Moist Heating Pads are the Best Heating Pads

hot tub water

I have to be honest with you… people suggested I try moist heat for a long time before I actually did it.

Frankly, buying a new heating pad seemed unnecessary when I thought I was getting the same benefits from taking hot showers, or spending time in the hot tub at my gym.  After all, both of those things involve hot water and some steam.  It’s the same thing, right?

Wrong.

There is something uniquely awesome about a heating pad holding all that steam against your skin.

Steam is, by its very definition, hotter than water in its liquid state.  Sure, there is steam in the bathroom when you’re taking a shower, but it’s floating all over the place and out through the cracks around the door.   The heating pad traps it right against your skin, where it’s harder to escape.

For this reason, a moist heating pad can actually be better than a hot shower or a hot tub. 

Granted, it’s not as much of a whole-body experience, but if you are trying relax one specific part of your body, this is what you want.  Try it… you’ll see what I mean.

I just love it because it’s so quick, easy, and cheap.  A spa in a 12″ x 24″ rectangle.

Here is the heating pad that I use:

The Sunbeam King Size with Ultra Heat Technology.   (I got mine from Amazon, which seems to have the best price).DSCN0152

At first, I was a little nervous about combining water and electricity, but the inner cover is completely waterproof.  This is what it looks like with the outer cover removed:

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It’s very important to inspect this inside part, to make sure there are no cracks in the plastic.  As long as it’s intact, it’s waterproof.

You add moisture to the sponge that goes inside.  

I’ll be honest with you… I don’t have a picture of the sponge.  Because I lost mine.  But it’s no big deal because I’ve found that wet paper towels draped over the inside cover work just as well.

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Here are some steps which I’ve found make it the easiest to use a moist heating pad:

1) Put a towel down on your bed/chair before you get started.  Not to be gross, but you want your skin to be dripping by the time the thing’s really heated up.

2) Make sure there aren’t any cracks on the inside cover before you use it.  It’s only waterproof when the electrical bits are all sealed up.

3) When you’re done using the heating pad, be sure to wipe the moisture up right away.  When water evaporates from your body, it actually takes heat with it.   (This is why sweating helps to cool us down).   In the winter, you will be cold if you leave the steam on your skin to dry up on its own.

Buying a moist heating pad:

Although you don’t have to take my recommendation, be sure you do buy one that says “moist heat” on the box.

And also… make sure you get one with an automatic shut-off!  Moist heat is so relaxing, you will probably fall asleep at least once.

So… that’s all for now.

If you have any questions, you can leave a comment below or email me at sunlightinwinter12@gmail.com.  Thanks!

“Hot Tub Water” picture courtesy of pacfolly on Flickr.

A little optimism

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It’s been almost two weeks since my surgery, and I am finally starting to feel like myself again.  It’s actually amazing how normal I feel.

When I first got home from the hospital, I felt as though I was returning from another planet.  The extreme pain and sleep deprivation (due to pain before the surgery, and due to the extremely uncomfortable hospital bed after the surgery) had really played tricks on my mind, as had the shock of suddenly losing an ovary.

But I am back.  Still in some pain, and still playing catch-up on sleep, but back.

The weather this weekend was absolutely beautiful.  I had a relatively low-key weekend: visited my grandmother yesterday, and today had a nice afternoon drive with the guy I am dating.  (I don’t intend to get into my dating life too much on this blog, but yes, it is possible to have someone still be into you when your whole life is a mess and you can barely walk).

Anyway, I am feeling good right now, and I just wanted to share that with you all.  I may be walking around with one less internal organ than I was two weeks ago, but you’d never know it.  I feel totally normal.  I guess it’s true what all the doctors and nurses told me: that one ovary really can do the work of two.

Spring is almost here.  I can feel it.  The days are going to start getting longer and longer.  I heard bird calls today that I haven’t heard since the last warm days of fall.  The earth is beginning to warm again.  It’s going to be alright.

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I am so obsessed with the above photo.  It was posted under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License… which basically means I can use it for any purpose as long as I give credit to emaspounder, who posted it on Flickr.  Thank you emaspounder… I have no idea who you are, but this photo inspires me so much.

Face to face with my lack of ab strength

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The only good thing about being out of shape is that it doesn’t take very much to get a good workout.

Ever since I’ve been having my lower back and hip problems, I’ve known that I needed to work on my abs.  I’ve been a physical therapy patient far too many times not to know that.  I knew my abs had to be weak—there’s no way you have back and hip problems and not have weak abs—but I never really noticed it as I went about my daily life.

But something happened that allowed me to see exactly how weak my abs are, and boy, was I surprised.

It was such a simple thing; I tried to float on my back in the pool.

I remember doing this countless times during various swim lessons when I was a child.  It’s not always easy; you have to keep holding your breath so your lungs stay full of air.  But once you learn that, the rest is a piece of cake.

That is, until you’re an adult whose ongoing injuries and physical inactivity have left her with almost no core strength.  It was incredibly hard for me to stay afloat.  My upper body was fine, but trying to keep my hips at the surface of the water quickly wore out the muscles in my abdomen and lower back.

You’d think it would be kind of depressing to realize that your abs are pathetically weak, but for me it was actually an amazing moment of clarity.

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When I first developed hip problems a year and a half ago, I had to stop doing exercises on land.   Everything I did, even my physical therapy exercises, just made me worse and worse as time went on.  Every time I lay down on the floor to try to do some simple movements, I ended up regretting it.  That’s when I followed the advice of my chiropractor and joined a pool.

For the past year, I’ve worked out exclusively in water, and it has seriously made all the difference.  Before the pool, I felt like I was getting worse and worse every week.  Working out in the pool stopped the months-long downward spiral I’d been caught in, and, eventually, I began to get stronger.

But recently I’d begun to feel as though I’d hit a plateau.  I’d made such exponential progress in the beginning, but I was struggling to figure out what I was missing.  They’d told me there was nothing wrong with my spine or joints, that I just needed to build up strength, but it seemed like I’d hit a wall that I had no idea how to get past.

That’s why I am so excited about this discovery.   I had no idea my abs were so weak.   I used to float on my back so easily when I was a kid.  It all makes sense now.  Of course I’m in pain all the time if I am this weak.

This was such a moment of clarity for me.  Sure, it’s a little bit frustrating to realize how supremely out of shape I am, but this is far outweighed by how relieved I am to have some kind of a concrete answer.

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Of course, actually figuring out how to work on my abs is going to be a little bit more difficult.  Ab exercises have always been hard for me—if I do too many, I always seem to end up with lower back pain.

But if there’s anything I know about myself, it’s that once I am forced to see something so clearly, there is no way I’m going to be able to ignore it.  Realizing that right now I can’t even float on my back in a pool has made so much more of an impression on me than a physical therapist lecturing me about the importance of ab strength.

I’m going to have to figure this out.  Luckily, for now, I think all I will have to do is… drumroll, please… practice floating on my back.

That’s the one good thing about being extremely out of shape… it doesn’t take much exercise to start seeing improvement.  Since I have no core strength, all I have to do is float on my back for 20 seconds in a pool, and I’ve done a core workout!

So that’s it for now.  If I discover any other amazing core exercises that I don’t give me lower back pain, I’ll be sure to let you know!

**The person in the photo is not me!  It’s just a really great underwater shot that I found on Flickr.  Posted with a Creative Commons license by Ed.ward

Know your enemy

art of war

Have you ever had a totally disappointing experience seeing a specialist for help with chronic pain/fibromyalgia?  I certainly have… many times.  Fellow pain sufferers, we are fighting an uphill battle to be taken seriously.

I found this article today written by a rheumatologist on why he doesn’t want to treat fibromyalgia patients any longer.  He basically sounds like a jerk… but a smart jerk. I’m posting the link to what he wrote because it provides a look into what some of these doctors are thinking while they’re brushing us off.

The article is by Dr. John Luetkemeyer, a rheumatologist in Florida who tries to “weed” fibromyalgia patients out of his practice as quickly as he can, unless they have proven “they are willing to do the things that might be successful in improving their quality of life.”

I’ve never met Dr. Luetkemeyer, but I might as well have.  I feel like this letter could have been written by any one of the many unsympathetic doctors I’ve seen over the years.  Unfortunately, I’ve gotten this kind of response from people in multiple specialties, including pain management, the specialty he suggests ought to be responsible for fibromyalgia patients.  He makes a good point though, that pain specialists might be more effective “if only we could get them to put their needles down long enough to actually treat the pain and the patient.”

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There is a great rebuttal at the end of the piece, written by Dr. Murray Sokolof.  I’ve obviously never met him either, but he sounds like my kind of doctor.  He writes, “I found many of Dr Luetkemeyer’s remarks and opinions quite disturbing and even offensive. He certainly does not speak for me.”  Right on, Dr. S.

The most interesting part of the whole piece, I thought, was Dr. Sokolof’s reference to opioid pain medications.  He says,

“It has occurred to me that if I were not able to use opioids in the management of fibromyalgia, then I, too, would lose interest in taking care of these patients. Opioids are to fibromyalgia what corticosteroids are to rheumatoid arthritis. We try to avoid them if possible, but when they are necessary—which is often—we should employ them. Maybe, just maybe, Dr Luetkemeyer refuses to give these patients opioids for whatever reason. If that is the case, I could understand his frustration and his decision not to treat these patients.”

Yes.  That summarizes my thoughts on opioids exactly.  They definitely have their drawbacks, but when you are in extreme pain, there is simply nothing that will compare to them, or take their place.  I do not take them on a regular basis, but they were a godsend when I hurt my back a few years ago.

The reason I am sharing this article with you is that most doctors, in my opinion, think like Dr. Leutkemeyer.  They might be a little bit nicer than him, but I think most of them think that there are simple lifestyle changes that fibromyalgia patients need to make, like exercising more or sleeping better, and that all of their symptoms will get better if they make those changes.  He writes,

“If fibromyalgia is the label to be used, it is my belief that ‘a jog around the block or 20 laps in the pool can make a dent’ in the low pain threshold and poor sleep pattern hypothesized in fibromyalgia. I also stress the importance of patients being responsible for their therapy (exercise, stress reduction) and not to rely on my prescription pad.”

I mean, exercise and adequate sleep are both great, but for many people, it is never that simple.

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I found this article interesting simply because it’s best to know what you’re up against.  Know your enemy, they say.  Don’t feel bad about yourself, or take it personally if a doctor gives you the brush off.   He had already made up his mind about fibromyalgia sufferers long before you walked in the door.

Does this article remind you of any doctors you’ve met in your own life?  Were they helpful/not helpful?  Let me know what you think!

**Update: I think some readers might be having trouble with the link.  If you’re getting stuck on a log-in screen, try Googling “Rheumatologists should not deal with fibromyalgia” (the title of the article).  Medscape is so weird sometimes, it’s like you can gain access if you come from a search engine, but not from a direct link.  Why that is, I wish I knew.

**The photo I chose for this post made me laugh.  I believe “Know Your Enemy” comes from Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.”  Thanks to Bob Massa on Flickr for making the photo available through Creative Commons.**

Arsenic levels in rice… too high for comfort.

brown rice

This was all over the news a few months ago, but in case you missed it, Consumer Reports published a report in November 2012 showing surprisingly high levels of arsenic in dozens of brands of rice and rice products.  This is not good news for people who eat a gluten-free diet, or for people who just plain eat a lot of rice.

Arsenic is a chemical element that exists naturally in the earth’s crust.  It is toxic to humans, affecting the nerves, heart, and blood vessels, and is a known carcinogen.  Arsenic is nothing new– it has been around for the duration of our evolutionary history.  But all of the human activities of the past few centuries– farming, mining, construction– have disturbed the ground and allowed higher levels of arsenic to seep into our soil and water.  Arsenic is also found in many pesticides, which is why it ends up in even higher concentrations on rice farms.

The Food and Drug Administration currently does not have any restrictions on arsenic levels in food, however there is a limit for the maximum allowable amount of arsenic in drinking water.  This is currently set at 10 parts per billion (ppb), although the Environmental Protection Agency originally requested it be set at 5 ppb.  Consumer Reports says,

“Using the 5-ppb standard in our study, we found that a single serving of some rices could give an average adult almost one and a half times the inorganic arsenic he or she would get from a whole day’s consumption of water, about 1 liter.”

This is scary, especially when you consider that people on a gluten-free diet and those who eat traditional cultural diets which rely heavily upon rice are going to have way more than one serving of rice a day.

Now, all of the articles I’ve read on this subject have been quick to point out that there haven’t yet been any studies published proving that higher levels of rice consumption leads to health drawbacks.  But it’s pretty obvious that’s because no one knew about the high levels of arsenic until now.  It’s not as if there have been any studies proving that high levels of rice consumption doesn’t have any health consequences.  I would bet money that there are researchers submitting grant proposals right now for funding to examine this very issue.

Until those studies start to be published, I think it’s best that people don’t make rice a cornerstone of their diet.  Here are some of the best pieces of advice that I’ve gathered from various articles on how to deal with this issue.

  • Limit Rice Consumpion.  Consumer Reports suggests that adults eat no more than 1.5 cups of cooked rice per week, and kids no more than 1 cup.  Honestly, if I had kids of my own, they wouldn’t be getting any rice until at least the age of 10.  Even small amounts of a toxin are a big deal when they’re in a smaller body.
  • Eat a variety of foods.  FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in a statement, “Our advice right now is that consumers should continue to eat a balanced diet that includes a wide variety of grains – not only for good nutrition, but also to minimize any potential consequences from consuming any one particular food.”  While I think Ms. Hamburg may have been downplaying the potential risks of rice, she is right that the best approach is to eat a variety of foods, and that includes where those foods are grown.  We never really know what gets into our food, even when it is grown on an organic farm (acid rain, anyone?) so it can’t hurt to switch up which company you buy your food from.  In case there are contamination issues at a particular farm, shipping truck, or warehouse, you’re just kind of lowering your odds of being exposed to more chemicals over time by switching up what you eat.  Not only should we be eating a variety of different foods, but we should be buying a variety of brands and switching it up.  In other words, you shouldn’t just buy one brand of pasta that you’ve decided you like and eat it for your entire life.  Better to rotate brands.
  • Choose white rice over brown.   Unfortunately, Consumer Reports found that brown rice contained higher levels of arsenic than white rice.  This was true for every brand they tested.  This is because much of the arsenic collects in the outer shell of the rice grain.  This outer shell contains the extra nutrients and fiber that generally make brown rice a healthier choice than white rice.  When you remove the shell from brown rice to make white rice, you are removing a lot of the arsenic.  (Unfortunately, you are also removing a lot of the nutrients and fiber that generally make brown rice a healthier choice than white rice).
  • Avoid rice grown in the US South.  According to Consumer Reports, rice grown in different areas is likely to have different levels of arsenic.  In general, rice grown in the US South tends to have higher levels of the toxin because the rice is grown in a lot of areas that were once cotton farms.  Those areas were heavily sprayed with arsenic-containing pesticides to combat the boll-weevil.
  • Choose aromatic rice.  According to the Chicago Tribune, “Imported basmati and jasmine rices showed about half to one-eighth the level of arsenic as regular rices grown in the Southern U.S.”
  • Aromatic rice grown in Bangladesh has been shown to have markedly low levels of arsenic.  Of course, it’s not so simple as walking into a supermarket and finding “low arsenic Bangladeshi rice” on the shelf, but maybe it will be in the future.
  • Wash rice thoroughly.  Several of the articles I found mentioned this.  Apparently, the FDA has found that washing rice thoroughly can reduce arsenic levels by 50-60%.  The Chigago Tribune quotes Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist at Consumer Reports, who explains that he cooks and drains rice similar to pasta. “‘We say to use about 6 parts water to 1 part rice… And then drain off the water after it’s done.'”
  • Remember the other gluten-free grains.  There are lots of other yummy grains out there… at least, they’re yummy when you cook them right.  Some good choices are potatoes, corn, oats (the ones that are specifically labelled gluten-free) and buckwheat.  Yes, buckwheat is gluten-free.  Next time you’re in a Thai restaurant, order buckwheat pad thai (aka pad thai soba)… it’s so amazing.

Anyway, that’s it for now.  Hope this article was helpful!

Rice photo courtesy of sweetbeatandgreenbean on Flickr.