Don’t sweat the sweat

For the first time since my injury, I broke an actual sweat a couple days ago. My arms were moist, my chest, neck and upper back were a little wet and I could actually wipe off some sweat off the top of my head that was slipping out under the acupuncture needles that were buried into my scalp.

Why am I pointing this out you may wonder?

One of the many less noticed but still significant aspects of my Spinal Cord Injury is the effect on body temperature, specifically the lack of ability to sweat. It’s not something that people think about very often, but sweating is extremely important in maintaining body temperature and cooling the body down when it starts to heat up. The nerves that control the ability to sweat are affected by the damage to the spinal cord, particularly in an injury like mine, high up in the spine in the cervical vertebrae.

I first noticed the challenges of not sweating just three months after my accident. On an unseasonably hot day in early October, I was enjoying a rare outdoor lunch, sitting in the sun in a beautiful park when after only a few minutes I started feeling very hot. I touched my head and face to check for perspiration but to my surprise, my skin felt as dry as leather. Not one bead of sweat. I stayed a bit longer only to find that I was unbearably hot.

I have to take a quick break from the story to explain how unusual this was. Before my accident, I LOVED being in the sun. Thanks to my ethnic heritage and my quick tanning skin, I’ve been able to avoid getting sunburned for most of my life. I would lay on the beach in direct sun for hours and hours, I was the guy at the restaurant who didn’t want the table in the shade, and I suffered immensely when I had an office job and had to accept being inside on a bright, beautiful sunny day. So to be overheating after only a few minutes of sunshine was an entirely new experience for me…

I cut the lunch party short and moved to the shade to escape the sun, with the hopes that I would cool down and continue my outdoor picnic. While it definitely felt better in the shade, I found that I just couldn’t bring my body temperature down. I started getting more and more uncomfortable and eventually decided that it was time to go. Sitting in the car as we drove down the hill, I checked myself for any sign of sweat again. Nothing. It only took me a few minutes to realize that I had to do something. We stopped the car and I poured two full liters of water over my head and body, right there in the passenger seat of the car effectively drenching the car seat and dashboard. Ahhhhh relief, finally. Luckily, my body temperature did come down but I learned that the lack of ability to sweat was something I had to be aware of in future situations.

In the months since this incident, I’ve had many intense workouts. I’ve challenged myself physically in novel ways and have pushed my limits on numerous occasions. Yet, despite these exhausting workouts, I’ve only had a few little drops of sweat making a cameo on my body before they disappear again. So to finally have a moment where I actually broke a sweat that lasted more than a few seconds certainly felt like a small triumph. The problem certainly isn’t solved and I’m not sure how soon I’ll get back to being my previous comfortably-sweating-during-physical-activity-yet-not-embarassingly-so self but at least it’s a start. I hope to be drenching many a exercise mat quite soon with my perspired goodness. Yup, that just got said.

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24 thoughts on “Don’t sweat the sweat

  1. Another step up the ladder for you (with that low sweat) – this is a really positive improvement.

    I hope you celebrated – each tiny change is a milestone to be welcomed with open arms.

    I guess the reverse must be true also. You need to take care to keep yourself warm in the cold, as your body wouldn’t do that automatic shivering when out in low temps.

    1. Yes the shivering is important too but thankfully I live in a place that isn’t too cold or hot so I don’t have to deal with too many temperature changes at all. Another step up the ladder indeed! -AB

  2. That sounds like another step forward! See, all your hard work is paying off, albeit slowly. How did you know about the sweating thing? Would you not think the doctors would have warned you about this? I can imagine the relief of pouring that water all over yourself! On a really hot day here in Canberra, we often have the bathtub filled with icy cold water and just dunk ourselves in it to cool off. it’s sooooo good.

    Well, keep up the good work as you never know what might be just around the corner.

    1. I learned of the sweating thing while I was still in the hospital, the doctors did warn me about it. And yes I suppose the hard work is paying off little by little. It’s nice to have really apparent reminders though -AB

  3. Arash.
    Training damaged anatomy can extend the healing time. Give your amazing body the opportunity to heal at its own speed. Would you walk on a sprained ankle right away?
    You could, but it would take longer time to heal. I don’t mean to do nothing during the healing process, but be very careful how and what you do.
    I also want to emphasize that training to do things is a step by step process. When you were born, all you did well was eat, sleep and shit. And you were healthy. At that time it took a year before you could stand and even knew who you were. My point is; starting from a point were you were healthy and had to learn a zillion things, it took time then. Now you are starting over again with a damaged body. “DON’T SWEAT THE TIME”

  4. Regarding body temp, neurological functioning, and thyroid.

    I am inspired by your blog, which I just discovered today, and will keep checking in to see your updates.

    Your entry about body temperature raised an interesting thought. It is common after trauma, especially to the neck, to have various types of thyroid dysfunction, they symptoms of which are manifold, including body temp problems; I remember commenting to a coach about my own lack of sweating. Also, if the thyroid is struggling, there can be times of increased and decreased thyroid functioning and temperature modulation. My thyroid problem was undiagnosed for over a decade before being treated, despite repeated testing (limited testing that left out the one test that would have identified the problem).

    Once the problem was identified and treated adequately, I saw many unexpected and distinct changes, not only to my temperature regulation, but more relevant to you, to my neurological functioning.

    (For years, doctors had been unable to get almost any response from me when they did the reflex hammer test. This neurological problem showed up in many other ways as well. But, those problems are largely corrected after some time on Thyroid replacement medication.)

    The important points here are that 1) the subclinical presentations of thyroid dysfunction are usually not caught, but their treatment makes huge changes in functioning (in my layperson’s opinion/personal experience) and 2) the methods used to test and then evaluate the results of those tests (i.e. what are acceptable/healthy ranges) are heavily debated, with much disagreement and with mainstream medicine tending toward less progressive treatment/insufficient or non-treatment.

    I recognize from my own experience that small, even minute changes in my body’s functioning can hugely impact what I can accomplish and what my body can actually do. And every millimeter counts. So, in case, this matter was not raised to you after your accident, I hope it offers another possible avenue to explore. I find it’s always a confluence of things that makes the difference.

    Happy to talk about my observations and experiences.

    All the best to you!

    1. Wow, that’s so great to know. I have not been told anything about my thyroid and how that may relate to the injury. I will try to educate myself a bit more and approach my doctor about it too. The neurological link is significant and I wonder if this is something that all people with Spinal Cord Injury should think about. Thank you so much for sharing. -AB

  5. Congratulations. It seems a little quirky to congratulate someone on sweating. If one did not know the circumstance it would sound a bit bizarre.
    I finally figured out how your blog works. I thought you were posting the same one, over and over, which made no sense to me. Suddenly, I saw your titles at the top and started checking them out. It will take me awhile to get caught up.
    I am glad for you small improvements. Each one will add up to a big change before you know it.

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