Assessing Mild Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (MHOT) in the treatment of the chronic pain I have been experiencing as a C5/6 quadriplegic.
Being a quadriplegic I have battled a number of different sources of pain that have at times completely consumed me and my ability to pursue much of a “normal life.” By normal I mean in the way of having the ability to be doing the things I’d actually like to be doing- going out with friends, rehabbing my body, enjoying the outdoors, participating in positive conversations and not having to rush home from work to climb directly into bed. The persistent pain from a taxed nervous system, musculoskeletal misalignment and sore and spastic muscles had me convinced that simple comfort was something that was slipping further and further away from me. I was often finding myself mentally tormented by my inability to participate in the world around me.
I’ve most often explained my nerve pain as a superficial burning that can ebb and flow throughout the day, dipping and diving depending on body temp, seating position, spasticity, hydration, state of my bladder, digestion and of course stress. All of these things integrally affect one another by the moment.
If you’ve had the experience of taking a short break from the hot tub to jump in powder snow and then returned to the hot tub to be met by the burning pins and needles of a confused nervous system, then you’ve felt something similar to my nerve pain. If that’s not as widely a shared experience as a Colorado raised kid would think, then imagine the pins and needles of standing on a foot that has fallen asleep and is slowly waking up covering 85% of your body. Ruthless, uncomfortable and unfortunately part of my life, I had accepted this as a part of my injury.
Over the past four years, my experience with nerve pain has dictated my bandwidth for most everything in life. Everything from my ability to comfortably sit through a workday and have energy for much of anything after work, to how much sleep my body will allow itself throughout the night is affected by these unrelenting pins and needles.
There are additional layers of musculoskeletal pain from 6 years of posture forced by not-quite-right seating systems and prioritizing long days behind a desk over the time consuming pursuit of physical therapy. The constant battle against atrophy, pinched nerves, sore muscles and tightening ligaments add more layers that constantly irritate and often leave me feeling twice my age when it comes to physical bandwidth. I push my body incredibly hard through all this pain as moving forward through my day is often the only effective distraction.
My first experience with Mild Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy came as a suggestion from Andrea while I was dealing with a pressure sore that did not seem to want to move in the right direction. It was the second pressure sore I had experienced, the first of which left me in bed for four months waiting for my poor circulation to slowly close a wound on my leg smaller than a quarter. It was devastating when my second pressure sore showed up on the end of my toe- a small red mark that slowly turned into another stent on bed rest as sitting in my chair was only moving it in the wrong direction.
After seeking out a Mild Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber (MHOC) in nearby Vancouver, WA, I committed to 13 hours to see if it was for me. My body responded to the chamber almost immediately. Within my first couple sessions you could visibly see the circumference of the wound shrinking.
Somewhere around the 10th hour, I experienced a session that was noticeably different from those before. When the chamber pressurized, I noticed that my nerve pain, which had been quite fierce that day, was suddenly nearly nonexistent. At that time, the reduction in pain only lasted while I was in the chamber. I didn’t pursue this curiosity any further, as I was originally there for the pressure sore which was rapidly resolving itself. It was also quite a challenge to fit commuting into my schedule in a way that allowed me to have consecutive treatments, so I stopped traveling to Vancouver, though the pain relief that I had experienced during my final few sessions stuck in my mind.
Fast-forward a few months and my third pressure sore unfortunately came into my life and in the worst possible place – right on my ischial tuberosity, aka butt, a region that takes a lot of pressure while sitting.
Everything about having to be on bed rest due to a pressure sore can have a negative impact on your health – you’re moving even less, appetite decreases, sleeping is difficult and stress factors increase. You can also feel your muscles quickly atrophying, which is quite painful. The best thing to do is get out of bed as soon as possible, though your bodies ability to heal self dictates that timeline. It’s really quite a helpless feeling being stuck in bed for that long- especially when you’re seeing the wound move in the wrong direction.
As a healthcare professional, Andrea was quite amazed with the chamber’s ability to expedite the pressure wound healing process that I had previously experienced as well as intrigued by the many other health issues the MHOC could potentially help with. Andrea had been interested in acquiring a MHOC for her health and wellness clinic for a multitude of reasons and seeing me suffering, she decided there was no better time to make it happen.
So a MHOC suddenly shows up at our front door and I get to be the lucky guinea pig. We knew it was going to help the pressure sore so at that point the nerve pain and the other benefits it could potential bring were not really even on my radar. During my second session in the chamber I experienced the same reduction nerve pain that I had experienced months before, the only unfortunate thing being that upon depressurizing I could feel the nerve pain creeping back over me.
This trend continued throughout the next 10- hour-long sessions- the same reduction in pain with nerve pain returning upon depressurizing.
Then, I started to notice that the pain reduction was lasting longer and longer. First it was a few hours after the session and then it was throughout the night. Then amazingly, I started to notice I was in less pain at work, a place where I can clearly gauge what type of shape my body is in around the time I take my noon meds.
I was also noticing that while in the chamber, my body seemed to be in a state of complete calm and badly desiring rest, ready to heal and exhausted from it. I started to realize that my nervous system has been in a state of shock for nearly 7 years and this was the closest I have felt to being in my former body. The reduction in my nerve pain was so significant and so profound that I started to take for granted the other effects that were taking place in my body.
After 15 hours, my pressure sore was nearly nonexistent, I was sleeping much better and more consistently through the night, and the reduction in nerve pain was significant enough that I considered discontinuing a nerve pain medication called Lyrica that I had been taking over the past year.
I can only imagine September and hours 20-40 would have been much easier had I not decided to discontinue the Lyrica. I stayed vigilant about spending time in the chamber but my body was going through all sorts of Lyrica withdrawal related hell. One consistent thing with the chamber sessions was that I would always experience the reduction in pain while pressurized. Unfortunately, my spasticity and other symptoms from the Lyrica withdrawal would come right in behind the chamber session and start kicking my ass. It was frustrating, but I knew that my body was still moving in the right direction and getting rid of something that could make me feel this nasty could only be a good thing. I routinely imagined that it would’ve been a nearly impossible experience without the relief from the chamber sessions.
Throughout September, it was noticeable that I was feeling much better in some regards while still suffering in others. Andrea was amazed that you couldn’t even find the spot where my pressure sore had previously been. Before the chamber, the sore looked like it would’ve left a significant a permanent scar.
I started to notice many other changes as well- I was sitting in my chair for much longer after work and my energy levels had drastically improved. The significant edema that I used to deal within my feet was nearly nonexistent and my hemorrhoids were trending in a positive direction. My body was much warmer and not constantly catching chills. I also found myself forgetting to take my spasm medication Baclofen at my normal intervals, as my body wasn’t calling as loudly for it.
Most amazingly, as I sit here today, I do not feel the burning needles poking through my skin. I occasionally feel warm, dull needles and my musculoskeletal pains source is more evident as well as digestive and bladder issues more defined due to not having the blanket of nerve pain.
Andrea and I were reflecting on my experience with MHOT and how my health has benefited and she asked if I “thought my nerve pain was 50% better?” I didn’t hesitate in replying “more like 80%!” With this decrease in nerve pain I hope I can begin to effectively tackle some of the other painful issues with my body as I now have more bandwidth for exercise and therapy. I’m also finding more energy to go out and participate in the activities in life that make me feel “normal,” realizing that for now the physical downward spiral I thought was inevitable has come back into my control.
13 thoughts on “40 Hours Deep”
This is an inspiring post, and a fantastic result. Wishing you continued
improvement each day.
Inspiring Riley. Words of fire and actions of progress.?
Yeah buddy! So so glad you’re finding something that’s working!
Missing you at the Meeting right now but always searching for the magical trike.
Thanks for sharing your progress. You’re a great writer and it’s inspiring to join you from afar as You work through such monumental life challenges with grace.
Very encouraging narrative. So happy to hear of your ongoing progress. Please check out Dr. whitaker’s treatment for diabetic and pressure sores. http://Www.drwhitaker.com. It may sound bizarre, but it’s an old treatment that a few hospitals have begun to use again, because it works, and quickly. I look forward to hearing of your continued improvement in all the many challenges you have faced.
You are such an inspiration Riley! I feel so honored to know you and share in your healing process. Thank you for taking the time to journal about your pain and suffering as well as your healing. We gain knowledge and strength through others who take the risk of laying it all out on the line. With your courage and tenacity, you will help many others who are in need of hope. You are such a blessing! Be well and keep diving!
As ALWAYS – a fantastic post Riley. And as always…. please keep them coming when you can.
Greetings from Australia! Your post strikes so many chords. People just don’t fully appreciate the pain that accompanies SCI, both the nerve and musculoskeletal. My scoliosis is beginning to become a real issue. I always describe my nerve pain the same way: like frostbite warmed up as your hands begin to regain sensation. I gave up Lyrica very quickly as it didn’t make one iota of difference and I’m averse to taking chemicals just because they’re prescribed. Im also weaning off Baclofen, down to just 30mg per day. I’d never heard of using hyperbaric treatment but I’ll definitely look into not whether it’s available here. Oh to be COMFORTABLE again, even if only for a short time! Thanks Riley. Glad I joined this group last week aleady!!
As an ASIA D, T-4,5 level x 4+ yrs, couldn’t agree more with your Lyrica posts, and your SCI pain descriptions. Studies have now proven opioids and NSAIDS are inefective, and Lyrica should be added to that group. I self-tapered off Fentanyl patches last June (leg muscle strength still weakened but no regrets). Hope you’ve continued to make progress. Now that autologous bone marrow stem cell studies have moved beyond Phase III trials, transplanting can be obtained at domestic locales. Stem cell research is exploding world-wide, with reports of decreased neuropathic pain among other benefits. For SCI patients, coalescence of our small remote islands of normalcy has been an elusive hope. Time to explore–I go for consultation this week.
Would love to hear if you’ve considered or undergone stem cell tx.
Your story and courage continues to amaze me.
One consistent thing with the chamber sessions was that I would always experience the reduction in pain while pressurized. Unfortunately, my spasticity and other symptoms from the Lyrica withdrawal would come right in behind the chamber session and start kicking my ass. It was frustrating, but I knew that my body was still moving in the right direction and getting rid of something that could make me feel this nasty could only be a good thing. I routinely imagined that it would’ve been a nearly impossible experience without the relief from the chamber sessions
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Riley you are a true inspiration to many ! Your courageous spirit is going to help many others. Sharing your story encourages people with similar life altering injuries to not give up. I’m praying for you and your family !
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