Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Peering into the abyss...

Our worst fears have been realised.... it is CRPS causing the ongoing problems with my arm.

The most recent photo of my arm
I went to see the Physio again on Monday, armed with my pain diary and several photos we had taken during the time since the massive flare caused by the exercises/massage and the appointment.

The photos had been a huge shock to me, because I can't actually see the side of my arm, so had no idea just how bad it was. The symptoms of CRPS were clear to see. Swelling, colour and temperature changes plus a shiny sheen to the skin. Add this to the throbbing pains despite 50mg of morphine flowing round my body 24/7 and it was pretty damning. The Physio confirmed it, saying there was no way the symptoms could be explained by an injury. Especially as this has been going on since March if not earlier. Where we thought he'd found something wrong, the reaction to the treatment was over the top in the extreme.

He is going to write to my Pain Consultant urgently to refer me and hopefully they will get me in quickly. Not holding my breath though after being told I'd have to be referred as a new patient when I contacted the Pain Clinic direct (see previous blog post). I can only hope that I bypass the new patient pre-assessment for which there is a huge waiting time by virtue of the fact that the Physio has already examined, tried to treat and diagnosed CRPS in my arm. I do have the certainty of seeing my Pain Consultant in September/October as I see him every six months. Even this means yet more waiting, time which I can little afford to lose. If you stand any chance of getting CRPS into remission it needs aggressive treatment within the first three months of it starting. Anything after that and you are starting to fight a losing battle. Which is why my legs are as bad as they are. I was nearly six months before we got a diagnosis and it had already moved into the other leg and up to the knees in both.

Of course the difference this time around is that I know my enemy intimately. I am already taking appropriate medication for CRPS because of my legs. OK, they don't do a lot but any help is better than nothing. The critical thing in fighting CRPS though, is to keep the mobility, the range of movement and the use of the affected area. So much of the time before my legs were diagnosed was wasted, I was told to rest as they didn't know what was going on. Totally the wrong thing to do, as I now know to my cost. Every moment of rest let CRPS get a little worse, increasing the pain which in turn made it ever harder to do anything with my legs. I can't push through the pain at all, it is just too bad. Being realistic, the CRPS was so aggressive in my legs I doubt we could have kept it at bay, restricted it to one leg or stopped it moving upwards. But there would have been a chance, however small.

Which brings me back to my arm. Ever since the x-rays came back clear in late April/early May I worked really hard and got back the full range of movement in the shoulder and upper arm. Purely and simply by doing things with the arm regardless of how much it hurt. Pushing through the pain, refusing to let it stop me. Of course the pain never went away, it was and is always there in varying degrees but when I first saw the Physio he was extremely impressed with the 'superb range of movement' I had.

With the benefit of hindsight, trying to treat a problem with the deltoid tendon was the worse possible thing we could have done. After a few days I couldn't do anything at all with the arm, it was horrendous. It felt like I'd lost all the strength. I couldn't stretch it out sideways, forwards, lift it up or anything. The pain was completely off the scale, Oramorph didn't help, I could do absolutely nothing for myself. It was like a massive CRPS flare, which, looking back, is of course what it was. The exercises were stopped and I was told to completely rest it. No archery, no moving the arm above shoulder level. For the next day I could do nothing else but rest it and it settled a little. Me being me, over the next couple of days I had to gently try and move it a little bit. And then a bit more. I started to get the strength back (which of course I'd never lost, I just couldn't use it because it hurt too much), could lift my iPad up for example which is on the table next to me and it was a bit better when Eric helped me out of my chair (I push up whilst he pulls).

Of course I had to do some archery, if only to see whether I could still do it. So a week after stopping the exercises I shot two dozen arrows. Completely pain free! It was a wonderful feeling and seemed to improve the arm if anything. Meanwhile resting it just increased the swelling, the colouring and of course the pain in the arm. Should I do as the Physio advised and continue to rest it completely or do what I felt I should do, namely keep it moving? Of course I did what felt best and so worked on pushing through the pain as I had before. Which is where I am now as I write this. The arm still constantly throbs, becomes worse when it's moved and recently hurts more when exposed to airflow (not very helpful when you have a fan on because it's so hot).

The reality of having CRPS in a third limb has sunk in a bit and I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a bit fearful of what the future will bring. What if it continues to get worse or moves down the arm? Moves to the other arm? Life is of course going to be harder because I can't support myself as I could, I am ever more dependent on Eric. I am more restricted in what I can do, for example gardening. I used to do loads of stuff in the raised beds, will I still be able to carry on doing that? I worry even more about my weight because I am less active than I was and can't see a way of doing anything about it. Using the Wii to play tennis is out, too much for the arm. I can't believe my luck that archery seems to be the perfect activity but how long will that last? Will archery become impossible at some point? When I eventually get to the pain clinic will they be able to do anything with the arm (nerve blocks etc) bearing in mind everything failed miserably on my legs?

I could go on, but what's the point? It doesn't make my situation any different, so it's a waste of energy. The future will bring what it will. No, I have to concentrate on what I can do now, the positives. Continue to push through the pain, fight to keep the function I have in the arm, the range of movement. It will no doubt flare just like my legs do, but since when has that ever stopped me?  I will do everything I possibly can to keep the CRPS at bay. Continuing archery is a given. Of course!
Come on CRPS, do your damnedest!!!


  1. It's a cruel condition that is doing its damnedest to make you immobile but I know you well enough to know you are too strong a character to just sit idly by and wait got it to do its worse. So all I can say my friend is keep fighting, keep doing what you enjoy and never stop sticking 2 fingers up to CRPS.

  2. Listen to your body. I have CRPS that affects my neck shoulder and arm. When I'm active with light resistance exercises like swimming, etc, my pain subsides or goes away. When I rest my arm or use it for repetitive tasks (I type a lot for work), it comes back in spades. Also, look into gabapentin as a treatment option. I find that it is particularly helpful with the neuropathic pain I have that seems to be the trigger for increased overall pain.


Comments are always welcome....