Tag Archives: Parkinson’s medication

Parkinson’s is a pain in my neck

I remember having horrific stiff necks as a teen, waking up unable to turn my head in one direction or the other, and sometimes neither. They typically hung around for several days, with searing pain from skull to shoulder, and from spine to jaw. During my high school and early college days, those bothered me more than any of the various childhood bone breaks, sprains, and bumps to the head.
I tried changing my sleeping position and pillow thickness. I tried heat and cold. I tried aspirin and acetaminophen, brandy, whiskey, rum, and assorted combinations of those. Nothing I did or didn’t do affected how often I got that pain in the neck or how long it stayed. I learned to just endure it and ignore it as much as possible, reminding myself that even though it felt like it would last forever, it would fade away in a day or two.

I stopped getting stiff necks in my early twenties and for a couple of decades I didn’t experience more than one or two. I didn’t think about them at all until a few years ago, when–after years of illness, a variety of symptoms, consultations with several doctors and specialists, and many tests including a head and neck MRI–a neurologist told me that she believed I had Parkinson’s.

“I’ve had this persistent pain in my neck,” I told her with what I believed was a non sequitur. “Was there anything on the MRI to explain it?”

There wasn’t.

“That’s probably the Parkinson’s,” she said. In addition to the main symptoms necessary for clinical diagnosis, Parkinson’s comes with a long list of additional symptoms that can manifest when that region of the brain is dopamine deprived. No two people get exactly the same Parkinson’s symptom cocktail. Mine contains neck pain and stiffness.

Unlike those teenage stiff necks, this one never goes away, although my Parkinson’s medication does decrease the intensity. On good days it fades to a pinch of stiff to the left at full dosage. On bad days there is no left turn–only straight and slight right. Most of the time it’s an ever present ache, strongest in the morning and then receding and advancing predictably like the tides, as my medication kicks in, peaks, tapers off, and kicks in again. It’s often a better notice than my phone alarms that pill time had arrived.

Most days, the lack of a pain free complete look left is among the least of my concerns. But it’s also a nagging reminder that living with Parkinson’s is a pain in my neck.