My Acupuncture Story

12 03 2012

I’m writing today about acupuncture because it’s something I’m doing regularly right now and thought I would share my experience. If you have chronic pain and are having trouble getting relief with traditional medicine, acupuncture may be an alternative treatment to consider.

My Story

A year ago January I was on a small airplane and when I got up to exit the plane, I had sharp pain in my lower back. I took a lot of ibuprofen, stretched, applied heat and ice, and went snow skiing anyway! Haha. My lower back did get better, but then the pain shifted to my right glute – I had sharp pain especially when I had to bend over to pick up something. I could feel it pulling. Over the course of the next couple months, the pain in my lower back and glutes started to move around from the right to the left to the lower back and back again. I did stretches (the yoga stretch “pigeon” really targeted the “spot”), I sat on a heating pad, I took ibuprofen and muscle relaxers, I had massages – I could never get it to “release”. In fact, during the Spring tennis season, I could feel my glute muscles seizing and twisting while I was on the court in the middle of a point. It was pretty painful, too.

At about that time, I learned that statins can cause muscle pain and damage. I said to myself, “That must be what’s causing my chronic muscle pain.” So, I went off my statin over the summer. I did not experience any relief or improvement during that time – in fact, the pain continued to get worse. By July, when I bent over to get something out of the fridge or pick up something off the floor, I couldn’t straighten up easily and had significant pain in my right leg in the quad (in front). I’d have to slowly work my way upright by stretching my lower back with my hands on my knees, and then rub my quad to get completely upright again.

In August, I got my blood tested – my cholesterol had gone up again. Since I had not experienced any improvement while I was off the statin, I went back on it. Still, I was at my wits’ end with the constant pain. My friend Kim Quinn told me about the acupuncture treatments she’d been getting and had experienced pain relief, so I decided to give it a try.

OMG! In the first session, I could feel my glute muscles twitching all over the place and reacting to the needles. Within a week of my first acupuncture appointment in August, my quad muscles started to release. By the second and third sessions, my glutes were releasing and I felt I was at about 75%. I couldn’t believe that I could bend over, touch the ground, and stand back up again without tons of pain. I would realize with a start that I had gone hours without thinking about pain! After two months (going once a week), I was at 90% in regards to pain and mobility. Now, I’m at about 95% (still have some occasional radiating pain in my lower back and glutes). I go days and days without thinking about the pain in my butt! I love it! On the tennis court, I continue to have to relieve tension in my lower back periodically by bending over with my hands on my knees and stretching my glutes, but overall, I feel fantastic. I never want to get in that condition again so I get acupuncture about every 3 weeks to stay tuned up.

In November, when I started this blog and learned more about the harmful side effects of statins, I went off my statin for good. I’m convinced it caused all my muscle problems. So, with being off the statin, changing my diet, and continuing with regular acupuncture appointments (every 3 weeks or so), I’m hoping my muscles will eventually repair and heal.

There is a lot of information on the web about acupuncture. I have attempted to distill it at a basic level, but have provided links to various websites so that you can learn more about it should you be curious.

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is thousands of years old and is thought to have originated in China. The basic theory is that the body is regulated by an energy called “qi” (chee) which flows through the body along pathways called meridians. The flow can be interrupted or blocked by disease or injury. Using thin metal needles at specific acupuncture points on the body along the meridians, the flow is released and the body’s qi rebalances and restores harmony. If you’ve ever seen an acupuncture chart, you can see that there are many meridians running through the body and hundreds of specific identified points for various aches, pains, and diseases.

My acupuncturist is Sarah Shupe (see link). When she puts the needles in, it does not hurt. However, if she hits a hot spot, the muscle may jump or the inflamed part may hurt initially, but it goes away. When she comes in after 15 minutes to turn the needles, I’ll sometimes feel another muscle jump or it will pulsate. Usually, I take a nap.

This website is a basic, thorough discussion of what acupuncture is and what to expect:

The Benefits of Acupuncture

When performed correctly, acupuncture is perfectly safe and there are very few side affects. Acupuncture is most commonly known for its ability to help relieve pain. Acupuncture can help relieve low back pain, sciatica pain, osteoarthritis pain, and headaches and migraine pain. Additional benefits of acupuncture are faster recovery from injuries, improved circulation, relief from symptoms of stress, and improved circulation. Acupuncture can also strengthen the immune system enabling people to better withstand colds, flu, and minor infections. It is also becoming more common to help relieve post-surgical nausea and can help patients feel more vital and “normal” sooner. Also, you’re not popping a pill.

Of course you can’t talk about the benefits without mentioning the risks. If you have a bleeding disorder or are on blood thinners, you should check with your doctor. There can be some bleeding, bruising, and soreness where the needles are inserted. Also, a good, qualified acupuncturist will always use new needles – unsterilized needles can cause infection. In very rare instances, a needle may break and damage an internal organ or if inserted deeply in to the chest or upper back, it could collapse a lung.

Science of Acupuncture

Whereas I am happy and satisfied with my faith in acupuncture working wonders, there are inquisitive minds that want to know exactly “how” acupuncture works. What is the science? What are the chemical reactions? Is it a placebo effect? Why do some “fake” acupuncture treatments get the same results? There have been some studies that have tried to answer these questions. They are actually quite interesting. I have provided the links below. There are also opinion articles around that claim acupuncture is a bunch of quackery – a majority of these articles are fairly dated, so I have ignored them. The third link below is a major discussion and clarification of rumors of Chinese using acupuncture anesthesia – in case you’ve heard about open-heart surgery using only acupuncture for anesthesia (not true).

Your Story

If you have an acupuncture story you would like to share, please post it in comments. We can all learn from each other!