Treatments for pain relief, especially chronic pain, have received a lot of attention in the medical world in the last few years. As opioids have been one of the first-line treatment options for patients with chronic, intractable pain, options for the treatment of side-effects from opioid use (such as constipation) have increased. More concerning, addiction and accidental death from opioids have rapidly increased in recent years. Acupuncture, in particular, is getting quite a bit of attention as a successful treatment approach to chronic pain and many insurances provide coverage for a series of annual treatments.
As a person who has suffered from chronic pain myself, I've tried many different treatment options to provide relief. My pain stems largely from a car accident when I was 18 years old. My car slid on black ice, flipped and I was thrown from the car. Amazingly, I landed in a smaller ditch that protected me from my car when it landed across the ditch directly over me. The accident did leave me with several broken vertebrae, a punctured lung, and chronic shoulder pain. Although I healed quickly, over the years the shoulder pain would never leave.
My first foray into healing was when I found that a year of regular yoga classes provided some relief for my shoulder, enough to make it much more manageable. I threw myself into work and a graduate degree over the next decade, and along with some normal major life changes, the shoulder pain came back anytime I would lapse in my yoga practice.
More recently, after 8 years mostly working at a computer and in a stressful environment, on call 24/7, my shoulder pain turned into back and hip pain. My first year of Chinese medicine school, my hip pain was starting to make walking uncomfortable. After several treatments in the school clinic, my hip pain was completely resolved! I was a believer in acupuncture for all of my problems!
The last year of Chinese medicine school, and my first year as a clinic intern (sometimes treating patients in lawn chairs!) my back pain became intolerable. I would leave my 13 hour school day on Mondays in tears, wondering if I would make it to my car before I needed to just lie down for temporary relief. At this point in time I was getting regular treatments, volunteering to be the model for any pain relief protocol that was being taught in labs, and applying all sorts of herbal salves. I had gone to chiropractors and massage therapy. None of it worked at this point. I had completely quit doing any qi gong or taiji - they aggravated the pain. I was ready to try opiates. I was desperate. But I had treated pain patients on opioids and I knew I didn't want the side effects from them nor the dependence upon them.
That is when I started physical therapy. PT was hard work, but partnered with regular acupuncture treatments, my back started to feel better! While I still have some pain, my pain levels are much lower and some days feel relatively pain free even! I continue acupuncture, my PT exercises, cranio-sacral treatments, massage therapy and yoga. I've also started back up light taiji and qigong. There's a bit more to the story, but my main point is that what helped me the most was a combination of approaches and not stopping until I found something that worked! (We'll talk another time about the emotional aspects of pain and healing!)
Chronic pain can be debilitating for sure, but it can also be depressing. You can feel hopeless. You can feel like you are desperately grabbing at random strategies. It can be hard not to desire a magic bullet. Some one thing that takes care of it and for good. As a chronic pain patient, my experience is that there is no one treatment or pill or exercise that cures the pain. But, luckily, persistence and a multi-pronged approach can bring joy and ease back.
As a practitioner, I'm excited to be a part of a team at Northlake Physical Therapy that includes massage therapists, drop-in yoga, and skilled physical therapists and aides. I'm excited to add acupuncture to this mix! Don't stop looking for relief and seek an individualized approach that is specific to your needs. The best approach is one that addresses your pain from multiple angles and supports you in all aspects of your life.