In my quest for wellness and relief from chronic pain, I’ve decided to try acupuncture. I’m in a transition period from graduate school to working and decided to use some of my time to give it a real try. I’ve been really good in the past about letting fatigue and a lack of time stop me from trying this. I’m a believer in different medical systems and what they can offer, so I’m kind of disappointed that I haven’t tried it before.
To start, I got a referral to a woman who specializes in orthopedic ailments. She already works with someone who has had a similar surgery, so I didn’t have to start from scratch explaining the basics of my back. In our first meeting, she took down my laundry list of conditions and then instead of dismissing them, she let me know that she could help me with all of them over time.
I was just overwhelmed to be heard before she even started her physical assessment. I have enough experience to be at most cautiously optimistic about any new health endeavor. I also know that there are no quick fixes to the conditions with which I live. However, I was hopeful.
After eight sessions, I continue to feel positive. My muscles and joints from my shoulder to my hips are sore and tired, but I think they are beginning to feel more mobile—awake for first time in a long time. After the pain of being stimulated, like having a really intense workout, has passed, I feel so much better.
What I wasn’t expecting was how intense the experience would be. I tried to do three sessions a week to get a jump start on treatment—and take advantage of my insurance’s coverage of acupuncture. But after the first week, I realized that is way too intense for me.
A standard session involves needles in my shoulders and hips on the front and back. Then the acupuncturist uses electricity to pulse my muscles in short spurts, but also over periods of eight or so minutes at lower levels of stimulation.
The process of putting the needles in my tender and knotted muscles isn’t free of pain. Instead my muscles respond with a deep ache and then the pulsing elevates that aching. It’s a hurts so good kind of a pain, but it is powerful and exhausting. It’s a reminder that self care isn’t always fun–facials and massages–but instead it is sometimes hard and painful.
My acupuncturist has explained, “The architecture of your back is so different as a result of the surgery. There is so much going on here, that we need to chip away at bit by bit.”
I had naively imagined a more pain-free process that provoked relaxation and rest. Now looking back, I am shocked at how naïve that was. My body needs to reset itself and that’s not going to be an easy or pain free process. And of course it appeals to my American sense that if it hurts it must be working, the no pain, no gain mentality.
For example, I have knots all through my muscles in my back and each time I’ve had a massage they’ve loosened a small bit—enough to give me a bit of relief for a little while. However, they’ve always tightened up again.
My acupuncturist is working with the needles to get into the muscle below the surface and get rid of these knots over several sessions permanently.
I discussed my experiences with physical therapy and massage with my acupuncturist in the decade and a half since my first surgery. She responded, “That’s why they call it chronic pain management and not treatment.”
I laughed, “I haven’t even had a consistent pain management program. The doctors fixed me and sent me off. There was no acknowledgement that I would need pain management.”
She responded, “Yikes.”
So far, I am feeling better. I am looser. And during our strength assessments, my muscles are demonstrating that they are gradually getting stronger.
I wish I had done this years ago, but I am also incredibly glad I’m doing this now. I know not everyone responds to acupuncture and I am lucky that my body is responding. So I’ll keep going with this experiment!