I think I have a herniated disc in my neck. Or two. My guess is around C5-6 or 6-7. Or both. I don't really know because I've never had the imaging done. Why bother? The symptoms have never gotten to the point where I was going to do anything besides conservative treatment for it anyway. I'm not sure where it started, but I know a couple of things that really got it rolling.
My neck was feeling a little stiff when I signed up for the second massage that I ever got in my life. That was before I moved out here, so it was not given by one of the excellent massage therapists that I see out here. And it was only my second one, so I wasn't as vocal as I am now. Anyway, I told her my neck was sore, so she bent my neck forward and rotated at the same time to stretch it. It wasn't real comfortable, and I should have said something, but I don't remember it actually being painful at the time. What I do remember is that my shoulder (well, between my neck and shoulder) was achy the next day. I thought it was just muscle soreness, but it lasted for several weeks. I started to work on some different things for my shoulder, but it didn't seem to help all that much. Then I started paying attention to my neck and realized that the pain was referring from my neck.
After a few weeks, it went away for the most part for a while. Occasionally it might fire up a bit, but it never lasted long, and even in that few weeks, it didn't really affect how I was moving. I just felt it. When I moved out here, I started working with a personal trainer some. When I was using my arms a lot, I really got it wound up a couple of times. It was hard to turn my head all the way, and there were a couple of times that I needed one of the other therapists to do a quick treatment for me. The trainer really knows his stuff, so he corrected what I was doing (he actually was able to tell me ahead of time, but I did the wrong thing without thinking... Not his fault.)
But where it really got bad is when I fell and hit my head on a rock. That happened almost 18 months ago, and it was a bad fall. I probably fell at least 5 or 6 feet and had to get 4 staples in my head (and I was just hiking, how silly can you be?!) I felt like a complete moron and I also had this crazy "what the frick am I going to do now" thing going on in my head right after the fall. Because who would I call out here to come help me? At first, I wasn't sure if I could drive (didn't want to take the chance if I had a concussion). I mean, there are friends here that would totally be willing to help, but no one that I really wanted to call. By the time I got to the car, I was completely confident that I was okay to drive, and I was able to get to the doctor with no problem. By the time I got there, they asked about my pain, and I answered for the pain in my head (which was extremely minor), but I was just then starting to notice the pain in my neck. And it was really getting bad quickly.
I couldn't turn my head very far. It hurt to use my right arm (which is a really big problem when I'm really right hand dominant and use my hands a lot in my work). I only saw a couple patients the next day before I realized that I couldn't do it. I had the next week off for vacation, which was a good thing, but driving with it all wasn't very fun. It would also give me headaches.
That was all at it's worst, and it didn't stay that bad for very long, but I had pain with turning my head with driving for months. I would get pain in my upper shoulders and into my neck all the time with work and would go home with headaches. I could always feel it reaching to shut off my alarm clock or reaching overhead. I had to be really careful when I was climbing and had to go for easier climbs and fewer climbs because otherwise I would flare it all up again. I could get the pain fairly well managed, but never gone. Massages helped a lot to keep my functioning, but I got used to dealing with a low grade of pain constantly.
I rarely thought of myself as someone with chronic pain, but the definition of chronic pain is pain that lasts greater than 3 months. So... Yeah. That'd be chronic pain. Even though I never got many of the symptoms that I mentioned in this post, I still had a few, such as the chronic tightness.
Wow, so how bored are you right now? ;) Anyway, I have a specific reason for the things I told you here. I'm going to be referring back to it when I try to explain some of what I've been learning. It's easier to give you my personal story than trying to generalize things. Just so you're not in suspense, though, I have been more pain free in the couple of weeks than I've been in the last 18 months. It's a combination of things that's helped over time, but some of what I've been studying recently has helped me get over the place where I was stuck.