What a pain in the neck! No, seriously.

I’ve decided I will be running in the Rock N Sole 5K, even despite the course changes they’ve implemented for this year.

While the course changes did cause me to hesitate, the main reason I ended up waiting so long to make up my mind was because of neck issues I had/have been having.

The issues have been ongoing since the end of April, starting right before I ran my second fastest 5K to date. It’s also my third instance of neck issues in the past year. However, neither of the first two times were as bad as this time is/was.

Last July I woke up one morning with a stiff neck. But it was a little more than just a stiff neck. There was a little pain to it. Not much, but some. It lasted about a week and a half. Then it happened again sometime late last fall/early winter. It just sort of came on one day and, even though the stiffness and soreness weren’t as bad as the first time, it still lasted a week.

This time it sort of just slowly came on like the second time, but it elevated to a much more painful level than I’d previously experienced. It hurt so much I even made myself go to the doctor. I also called a new orthopaedic, spine, and sports medicine center in town to find out if I could get looked at there without a referral from another doctor.

As it turns out — based on my symptoms and multiple occurrences of this — I could. But their schedule is busy and it’s not the kind of place you can just walk in to for care. I wanted to go there if my issues were serious, but I also didn’t want to wait. So what I did was put the ortho/spine/sports place on hold until I saw my regular doctor first, and ended up keeping them on hold for about a week until they were going to expire my self-referral.

My first doctor visit resulted in a prescription for muscle relaxers, thanks to major soreness and tightness in my left trap muscle, which was accompanying the neck pain. The doctor thought it was a muscle strain and said stress and my posture at work may be the cause. So I tried the muscle relaxers as need, plus some ibuprofen as needed, and even took a few days off from training.

I was starting to feel better. The trap muscle soreness went away. My neck was almost back to normal.

Then I ran that 5K. My neck loosened right up for it and I felt fine running, but that night I developed some weird pressure in my head, like you might get if you try holding your breath for a really long time.

The next day the head pressure was gone, but the other neck pain and stiffness started coming back. So did head pressure, but only in the hours after a workout. I also started getting other symptoms, like numb flashes down my arms as I climbed stairs.

After a few days of things not getting better — well, except for the arm numbness thing, which happened only a couple times — I called the ortho/spine/sports center and set up an appointment. I also tried to get back in with my regular doctor to see if she could offer any new input or order an x-ray or something.

Unfortunately she wasn’t in that day, so I saw another doctor at the office, who did order an x-ray. He told me he thought I was fine, said he expected the x-ray to show nothing, and then suggested I was overtraining. I thought that was silly, because even though I did resuming training after the 5K, I was taking A LOT more days off than usual. He also suggested I consider physical therapy and threw out a longshot possibility I could have early arthritis in my neck, but said that it was highly unlikely.

Two days later that doctor called back with the results of the x-ray. And whattayaknow: he said I had early arthritis. He told me I should simply rest when I need to, use ibuprofen as needed, and still consider physical therapy.

Fortunately for me, I was scheduled to visit the ortho/spine/sports place, which included three separate appointments: one with a chiropractor, one with a physical therapist, and one with a neurologist.

Leading up to those appointments (the chiro and PT appointments were a week earlier than the neurologist), I had stopped working out altogether and was also starting to get head pressure daily, even without being prompted by exertion.

So then at my first appointment, pretty much right off the bat (or at least right after I mentioned what the last doctor had told me), the chiropractor looked at my x-ray and told me I in no way had arthritis. He agreed there was some narrowing between a couple vertebrae, but 1.) it wasn’t significant, and 2.) it was simply “the wrinkles and gray hair of the spine.” He said probably 75% of men my age, height, and weight would have some level of similar narrowing occurring. In five years it would be about 90% and in 10 years 100%.

He bent my neck around a whole bunch, and in ways I didn’t know it could bend, noted where there was some obvious tightness, said he thought PT would be a big help, told me he wanted to follow up with me, and then asked me a whole bunch of questions about competitive stair climbing.

I mentioned I had considered going to a regular, standalone chiropractor for an adjustment. He said he thought I did the right thing and that I didn’t need an adjustment.

So then I shuffled over to the next room over for my PT appointment, which turned out to be the best appointment I’ve had throughout all of this. The doctor there also bent my neck around a whole bunch, but then started stretching muscles pretty much inside the back of my head by poking around with her finger while holding my head in her hands. It was weird and didn’t really feel that awesome, but I haven’t had any head pressure since then, even after exercise, and I’m convinced it was because of that.

She only went into the back of my head because I mentioned where exactly the head pressure was. She asked if the pressure was in the back of my head. The other doctors had, too, but seemed confused and never really asked any other questions when I said it was more in the top of my head and behind my eyes.

The PT immediately said if that’s where the pressure was, it was more than likely stemming from the C1 vertebrae area, and then explained to me that right at that spot, there’s a ring of muscle the skull sits on — which the spine connects to the brain through the middle of — that controls about 90% of a person’s head movements (side to side, up, down, etc.)

She said if there’s a problem with that muscle, it could result in strain, overuse, and other issues with the lower neck muscles. It was then she had me lay down so she could grab my head and poke around at the base of my skull. She said that muscle was tight, and stretched it out manually by poking, then also then told me basically the same thing my regular doctor told me initially: my problems are all likely due to stress and poor posture at work.

Learning that your job is bad for you is awesome, especially when all of your workforce-related skills center around sitting at a computer. I don’t really feel like my job or my personal life are all that stressful, though I acknowledge there has been some recent minor stress at work. My posture, on the other hand, is the one area I’m actively working on. I’m also trying to remain diligent about completing the daily neck exercises — or “nexercises,” as I like to call them — that the PT assigned me.

When I met with the neurologist a week later, he told me I was “in disgustingly good shape,” said the chiro was right about there not being any arthritis in my neck, explained that his job was simply to make sure I’m in good enough neurological shape not to see a surgeon, and asked a bunch of questions about competitive stair climbing.

He did say the numbness while climbing stairs was a concern, but that since it happened only a couple times and that because the PT has helped, I really only need to follow up with him in 8 weeks.

In the weeks before then, I have three more chiro visits, four more PT visits, and all the clearance in the world to continue my training and competing. As it stands now, my neck still has its occasional rough days and rough moments, but generally speaking, it’s way better now than it’s been the past month and a half or so.

My only real concern now is that I’m behind schedule in my training for the Rock N Sole 5K, as well as for both of my upcoming 1-mile races. But I’d rather be able to run them a little behind schedule in my training than not be able to run them at all.

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One comment

  1. […] This was my third year running the Summerfest Rock ‘N Sole 5K. Coming into it, I wasn’t excited about the course changes, and I also wasn’t particularly sure what sort of performance to expect due to some neck issues I’m working through. […]

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