Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Eastern vs. Western (My Experience with Acupuncture)


Right now I'm sitting in a cafe across the street from where I just finished my acupuncture appointment. I don't remember exactly, but I think this is my 5th or 6th appointment and so far I give acupuncture two thumbs up.

It's been almost a year since I herniated a disk in my back (last November) and recovery has been long, difficult and at times very discouraging. It took me about a month to resume a somewhat normal life. Within 6 weeks I would say I was 90% better. I assumed the last 10% would come with time and treatment. I went to the chiropractor which helped, and started doing yoga as a regular practice which also helped. I could no longer do the other forms of exercise which I had always enjoyed, so yoga has been a good replacement. That being said I was still feeling pain pretty consistently (almost daily) and after about 6 months I talked to my doctor again and she assured me that it can sometimes take up to a year to make a full recovery. OK then. I kept trudging through, doing my best not to carry heavy things and yet strengthen my core at the same time and hoping that eventually the dull ache that had seemed to take up permanent residence in my lower back would one day vacate. Then this past July I had a major relapse. It wasn't quite as bad as the first time, but definitely the worst it had been since.

So discouraging! I thought I was steadily getting better this whole time, I didn't expect to be knocked off my feet so quickly again and seemingly out of nowhere. So this time I finally decided to step up my game--I went to physical therapy and had an appointment to get a spinal injection. The physical therapy was helping a lot but I still wanted to do the injection to hopefully jump start a final push to recovery. Plus I just wanted the pain to go away. And it did!  For about 3 weeks. Oi.

Now I was feeling really discouraged...was this going to be the rest of my life? Before my back injury we were hiking a lot as a family--I would wear Zuzu on my back and my husband would carry Lamp on his--and enjoying other physical activities, but many of those things have been out of the question for us since this back thing started. I have never had a physical issue (outside of pregnancy) alter my life so much! Not to mention living with constant dull ache in my back was taking a toll on me emotionally as well.

Finally, I decided it was time to look into alternative treatment and so I researched acupuncture. I wouldn't say I was a skeptic because I've always been open to eastern/holistic medicine but having so little success with my back pain in almost a year I was definitely cautious. I found a place in Cincinnati with GREAT reviews and I decided to give it a go.

My expectation was that it would take several appointments to feel any pain relief. When I discussed these expectations with my acupuncturist she shook her head. She said that she expected that I would feel relief right away, but because of the nature of my injury it probably wouldn't last too long--maybe a day or two--but just to note about how long it lasted and tell her on my next visit. Again I was skeptical I would feel relief after this appointment, but....she was right. After my 30 minute appointment the constant dull ache I had been feeling in my back for months was gone. She was also right in that it only lasted about a day and a half. But I've been going about twice a week for a few weeks now and this has been the most consistent pain relief I've had since this back stuff started. HOORAY! To be clear I'm still doing my physical therapy at home and being cautious with heavy lifting and such, but really I can't tell you how great this is to have some relief and to feel like I might finally be on the road to recovery. That being she has also been treating me for my insomnia--which so far hasn't had the same miraculous results. But that's OK. Today's session was the first time I actually nodded off and felt relaxed so maybe we're getting there. I'm going to keep going for a while (1-2 times a week) to keep up with my back treatment and to continue to work on my anxiety/sleep issues.

My first visit I was surprised by a couple of things. Of course the immediate back relief was one of them, but the main surprise can be summed up by saying, acupuncture is no joke! In addition to the pain relief there was a distinct feeling of my internal energies being shifted around. I can't describe it any better than that, or say what the shift was but I was definitely feeling something. Also one time I moved my hand during an appointment and felt this zap up my arm from one of the needles! It was a strange sensation and it made me realize things are happening in there! I don't know what's happening, but something is definitely happening. I haven't had anything like that since, and the needles don't usually hurt after the initial insertion (although some can hurt a little longer than others) but now I try to lay still and just relax. Anyway, I was surprised to just feel so different physically after my treatment.

Like I said above I'm a fan of both eastern and western medicine. I have no problem mixing the two and it seems like I have the same about of trust/skepticism for both ideologies--ha! The thing I'm probably most skeptical of are people who are too extreme in one viewpoint or another. I have met people who "don't do doctors" and people who think that anything holistic is a bunch of hogwash and for me both of those mentalities rub me the wrong way. (I just realized that this also explains the core of my political beliefs as well--haha...but I'm being totally serious.) I will say that for most people there is still more skepticism with holistic/alternative medicine. It seems like when discussing alternative treatments the question that most gets asked is "Did it work?" Whether you're talking about essential oils, chiropractic treatment or acupuncture people want to know "Did it work?" Of course the answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no. But the funny thing is this is the same answer when it comes to traditional medicine! When I get a headache and take a Tylenol or Advil sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't--that doesn't mean I'll never try it again or that it's totally phony. Same thing with more serious treatments like chemotherapy--sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. There are so many individual factors at play in any given medical treatment, it only makes sense that different people will have different outcomes regardless of the type of treatment.

So that's it. For me and my back pain acupuncture is working really well. My only regret is that I didn't try acupuncture sooner.

Has anyone else tried acupuncture? Did it work for you or not? What about the whole eastern vs. western medicine approach? Are you firmly in one camp or the other (I hope we can still be friends--wink), or like me do you straddle both worlds of medicine comfortably? Have you ever tried an alternative medical approach with surprisingly good results?  

12 comments:

  1. Anonymous5:23 PM

    I have a family member who used acupuncture for pain after a stroke with no impact. I was really hoping it would help with the pain. Chiro helped me after a back injury, but I will not let them touch my neck because the family member who had a stroke likely had it due to a chiropractic adjustment on their neck. I did a steroid injection that helped immensely. My back pain is gone now, not sure how or why, but it went away eventually... can't remember if it came back after the steroid shots. I still have a weak core! Bodies are confusing!!

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    1. YES...bodies are weird.

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  2. I started going to acupuncture 10 years ago after 2+ years of infertility treatments and 3 miscarriages. I live in rural Central NY where, a decade ago, acupuncture was considered quite fringe. But I would have stood on my head and clucked like a chicken 8 hours a day to have a successful pregnancy, so I was clearly willing to try it.

    Best. Decision. Ever.

    We still continued Western intervention (injectables, IUI, daily shots of blood thinners, etc) in conjunction with the acupuncture and had amazing results. I found the sessions themselves incredibly relaxing and (mostly) enjoyable (the needles in my face did weird me out). Our sessions became the highlight of my week and within a year, I was holding my brand new baby boy. Can I attribute the success solely to acupuncture? Nope. But it sure didn't hurt!

    My husband is a police officer show wears a big, heavy gun belt all day, which caused a lot of neck/back/hip pain. After trying PT and specialized workouts, he finally started going to acupuncture and it made a world of difference to him too. He has to go every 4 weeks, but his back has never felt better!

    So I say, good on you! Find what works and don't ever feel like you need to apologize for it!

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    1. Exactly...mixing and matching and trying whatever works. I think it's amazing that we have all these options these days.

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  3. My mom grew up in Taiwan and my aunt is a long-time devotee of acupuncture. I've only ever hesitated because I wasn't sure how to find a good acupuncturist and also assumed that I'd pay out of pocket for any treatments. Does your insurance cover any of the cost they way they might for a chiropractor?

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    1. Allison--So no my insurance does not cover it. The cool thing about this place is that it's a community style acupuncture with a sliding scale payment method...so if you can pay a little more to help those who can't afford as much great...if you can only pay the minimum amount that's great too. Honestly these treatments are about as much as a co-pay(or slightly more) anyway so I can totally work with that.

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  4. Anonymous1:56 PM

    I used to do acupuncture for chronic pain. It did help, but as soon as I stopped going, the pain came back, so it wasn't treating the underlying issue. I would absolutely do it again if I needed it, but I did get a little discouraged that it wasn't healing so much as stopping the pain.

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    1. Anon--and I guess I'll see if it does actually heal my back or just help with the pain. From what I understand acupuncture can heal things like this, but again...everyone is different and it doesn't surprise me to see some people have different results.

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  5. How timely. When you wrote about your back a few months ago, I clearly remember thinking, "thank goodness my back problems are gone... I wouldn't be able to do it with [insert 13 month old baby name here]". And yet, here I am... 4 weeks gone with terrible pain shooting down my left leg, at times absolutely unbearable. Much, much worse than my college back episode nearly 14 years ago (and i must say, 32 is not kind to me and my normally rapid healing). I've only just reached out to my doc, and have done a single session of PT, but I'm sort of the "im never going to get better... This is my life... Garcon, another advil" stage.

    I did acupuncture for anxiety and found it made me more anxious (those acute sensations travelling down the arm really weirded me out), but if this doesnt improve fast, I'm going to be desperate. Looking back, do you wish you'd done it earlier? Or is it a better end-of-the-recovery treatment?

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  6. Anonymous6:29 PM

    I used acupuncture to assist my body and mind with birthing prep before our second child's arrival, with the approval of my ob-gyn from week 35 on. It's incredibly powerful and I found it relaxing. My blood pressure stayed low for the remainder of my pregnancy. I felt as ready as possible to deliver our baby. My practitioner told me the women she'd been working with had efficient labours, didn't use meds and recovered quickly from delivery. After being induced for my first delivery and taking 20 hours to deliver, I was interested to say the least. My water leaked two days after my 'due date', I had that confirmed by my doctor two days later, had my last acupuncture treatment at 5pm, that day, was told I had weak contractions at 730pm, felt contractions strengthening from 930-1030pm, was checked at 1130pm and was 8cm and pushing. I delivered our second daughter at 1255am with no meds, feeling amazing and had a great post-delivery recovery. Another woman who delivered her first child the same night had a similar experience. In conversing as we walked the hospital hallway a day later with our daughters, we discovered we'd both had acupuncture. She is a labour/delivery nurse who'd seen too many first-time moms be induced with some common complications [jaundice, tired babies needing supplementing before nursing was sorted] to want that for herself. We were clients of the same acupuncture practitioner and we had the same experience of strong efficient labour after acupuncture treatments. I can't recommend it highly enough for mamas getting ready to deliver. My practitioner 'tweaked' the needles during my last treatment before delivery by twisting them a couple times during my treatment and just before removing them. When she removed the needles, which you know are very small and sometimes even fall out during treatment if your body is 'done' with them, she had to hold each needle in one hand and push my arm or leg away with the other hand. Lots of energy flow happening!

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  7. Hello dear, I am glad that you shared your experience here. I am also a huge believer of acupuncture and its benefits and that is why I am looking for best Mississauga acupuncturist. Can you suggest me one please?

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