Headaches and migraines run in Erin’s family, so it was no surprise when her daughter began to complain of headaches. When Rachel started missing school and had used up Erin’s bag of tricks for relief, it was time to get Rachel some expert help. Rachel was referred to The Pain Center at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital by her pediatrician for treatment of chronic tension headaches.
Erin recalls how kind and wonderful the staff at The Pain Center was to her daughter. Rachel embraced the program and seamlessly integrated the principles of it into her life. She’s now headache free and a freshman at Michigan State University where she passes on to her stressed-out fellow students the information she learned through the Headache Program. Rachel’s story had a fast and happy ending.
But during the time Rachel was receiving holistic and non-invasive treatment at The Pain Center, Erin was suffering greatly from headaches – as well as suffering from the treatment. She wondered why her own doctors weren’t referring her to The Pain Center.
Debilitating pain leads to life on meds
Erin also began getting headaches in her teen years, specifically migraines without aura, but it was in 2005 − about the same time her daughter was being treated at The Pain Center − that her migraines became so debilitating the quality of her life deteriorated.
However, Erin trusted her doctors and was determined to do whatever her medical professionals prescribed.
“First, I was trying working with my MD,“ Erin said. “Then we tried a neurologist. I saw him for a year, and he did nothing but prescribe me a new drug every month or two. It was really pretty awful.”
Desperate for pain relief, Erin continued to trial medications, a journey that lasted about 5 years. She had preventative medications as well as rescue meds for when the pain was dire – all with side effects.
“I know at one point I was on something, I don’t remember what it was, but it honestly made me stupid. I remember telling my kids ‘I’m sorry. It’s these meds I’m on. I can’t remember anything. But if it helps my migraines, I’m going to be on it for the rest of my life, and you’re just going to have to be patient with me.’”
Erin became alarmed when she found herself on anti-seizure medication and underwent a lumbar puncture to test the pressure in her head. As a last resort, Erin agreed to Botox injections in her forehead and temples. She can laugh about the experience now, describing how peculiar it was not to be able to move her eyebrows.
Depression and inactivity set in
In addition to the physical side effects of the medications, Erin recalls being very depressed during this time of chronic and crushing pain.
“I felt bad about my relationship with my daughters. I was practically an invalid. I didn’t want (my daughters) to have a mom who’s an invalid. I didn’t want them to remember me that way. I didn’t want them to have to take care of me or be considerate of me. I wanted them to be inconsiderate and take me for granted, you know, like happy kids do.”
During the 5 years of Erin’s debilitating headaches, her life was on hold. Eventually, Erin was able to function through some of her pain, but she was careful to monitor what she thought were all her headache triggers – being at the movies, loud noises, working on the computer – because nearly all stimuli would bring on a migraine.
Erin thought about job hunting or going back to school, but realized she wouldn’t be able to physically handle that, either. And, when her pain became too much, Erin would take her meds, go to bed, and hope to sleep off her headache.
Attacking the pain from all angles
At last, with no more medical interventions available, Erin found her way to The Pain Center’s 12-week Headache Program.
“Everyone was tremendously compassionate,” Erin says. “The team approach is so effective. Often these things aren’t simple. We needed to attack it from all angles at the same time…For me, the physical therapy was the real break-through.”
Erin’s physical therapist helped her learn better alignment and posture for all of her daily activities. Additionally, Erin learned stretches that still help her with pain prevention today.
Stress and tension were big factors when it came to Erin’s migraines. With the help of physical therapy and biofeedback, Erin learned to decrease and eliminate muscle tension in her body. But even before treatment at The Pain Center, Erin recognized she needed to deal with stress, which led to a new activity – Taekwon-Do.
Three and half years after beginning the martial art, Erin is now a high red belt, which makes her a black belt candidate. She even landed herself a job at her dojang.
“Punching and kicking things is really good stress relief,” Erin says with a laugh.
While the physical therapy was very powerful for Erin’s pain relief, she believes that it was being listened to by The Pain Center’s team that was most helpful.
“Chronic pain is a lonely experience. You look and sound normal. People don’t understand or don’t know you’re in pain. Or they’re sick of hearing about it, or you’re sick of talking about it. So, you don’t talk about it anymore. There’s nothing anyone can do about it anyway. You hunker down and get through it.”
She’s a lot more fun now!
When asked how she’s changed since her treatment at The Pain Center, Erin laughs again.
“I’m a lot more fun now!” Erin reports. “I’m not telling people to turn things down all the time. I cook more. I’m on my feet doing stuff. I’m socializing more. Before, I would plan something with friends and have to cancel. I stopped making plans because there was such a good chance I would cancel. I’m keeping up with friends and family a lot more now.”
While Erin readily admits Headache Program at The Pain Center is a lot of work, she also says that it was time well spent.
“I was very tenacious and I followed all the instructions. Sometimes, physical therapy makes things hurt more before they feel better. But I showed up, did the work, and it absolutely worked.”
Rachel, via email, seconds her mom’s thoughts about the Headache Program.
“The program definitely made a huge impact on my life,” Rachel wrote. “The most helpful part of the program, for me, was learning stretches and mental stress management techniques that I could keep doing on my own after I was done with the program. I still use them now. It improved my quality of life, without a doubt. I no longer had to worry every day when my headache was going to hit. And, when I did get one, I knew how to get rid of it. I’m so glad I did the program, and I’m glad it was able to help my mom, too.”