Although cerebral palsy is often thought of as a disability that mostly affects children, it is important to point out that its effects last a lifetime. I ought to know – I have lived with CP since shortly after my birth in the early 1960s and experienced the physical and emotional downside of the most common disabling motor disorder first hand.
When I was younger, I rarely experienced physical pain that was caused solely by the symptoms of CP. Sure, my neck and back muscles would get a little sore whenever I tried to sit still and upright for long periods of time.
However, the pain would ease off and even go away when I relaxed. Most of the time, though, if I experienced soreness or severe pain, it was usually rehabilitative pain caused by exercises I performed in physical therapy or the usual scrapes, bumps, or cuts kids get when they fall or play too roughly.
Now that I’m in my early 50s, though, this is no longer the case.
In a 2009 article in Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, author-researcher Peterson Haak says that individuals with CP tend to suffer from aging-related aches and pains at an earlier age than their non-disabled peers – sometimes as early as in their 20s. According to Haak, “early onset of musculoskeletal complaints was particularly prominent in persons with CP.” He also wrote,
Possible causes of decreased function and mobility mentioned were changes in muscle flexibility, strength, and endurance; increased spasticity; arthritis; falls and fractures; pain; and fatigue.”
I can’t pinpoint, exactly, when my issues with back pain started. Certainly it wasn’t in my 20s – I would have had a harder time coping with the challenges of early adulthood than I actually did if, on top of the pressures of college life and trying to find work, I had suffered from chronic or semi-chronic back pain. I can say the same thing about my 30s or early 40s – the only outward sign of early aging back then was the appearance of my first gray hairs.
However, over the past few years, I, too, have started suffering from back pains and other issues that affect me on a daily basis.
Now, I’m not going to tell you that I experience excruciating back pain on a regular basis. Thankfully, this is not the case. There have been several occasions when I’ve felt shooting or stabbing pains in my upper back and/or shoulders. Not many, thank goodness, but when they occur, the pain is so intense that it feels as though all the nerve endings in my upper body are on fire. These flare-ups usually last between five to 20 minutes, then gradually fade away till all I feel is a dull ache on my left shoulder.
The most common back issue I have these days is a nagging muscle pain that starts between my left shoulder blade and my neck. Although it’s not as painful as, say, an irritated sciatic nerve or one of those flare-ups I described earlier, this pain pays me unwelcome visits almost every day. While I believe that the main culprits for this discomfort are high levels of tension and stress, I’m sure that my CP-derived inability to sit straight for long periods of time is a contributing factor as well.
I am not fond of taking medications, so I deal with these back pain issues by relaxing as often as my responsibilities will let me. Taking hot showers helps loosen up tight back, neck, and shoulder muscles. So does a 10-to-15-minute long session on my home office’s massage chair. Sometimes, going out for a walk or listening to soothing classical music takes the edge off the dull but semi-permanent aches and pains.
I only resort to taking Extra Strength Tylenol or seeking medical attention if the soreness is so severe that I see entire galaxies floating in front of my eyes. This has worked out for me rather well – I’ve only seen my primary care physician twice over the past five years for back pain issues, and both times the problem has been resolved with a prescription for Flexeril, a powerful muscle relaxant.