Robert Paterson

One way to improve your pain threshold….Get AS!!!

I’m 33 and was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis in July 2010 after suffering with back pain for the best part of 10 years. I remember in the early days it would be a dull ache in the morning and I would find myself starting to take longer showers in the morning to direct the hot water on my back to get myself moving. I didn’t think much of it at the time and put it down to one of the joys of getting older and living on my own without having Mum to clean and cook and all the things we miss when going out into the big wide world. Over the next few years the back pain would come and go and I didn’t think much about it. Maybe I should be living a healthier lifestyle and not be up the pub most nights and shouldn’t be eating so many take aways…I’m just a bit out of shape I would think after having to stop and stretch every five minutes when out in the garden or on my feet for any amount of time.

In early 2007 I was in a car accident and suffered a whip lash injury. I had physio for a few sessions and was on painkillers. For a time after this I kept getting told all my problems were a result of this injury and my muscles would require time to heal. It was this period that was the hardest, nights of excruciating pain from back spasms. If I could describe it, it is like being stabbed in the back with a red hot poker with the sharp pain meaning you actually hold your breath for 30 seconds or so and are then afraid to move for fear of another attack and end up doing everything in slow motion (like a scene out of Baywatch). Also I found myself being scared to death when I could feel the onset of a sneeze. This was like being stabbed in the back and punched in the chest at the same time, sometimes kicking off a spasm as noted above and re-starting the circle of pain.

In early 2009 I decided that perhaps a lot of theses problems were being caused by the extra pounds I had gained since buying my first home (which on reflection was too close to the local pub) I underwent a rigorous health kick over the next 12 months and managed to shift 7 stone (98 pounds). For a while I thought I had solved the problem, I had more energy and the pains had lessoned a lot.

I was wrong however as in early 2010 I went downhill. I was lucky if I would get 2 hours combined sleep the entire night with constant tossing and turning. Turning over in bed, I was like a plank of wood. Also my neck and shoulder felt very stiff and very painful. This continued for the next few months and I was taking more and more painkillers.

I finally went back to the Doctors and refused to be passed off with the usual talk of it being to do with the car accident any longer and insisted that I get sent to see a specialist even if it meant seeing a shoulder specialist as that was causing me the most pain at the time in her opinion. Once I saw the specialist, he noticed that I was very stiff and sent me for an MRI scan and while I was there, I managed to convince him to scan my thoracic spine at the same time. After a long wait he called me into his office to go over the scans. The first thing he said was that he couldn’t see anything wrong with my shoulder but could see something showing up on my thoracic spine and ribs on the MRI. My first thoughts were, what the hell is it? Am I going to die? He looked at me and said, no nothing like that but that I had bone growth (fusing as I would later learn) showing up and that he thought I had a disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis. Myself, like 99% of people thought what the hell is that and spent the next week searching the Internet for information before going to see a rheumatologist.

When my appointment came around and I had the blood tests and x-rays done and he had finished prodding me and informing me how my lateral flexation was down at 20% and this was that etc. He confirmed that I did have Ankylosing Spondylitis and had tested positive for HLA-B27. Also he confirmed that some fusing had been going on in my thoracic spine and the x-rays showed evidence of damage to the lumbar spine. I finally felt relief that the pain I had been feeling was reel and I had evidence in my hand. Now I knew what it was, hopefully now was the start of getting some improvement and relief of the symptoms even if there was no cure.

I was initially started on naproxen, which after some early wobbles (including a trip to hospital after collapsing on a stag do…another story) took the edge off, but after a couple of months wasn’t really doing much to ease the pain and stiffness.

I subsequently have been on diclofenac with at first sulphersalazine (gave up due to rash) then Methotrexate. MTX was awful as I hardly had the energy to get out of bed and the mood swings were so bad and I felt so low I was worried I may do something. The last month I have been on Leflunomide with the diclofenac. Pain has increased, but I feel more myself again. Hopefully this combo will work otherwise TNF’s are the next step.

Also I undertake physio and Hydrotherapy on alternate weeks to try and loosen me up a bit.

Sorry if I have rambled on a bit, I am now trying to look positively to the future even though some days this can seem a very long and painful time away.


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