Wednesday, June 27, 2007

On Pins & Needles

Acupuncture needles and electricity: what a great way to spend an afternoon!

On a Saturday afternoon in late April 2006, I stepped out of the BWD van after leading a field trip at the Ohio Ornithological Society annual conference and eye-watering pain shot through my right ankle. A series of visits to doctors, massage therapists, and foot specialists got me no cure and a boot-full of diagnostic hypotheses. And an ankle brace which I wear when I play softball, on long hikes, during birding field trips, and when appearing in the Whipple Community Theatre's production of RiverDance, (which is actually called Muskingum RiverDance). The brace supports my sore ankle while making it sore in new and interesting ways.

It's not arthritis, the X-rays say. And I can remember no physical event that brought on the pain. It just came. It's probably the echo of a long-ago ankle sprain I sustained in high school basketball practice, but there's no way to know for sure. Fortunately it does not hurt all the time, just when I use the ankle and the foot it's attached to.

About three months ago, my left knee got jealous of my right ankle and decided IT wanted some attention, too. So it got all tendonitis-y on me. Now it, too, only hurts when climbing stairs, running, or making a quick maneuver, such as avoiding stampeding buffalo, or trying to catch a screaming line drive while playing third base.

I used to laugh in the face of getting older. Now I'm not so sure I should've been so cocky.

Last week, while navigating the rocky, wooded islands of Maine, I got several jabs of knee and ankle pain despite my best efforts at being safe. "No thanks to the round-the-island walk! Think I'll stay here and whittle a ship-in-a-bottle!"

I finally realized that my only hope of getting rid of this very annoying and not-quite-debilitating pain was to look to alternative medicine for help. My friend Matt Smith runs Body Logic in Parkersburg, WV where he does body work such as massage therapy and its various permutations. I was thinking about trying acupuncture and Matt had just hired an acupuncturist--it was a sign, I thought.

I had my second session today with Dr. Shang, a licensed acupuncturist. Dr. Shang studied the ancient art of acupuncture for 5 years and has practiced it for more than 20 years. I knew I was in good hands. Still I've never been a fan of needles.

Here's what happens: She presses a finger to find the sore or tender spots on my legs. Where she finds pain, she taps in a micro-thin needle. This usually happens without my feeling a thing. Sometimes there's a little pain, like getting a tiny shot.

Today was my second treatment (my first was two weeks ago) and I have to say that I do feel better. Not cured yet, but more pain-free than in the past week.

After inserting all the needles (I got 10 today--5 in each leg) the good doctor hooks me up to a machine that sends low levels of electric shock into the muscles via little clamps on the metal needles, hooked up to a small current-creating machine. I really feel my muscles react to the electricity. Initially the muscles contract, then gradually loosen. The flow of energy from right to left through my body is easy to feel.

The point of both needles and electricity is to increase the energy flow to the affected areas. This will increase blood flow and will help in the healing process.

My bad right ankle hooked up to the "charger."

Dr. Shang leaves me hooked up to the "charger" for up to 30 minutes. I'm immediately relaxed after she turns up the power, turns off the lights and tells me to rest easy as she leaves the room. After about 15 minutes, my muscles start to come alive and my toes and legs twitch a bit. Just about the time I think I can't stand it anymore, Dr. Shang comes in and unplugs me.

I'll probably go back for a few more treatments. It's been an interesting experience and it has definitely helped my knee and ankle pain. Who would have thought that sticking needles in your body could help reduce pain and make you healthier.

Now I'm wondering if she can stick a needle in my head somewhere to help my hair get thicker on top. I'm too easily sunburned on the old dome.

And speaking of hair, sorry about the hairy legs. I'm not a body-waxing Adonis. I'm just Bill of the Birds trying to live my life.

Today the left knee got 5 needles and 20 minutes of electricity. I can suddenly do a perfect version of The Electric Slide.


At 6:35 AM, Blogger Jayne said...

We all used to laugh in the face of getting older, and now it's not so funny anymore. :c) Glad the acupuncture/eStim is helping.

At 7:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing BOTB readers can always count on is variety. 8-)

At 7:27 AM, Blogger Julie Zickefoose said...

This is a cool post. I've never known just how acupuncture happens and you've made it more accessible to me. Thanks for taking the camera into the acupuncturist's office. I'm rooting for a pain-free BOTB!
(And as far as the hairy legs, last I checked men were supposed to have them. They keep you warm while you're out hunting. Women shave and wax because we're just sitting around by the campfire, taking care of babies, preparing the roots, nuts and berries we gather, watching too much Project Runway and obsessing about our weight.)

At 8:18 AM, Blogger Rondeau Ric said...

You want to talk ankles, see Anne; you'll fell good, if only by comparison.

There are aches and pains you know you are going to have but it’s the ones like your ankle that drive me crazy.
What did I do to deserve this particular ache?

Of course pain is nature’s way of telling you that you are still alive.

At 9:55 AM, Blogger littleorangeguy said...

Nice feet.

At 11:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I've had acupuncture, it was with chinese herbs being burned at the end of the needles, to heat the needles and stimulate the points. Wild to see those needles hooked up to electricity!

Hope the pain eases for you.

Wayne, PA

At 12:33 AM, Blogger Susan Gets Native said...

Very cool to see Eastern medicine meeting Western.
Feet, ankles and knees are tricky thing to treat. I'm not an MD, but I bet your left knee got tired of taking on the excess pounding from your gimpy right ankle.
Hey, didn't you twist your ankle last year jumping a creek, chasing an owl or something?


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