back side of your armpit. If you have poor posture like leaning forward, these are the muscles that are tired. This muscle group also supports the pathway/tunnel of nerves reaching down your arms. It really helps with referral pain in the forearms and wrists. The other benefit with this type of massager is they are stronger than you need but adjustable. Nothing bothers me more than buying a new massage tool and have a lackluster experience. I mean some of these tools are selling an idea, not a product. This is an exception to that. Picture a jigsaw woodworking tool with a soft end, or a jack hammer with a sponge tip. Your partner won't mind the short 10 minute run time and you'll be more than happy to let it be over. Your muscles never felt such a massage. If it's good enough for Olympic athletes, I'd say it qualifies for me as well.

5. Leg/Foam roller massager

These are sold all around for pretty cheap. They look like nothing but will do you wonders. At first glance you may be thinking this is a child’s toy, it is not that. Go ahead and try it. Check out this video for tutorials: Foam roller tips and tricks. Take this tool and roll it down your thigh. I wouldn’t go too hard the first time because it will be painful. Not torture pain, but the good pain. The kind of pain you know is healing more than hurting. Let it release the tiny muscle strands that tighten up your hips. By forcing blood through the muscles your releasing built up toxins. You’re elongating these tight areas with this particular tool. The impact this can have on your posture is amazing.

Most people don’t realize this but, some of your front thigh muscles attach at the inside back of your hips. See this picture (courtesy WIkimedia commons):

Another area to work on is the Gluteus Maximus. Yeah, your butt. It’s the outside side-Butt to be exact. Check out this pic below. It's the muscle that makes you butt, yes. But the side of it is where the tension sits. Getting in there with the foam roller, right between your hip bone and your femur joint. There is a soft spot in there you'll be happy to learn about.

Once you relive the pain I would recommend strengthening that muscle group. A simple squat exercise will do. Like this video. Make sure you use a chair for balance and safety. Above all, make sure you talk to your doctor or physical therapist before starting any new exercises or routines.

If you sit a lot, especially at a desk or a seat, maybe because of a job or mobility issues, then you have stretched out sore muscles. You'll experience the pain in the upper back where you have weaker muscles. That’s due to the poor posture from the lower body being out of alignment. Also, having your pelvis sitting in an unnatural position for extended periods of time. Not all foam rollers are created equally though. The solid foam ones seem to wear out quickly and end up not really working well. Make sure you grab one that has a strong core like this one. Mine is a large PVC pipe on the inside, plenty rigid.

6. Massage machines

( Massagers for neck and back with heat)

There is something to be said about these new handheld massage tools. If you have ever experienced a Shiatsu massage from one of those chair tools, then you know how this works. The difference being you only have two rotating massagers. The arm straps really give you control and leverage where you need it. The back of the neck is most obvious. And it works great for that, especially when you get it up under the base of your scalp. The kneading action is perfect with two sized "thumbs" inside. The heads also rotate in both directions. What I like to also use them for is my upper legs. My thighs on the front and sides get really tight (yeah, desk job). I use this for those and it gets in deep after a few minutes of working away. The heat really helps with loosening the muscle fibers. This tool lives close by and I use it regularly alone. I don't just say that lightly. I hate asking Tammy to help me with massage, I feel guilty asking her. These tools make it so only in the worst cases she's called in.

7. Professional Masseuse

Nothing beats a professional. Especially if you found one that really kept studying after school and grew their expertise. I’m not talking spa type, fall asleep massage here. I’m speaking of therapeutic or sports type massage. The one where they target a muscle and all other muscles in a relationship with it. They work you as a whole and understand the leverage and forces your body endures. They know how to relax these muscles we didn’t realize were even a problem. The only issue I see with it is cost. Since massage in many states (if not all) is not considered medically as a therapy. There is no “proof” that it actually works. In my opinion, it does, especially with a workout regimen that compliments your needs. Creating balance and equilibrium in your body. That’s a winning combination if you can strengthen one side while stretching the tight side. For example: strengthening your Triceps, and stretching and massaging your Biceps. This will ensure you maintain maximum range of motion on your forearm.

In closing:

As we grow older and wear down, get injured, or disease finds its way into our lives. We all face pain at some point. How you deal with it is up to you. A majority of the people try home treatments first, the doctor is second line of defense oddly, and finally a massage therapist. Sometimes though, it’s best to let a professional tell you what is happening and how you can combat it. Especially if it’s been going on for a long time. They can tell you where you need to work, while they focus on lengthening your muscles on the opposite side.

These aren’t the only devices out there. These are devices we have and use on a regular basis. There is huge market out there for massage tools. Each of them may have their unique place. We find the best ones hurt a little at first and then not at all. Go ahead, make it hurt so good.

For a list of the massage tools listed in this article along with other items we swear by on our website. Visit this webpage.


Article by: Frankie Tea of TeamMSRV

Frankie and Tammy Tea live life to the fullest out of their fifth wheel camper. After Tammy was Diagnosed with RRMS life took a dramatic turn. We decided that we want to lead a life of service and adventure. We sold most of our belongings and now live full time on the road teaching people how to deal with Multiple Sclerosis symptoms and mental attitude for a better quality of life.

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