This is my journey of recovering from neck pain at Square One Active Recovery under the care of chiropractor, Jesse Cai. A truly rewarding journey that I would like to share with anyone suffering from chronic pain.
A 32 years old in the body of an 70 years old
When I was young, I would help my grandmother massage her shoulders whenever she told me that her body was aching. I would often see elderly people apply ointment or paste pain relief patches on their body to relieve muscle ache. So most elderly people suffer from body ache and soreness quite frequently, don’t they?
About a year ago, I suffered from neck pain and backache. The worst was my neck and shoulder pain. Very often, I woke up with stiff neck and shoulders and not able to rotate my head without pain. Sometimes the pain would go away but it will be back a few days later. With such chronic pain, I absolutely feel that I was living in the body of a 70 years old!
I seek manual therapies such as massage, acupuncture and cupping. These methods could only bring temporary relief as the pain never resolve completely. I suffered from daily nagging neck pain. It was like someone tearing the muscles of my right shoulder and neck apart. I knew I had to look for other alternatives. I want a sustainable solution to my pain so that I do not have to depend on others to make myself feel better.
I did a lot of search online to seek treatment for neck pain. Then I chanced upon the website of Square One Active Recovery. The words “Find Freedom from Pain” on the website caught my attention. Yes! I do want to be free from my current neck pain and backache. I read the articles and blog posts on the website and I like what Square One advocates. The practitioner was even so confident to offer “100% Money Back Guarantee” if there is no improvement to one’s symptoms. Furthermore, according to the website, 80% of the patients can leave the clinic within 4 to 7 sessions pain-free. That is quite impressive.
I decided to book my first appointment with Square One.
The first visit
The first visit started with Jesse getting to know more about my pain experience and health history. I appreciate the part where he tried his best to explain why there is pain and answer any questions that I had. Following, I was prescribed two exercises, mid-back contraction and neck retraction, to do every hourly. “Every hourly” might sound time consuming. But it was actually achievable because both exercises could be done anywhere.
A few days after doing the mid-back contraction, I could feel the muscles around my shoulder blades ache. But these were muscle ache that goes away and I actually felt quite good about it. Probably my trapezius muscle is not strong that is why I always experience pain on my shoulder blade. I diligently did the first set of exercises every hourly for one week before my second appointment on the following week.
Recovery is not all smooth sailing
The results from doing the exercises from the first visit was amazingly good. Before my second appointment, I experienced a reduction in neck and shoulder pain by at least 30%. There is no doubt that doing rehabilitation exercises is medicine for my pain. So, I thought by conscientiously doing the prescribed exercises after each visit, my pain would gradually reduce and then ultimately I could graduate out of Square One with zero pain.
Contrary to my expectations, things aren’t so straightforward for me.
In fact, I suffered from three episodes of acute neck pain throughout the journey.
The first episode happened after the third visit. I was prescribed a simple isometric exercise (upper trapezius resisted isometric) where I was supposed to push my head into my left hand placed on the right side of my head. However, I pushed too hard and it resulted in an acute pain on my left side. I was taken aback and immediately texted Jesse who advised me to stop all the exercises for a few days. Thankfully, the pain subsided over the next few days. Surprisely, from then on, I experienced pain on the left side of my shoulder and neck, no longer on the right side that I always had. You mean the pain can change side just like that?
As for the second and third episode of acute pain, I still could not figure out why and how they happened. I just woke up in the morning and found it so painful to even lift my head up from the pillow. It was definitely not because of the exercises prescribed, but most probably, how I did the exercises without relaxing my neck.
It is depressing to experience neck muscle strain during the recovery journey. Especially when I have to manage the excruciating pain and at the same time, not knowing exactly when I will get better. Recovery from my neck problems surely wasn’t as simple as what I expected.
The Prescribed Exercises
Jesse is not the usual chiropractor you would expect to see because he does not offer chiropractic adjustment. Instead, he believes in empowering his clients with exercises that are highly effective in targeting the problems.
The set of exercises prescribed by Jesse takes into account one’s needs and ability, in terms of the intensity and dosage. Jesse will first assess my ability to do the exercises and then ask how the pain feels. He does not over prescribe and impose exercises that I cannot do. For example, Jesse started me with box plank tap first and then in the subsequent visit, increased the difficulty to floor plank tap and then side plank tap. Day by day, as I do the exercises, I can feel an improvement in my strength.
Some of the exercises may seem difficult especially when it is my first time doing them. But I realise that after three to four days of doing the exercises, I can do them with greater ease. A great sense of achievement felt!
My most memorable exercise was the hip hinge exercise where I need to place a broom handle on my back and tilt my pelvic so as to close the gap between my back and the broomstick. I didn’t know such simple movement would be so tiring to my back. But somehow, I enjoy doing this exercise. To my surprise, this simple exercise helps in relieving the shoulder pain that I was experiencing.
Quality Care and Holistic Approach
Jesse is a passionate practitioner who believes strongly in giving evidence-based treatment and education. I appreciate that he shares articles or journals with me about pain and recovery. They help me to have a clearer idea about my pain and what to expect during the recovery process.
There was once when I shared my outburst of anger to my daughter (which potentially resulted in one of my neck strain episodes) to Jesse. He introduced meditation as a way to control my emotions and manage my pain experience. I tried the app titled “Waking Up” which he recommended to try out meditation. This was an excellent app to learn about mindfulness and meditation. I was so intrigued by Sam Harris, the author of the “Waking Up” app, that I took a step further to read his book, also titled “Waking Up”. In his book, I learnt more about observing my thoughts and experiences as a way to better control my emotions.
Jesse works closely and collaboratively with his clients. He would frequently check that the exercises are going well and provide advice in between visits if necessary. I am sure no other practitioners provide such quality care for their patients. Given that I have several episodes of neck muscles strain, I am glad that I can contact him easily to give me advice on how to manage my pain.
Process over outcome
According to Jesse, 80% of his clients can be totally pain free by 7th session. Sad to say, I fall into that 20%. Into my 9th session already and I still cannot experience zero pain. Well, there are always cases which are more complicated right?
Nevertheless, I never felt unfortunate to be that 20% who takes more than 7 sessions to recover. In fact, I felt very thankful for all my experiences at Square One. The recovery process has been so fulfilling and rewarding.
Here are some of the best things that happened to me during my recovery journey.
#1 My body have become stronger.
Six months of doing the prescribed exercises has transformed my body and I feel so much fitter now. Now, I can take care of my kids the whole day without feeling as exhausted as I was before. I am glad to be exposed to weight training exercises, as these are important exercises to maintain a strong and healthy body.
#2 I learn that relaxing is an important part of pain management.
The demands of everyday life as a working mother makes it difficult for me to unwind. An interesting and important discovery for me is that I cannot relax my shoulder and this is what causes me to have neck pain. Self-care methods like meditation and spending time with my loved ones are important in my recovery. I become more mindful about my pain when I set aside time and space for myself.
#3 I am empowered with exercises to work my pain away.
If you want the pain relief to be permanent and sustainable, you have to depend on your own hard work and effort. It takes time but it is all worth it. There is already a significant decrease in pain for me; I am no longer suffering from the neck and shoulder pain a year ago. Now, with a stronger body, I don’t have to worry that the pain and ache will be back!
It can be a very depressing to experience chronic pain, especially when the people around you do not understand your pain. Here are my tips for anyone suffering chronic pain:
- Do not bear with the pain and find solution early. There are always people out there who can help.
- Read up on reviews and any information about the practitioner whom you are going to seek help from. Only when you are comfortable with the works of your practitioner then you can trust him or her to help you in your recovery.
- There are always up and down during the recovery journey. Sometimes you can even get more pain when you least expect it. Persevere and stay positive throughout the journey. Recovery takes time and have confidence in yourself.
Finally and the most importantly, enjoy every moment of the recovery process, be it pleasant or unpleasant times, embrace it and learn from the precious experiences. Good luck!
This article was published in full as received with only one exception: I removed the courtesy title “Dr” from my name in the opening address.
I would like to express my utmost gratitude to the client for taking the time to open up her recovery process to share with all of you. It is no easy feat to recount personal”failures” as well as the authentic, emotional experiences commonly experienced through recovering from chronic pain.
I believe this to be a largely true and accurate representation of how an evidence-based treatment should look.
We do not condone magical snake oil treatments that promise unrealistic and unreasonable treatment outcomes.