Everybody Has a Story: Muscle ailment brings the pain — and respect

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At the end of a one-hour gym routine, I notice discomfort in my upper right arm. Figuring it’s due to lack of exercise of those muscles, and that the pain will subside in time, I ignore it. To help expedite the situation, I rig up some weights at home using pennies and glass jars.

But enough is enough, eventually, and I need to find what is causing this muscle to ache. Onto the Internet, I venture, first finding a schematic of human muscles of the upper arm: biceps, triceps and deltoid. I then run my forefinger along my triceps — nope, nothing — then the biceps — all normal — then north to the deltoid muscle near the shoulder.

Ouch! Found it! Since exercising has not relieved the discomfort, I now research how to relieve deltoid pain. Eventually, I come to three YouTube videos.

The first video features an Australian who places a tennis ball on his sore deltoid, leans against a wall, applies pressure, lingers about one minute and then repeats on another sore area. Easy enough, I thought. In the second video, an Englishman demonstrates sinking two fingers into the spot where the arm and shoulder meet, then moving the arm forward.

The third video confirms the tennis ball routine from my Australian friend but gives two additional, easy exercises that involve grabbing the sore muscle and pulling and moving it. Both are supposed to relax the muscle, making the soreness history. Throughout Sunday evening I apply these procedures, with overflowing confidence that the “pain in the mambo” would soon be over. Hallelujah!

Monday morning, in intense pain, I continue applying these treatments. (“This will take time and be very painful,” my Australian and English friends kept repeating. No kidding). Later, I go to the gym and use one of those foam rollers in the same fashion as the tennis ball. But each piece of clothing I put on while dressing creates teeth-clenching pain, like having dental surgery but being given no pain pills after the anaesthetic wears off. I’ve made a huge mistake.

Arriving home, I consume four brown beauties of ibuprofen, and through excruciating pain continue the massage tricks on the arm, all the while thinking back to the mantra of those videos. Confidence is high, as Monday closes, that the morning will bring satisfaction.

Tuesday dawns with extreme pain as I hoist up out of bed. The entire upper portion of the arm is locked tight. No movement without severe pain. Then, as if a 16-ton weight dropped on the old head, I realize the videos were for new pain — not after you’ve ignored it for X amount of time, hoping it would go away, and in the meantime compounded the problem by working the muscle. I stop the treatment and momentarily bask in the horror of what may have occurred, hoping a doctor’s intervention is not needed.

On Wednesday, the deltoid still has that dental surgery sensation, so I assess the situation (Mom was a nurse and taught us basic first aid) and find nothing swollen, red or burning. All looks OK from the outside — but seven layers deep, a problem remains. This puts me at ease, knowing for sure the only thing I have to do is wait and keep the ibuprofen bottle close at hand for temporarily, blissful relief.

Daily functions take on a whole new meaning as the right arm hangs to the side. I walk the dog and forget not to use that arm; Smokey Joe is not afraid to remind me as he tugs on his leash, yanking the deltoid. Taking a shower is slower with just one arm, and dressing afterwards becomes uncomfortable. Simple tasks take longer. Exhaustion overcomes, from all the extra work. Nothing more can be done, not even, sigh, writing. Sleeping, too, is a challenge as I lay in bed, pressure and gravity pushing down on the deltoid region.

Amazing discoveries come out of unintended moments. I remember a similar circumstance a few years ago when suffering from pleurisy, and then I sleep in a comfortable, upright chair with an ottoman, keeping the body at a 90-degree angle and, what ho, deep sleep returns! The pain diminishes, but is still intense.

Now into the fourth day of recovery, the deltoid is still sore with about 25 percent movement and many days ahead. In all of my five years of working out in a gym, this is a first for me. I’ve experienced stiffness after workouts but nothing to this extent. I never realized the importance of a healthy deltoid. Over these past days, limping along as a one-armed man trying to eat, dress, bathe, walk my dog, sleep, even use one finger to peck out this story — I’ve tasted what individuals go through with permanent loss of a limb. My hat is off to these folks and their courage.

Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Email is the best way to send materials so we don’t have to retype your words or borrow original photos. Send to neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA 98666. Call Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.