QUESTION: I'm a 65-year-old woman. Last August, my right knee began hurting, and I could not bend it. I don't remember injuring it. After an X-ray that was negative, my doctor gave my knee a cortisone shot, and I followed up with physical therapy for eight sessions. That helped until I wrenched my right foot while going down a step. After nine visits to the physical therapist for my foot, I was "almost" better and I started resuming my daily activities. That's when my knee started the same problems all over again. To make matters worse, the back of my neck and shoulder tops are tight and hurt, and I've had some numbness in my left little finger and lips.
My doctor just wrote out prescriptions, which I had to discontinue due to the side effects, since I'm very sensitive to medications. I am using a hot pack on my neck, and doing some stretching exercises from physical therapy for my foot and knee, followed by ice packs. I'm still a mess. There has been no improvement, and I'm tired of hurting and having this weird numbness. What else can I do? Please, no more doctors or pills.
ANSWER: My initial reaction was to consider that the knee pain originated from a form of arthritis, a breakdown of cartilage that causes pain and stiffness of knees, elbows, shoulders and other joints. Any movement can trigger pain, and you certainly didn't do yourself any good when you wrenched your foot on the steps.
Consider your body a well-oiled machine. All parts work well when nothing is wrong. When malfunction causes that machine to falter, the entire system reacts. Muscles such as the ones in your shoulders and neck tense and tighten. You put additional strain on parts of your body that aren't accustomed to malfunctioning, and those parts react with pain, tingling and numbness. You might also have a pinched nerve.
Visit your doctor (or find a new one who will not push pills at you) to discuss a plan of action. Work together to formulate your own plan, since no one knows your body better than you do. You've had physical therapy and know the drill.
You might consider a topical ointment, such as Castiva, for relief of symptoms from arthritis and muscle strain. Another option is to substitute your hot pack for an old towel that you wet, wring out and dot with lavender oil. Place the towel in your microwave for a minute. Remove it and wrap it around your neck. Those tight muscles will loosen and relax you as you inhale the aroma. (This is essentially an inexpensive version of aromatherapy.) Your shoulders will feel better, the tightness should improve and the tingling might disappear.
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Dr. Gott is a retired physician and the author of the new book "Dr. Gott's No Flour, No Sugar Diet." Quill Driver Books, www.quilldriverbooks.com; 800-605-7176. Readers can write to Dr. Gott in care of United Media, 200 Madison Ave., fourth floor, New York, N.Y. 10016.