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Acupuncture Juncture: Pins and Needles

Posted Aug 02 2012 9:10pm

 It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die, than to find those who are willing to endure pain with patience. Julius Caesar

As many of you who read my blog know, I’ve battled chest pains on and off for the past year. Cardiac problems and cancer have been ruled out as causes. Thank God.

While the pains subsided last November, they reared their ugly head again in March and apparently have no intention to quit. The diagnosis now appears to be Tietze’s syndrome , a type of inflammation in the left chest area characterized by swelling, redness and heat. It may be due to repetitive microtrauma to that area of the body caused by athletic overuse. I had been an exercise junkie for some time, and this may be the price I’ve paid, complicated by lymphedema and radiation to that side of my body.

Translation? No fun.

The treatment recommended by my first doctor involved popping over-the-counter ibuprofen pills three times a day up to a maximum daily dosage. Unfortunately, this non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug didn’t touch the pain. Nerves in that area of the body registered such agony in my brain that I had a hard time drifting off to sleep. Application of ice packs and heat pads only provided temporary relief.

The second medical professional I saw, my primary care physician’s assistant (PA), prescribed physical therapy. After observing my slouching in the waiting and examination room, the PT thought he had the answer: I just needed to improve my posture, as the slouching exerted undue compression on the cartilage. So he designed exercises that would help me straighten my back. Some of the exercises he prescribed exacerbated the problem. After the four visits recommended, the treatment didn’t alleviate the discomfort or the swelling. I abruptly discontinued the sessions, especially since I had to pay $75 out of pocket each time I came to the clinic.

At my most recent visit with the PA, he expressed disappointment that the physical therapy didn’t help. But he wasn’t about to give up. And I respect him greatly for his persistence. His next suggestion: acupuncture, which is among the oldest healing practices in the world. For the uninitiated, the term describes a group of procedures whereby anatomical points on the body are stimulated. The acupuncture technique most studied involves penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation.

Years ago when I was part of a breast cancer support group, some of our members used acupuncture to ease the side effects of their chemo treatments. I might have explored that avenue had I not held a busy job as an attorney at the time. I also feared that I might develop lymphedema from the needles placed on the arm on which surgery was performed.

Because the pain has radiated to my back and side, I am now at the point where I will try any modality suggested by a respected medical practitioner to get the pain under control.

The atmosphere at the community acupuncture clinic relaxes me and soothes my soul. I’ve had three sessions now, shoes off, lying with eyes closed in a recliner listening to Chinese instrumentals softly playing in the background. Each time I am there I have drifted off to sleep, which in itself is a blessing after enduring night after night of sleep deprivation. At this juncture, I can’t say that the treatment is working. The acupuncturist told me I would have ups and downs in my pain levels, but the idea is to see gradual relief over a course of a few weeks.

Here’s hoping the needle sticks will do the trick.

If not, the PA said he has other ideas in his virtual black bag. His solutions do not involve cortisone shots, which have their own problems. Maybe he’ll have me see a chiropractor. All I know is that he has not given up hope that I can lick this. And I hope he never does.

Have you tried acupuncture or acupressure for treatment of pain or for relief of side-effect symptoms related to cancer treatment? If so, what has been your experience?

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