What a headache!

What a HEADACHE!

You might think that living with chronic pain from RA is enough to deal with on a daily basis. I think it’s more than enough, personally. But apparently I don’t have enough pain in my life because I also suffer from intensely painful headaches quite frequently. And right now is one of those times! Well, my headaches began to flare up a couple weeks ago around when I started my kindergarten substitute teaching job, which is probably not a coincidence. I think the stress of dealing with a room full of loud, rambunctious kindergarteners all day every day would give anybody a headache!

Most of my chronic headaches are tension headaches that sometimes (but rarely) turn into migraines. Some people might think that tension headaches aren’t that big of a deal, and for many people they aren’t — they’re minor annoyances that go away quickly. Unfortunately that’s not the case with mine. My headaches become so blindingly painful that I can’t do anything except lie down for days. They are debilitating and limit the quality of my life.

I first started getting these bad tension headaches when I was about 19, I think. After months of doctor appointments with no answers (and no relief), I wound up being referred to a neurologist who diagnosed me and then ordered a course of physical therapy to get the pain and inflamed muscles affecting my head under control. Strangely, my headaches started not that long after I was diagnosed with RA. I’ve often wondered if there’s a connection there or what exactly that connection is. It makes sense that stress can cause a person’s RA to flare up and get worse. But could RA also trigger headaches? Dealing with chronic pain is very hard and stressful on your body. Is the reason why I tense up so much because of my RA pain? Do other RA patients suffer from tension headaches similar to mine or migraines? I’d be interested to hear of others’ experiences with this and if it’s a common thing.

But back to my latest throbbing, stabbing, piercing, aching, grating, squeezing, pulsing headache. When I could tell that it was getting worse last week, I tried to remember to do some of my neck stretches and exercises that I learned from multiple sessions of physical therapy over the years. Usually this works, but not this time. In addition to stress, and possibly the pain from RA, another contributor to my headaches is that I have the bad habit of clenching my teeth and jaw. I’ve tried different exercises and tricks to stop doing this, yet I always end up unconsciously gritting my teeth throughout the day and at night. I suspect that my teeth clenching has been especially bad and severe regarding this latest headache flare-up which is making it a lot harder for my pain to calm down and go away.

Almost in tears, I went to Urgent Care last Monday evening, desperate for some relief. Thankfully I was able to see a very nice, patient doctor who listened to my history of headaches and my RA and he eased my worry that I was now developing some kind of crazy never-ending migraines. Or that I had something worse: a BRAIN TUMOR. He assured my delirious-from-pain self that I did not have a brain tumor and sent me off with prescriptions for Percocet and Ativan to try to “knock it out,” as he said.

I’m happy to report that my headache from hell is mostly “knocked out,” although not completely gone yet. I know that I’m in major need of relaxation and de-stressing myself otherwise not only will my RA flare up, but so will these awful headaches and who knows what else. The body-stress connection is a pretty amazing thing.

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