Saturday, October 14, 2006

the persistence of pain

These past few days I've been working on behavior modification.

I hate, hate, hate the splint. After wearing it for the first time night before last, I woke up with a crashing headache, my mouth glued shut, and my jaw hurting even more than before. By some miracle, though, all of that has literally faded away and today I had hardly a twinge in my jaw, although I did have an early headache. So the early trend is that it's actually working, which is not surprising, I expected it to work. I just didn't expect it to work so quickly.

One reason I am probably feeling much better is because of the aforementioned behavior modification. I used to put my chin in my hand alot. Really, a lot. If I was sitting reading, I'd put the book on the table and lean my head into my hands, of course by the chin. The doctor did not tell me this was a bad idea, but the literature that came with the splint did. (I'm so glad I actually read it!)

It is very hard to break this kind of a habit. I get tired, I want to rest my head, but having my hand up by my temples just isn't that comfortable. I'm just going to give up the head-resting altogether, I suppose. That's OK, giving up excruciating TMD at the same time is a fair trade. It turns out that shoving your lower jaw back into the jaw joints is not a good idea, you know?

More behavior modification: I have sworn off gum. That doesn't sound like a big deal, but I'm very dependent on it because of my damaged salivary glands. A lot of times my saliva production is deficient and my mouth tastes horrible as a result, or sometimes I've got plenty of saliva but it's salty-tasting. When either of these situations comes up, I would pop a piece of gum to get the saliva flowing and get the horrid taste out of my mouth. Now I'll have to rely on either mints or Altoids sours to manage these problems, at least until the greater issue is resolved.

Last but not least, I'm getting back to my physical therapy exercises for my neck, shoulders, hip, and tailbone. I am not put together very well, and I have finally come to accept the fact that the only thing that is going to help me feel better is regular exercise, not the random activity I usually engage in.

I have also decided to take more active steps to squelch pain as much as possible, for a couple of reasons. First, when I'm in pain, my shoulders tense up, which screws up my neck, which gives me that spike-through-the-eye headache. Yuck. Second, if a nerve is irritated long enough, it will forget how to shut itself off. I think that's what's going on with my piriformis and my tailbone. The piriformis stretches out just fine, there's no reason for it to feel as horrid as it does. I think the nerves down there have been registering pain for so long they don't know how to register anything else. So I'm attacking this two ways, with Aleve to tackle inflammation, and with BioFreeze gel as a topical I can rub in whenever I get a twinge that needs calming.

So far I'm not seeing the drastic improvement in the hip/tailbone stuff that I've already seen with the jaw, but I'm hoping it will come with time. It's amazing how long I have put up with this because I didn't feel like dealing with it. Yes, these pains so far have been ignorable, but that doesn't mean they will always be if I just let it go. I believe I've got to chase these pains away, or they will haunt me forever, and I have enough to keep me busy without having to cart these particular, resolvable pains around with me for the rest of my life.

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