a little about my acupuncture experience (updated)

Several people asked to hear about my recent experience with acupuncture. I was delaying, because I couldn't figure out how to write about it without going into my whole medical history, my fibromyalgia, my years of mis-diagnosis, what medications and treatments I use, and so on.

I don't mind sharing any of that information, but on the other hand, I don't feel a need to write about it, either. There's a lot of health and wellness blogging, and that's great if it helps you, but it's not for me.

My approach to my health is to do what I need to do, and not focus on it any more than I have to. This is not to minimize my own issues or anyone else's. I just don't want my health issues to define me. Through my writing, I've known so many people with significant, permanent disabilities who don't let their limitations define their lives. They are models for me; I strive to do the same.

So here's the quickie version. I have fibromyalgia, which causes, among other things, tenderness, sensitivity and pain at "pressure points" or "trigger points" all over the body. It can be thought of as a cross between arthritis (which I also have in many joints) and chronic fatigue syndrome, although it's not quite either of those.

A physiotherapist (physical therapist for US readers) suggested acupuncture to "release" the trigger points. Trigger points are spots that are not receiving oxygen or blood circulation, so the muscle is shortening up, kind of like a permanent cramp. It's like a thumb-sized dead zone. The acupuncture needle would stimulate the muscle, blood would flow to the area, and the body could begin to heal that spot.

Some people get a lot of relief from this, some do not. I thought it was worth a try, especially since I have some limited insurance reimbursement for acupuncture.

I'm open to various treatments. I neither accept nor reject a potential treatment because it's called alternative or because it's called Western. I've used a variety of both Western and alternative treatments, and I'll go with whatever works. Acupuncture certainly can't hurt you, so why not try it.

I've had four sessions so far. The treatment is not always easy. Having these trigger points stimulated is... uncomfortable. I wouldn't call it painful, but it's not nothing. The needles cause involuntary movement, like twitches, but deep in the muscle. It's a strange feeling, and unpleasant.

The process is time consuming, too. You know how that goes. You have to go there, then wait, then have the treatment, then drive home. Then I need a hot epsom-salt bath for the after-effects of the treatment. So it's a big chunk of day gone.

After the bath, voila! The tenderness and pain is gone.

Then in a few days, it returns.

The therapist says that because this is a chronic condition, which I have had for many, many years, it could take a lot of intensive treatment to get long-term results. For example, if I could commit to two or three treatments a week for a few weeks, I might then be able to cut back to weekly, then monthly, then a few times a year.

But I can't afford that, and I'm not willing to commit the time. If I was really debilitated by the fibro, I would be more apt to consider it. But I've had the condition under control for many years, and in this case the treatment would seem worse than the symptoms themselves.

So that's that. I hope it's useful information for some readers. If you have or think you have fibromyalgia, I urge you to not just suck it up and live with it. Proper medication, supplements, and lifestyle changes can make an enormous difference. They have for me. And acupuncture might be worth trying.

Update. Judging from comments, I was unclear about something important. The uncomfortable part of the acupuncture is from the fibromyalgia, not the acupuncture itself.

Fibro trigger points are hyper-sensitive; the slightest pressure on them causes pain. So a direct touch by a needle is going to hurt. But the acupuncture itself wouldn't usually be painful. You don't feel the needle being inserted, and if I didn't have these trigger points, I wouldn't feel it at all.


David Cho said...

You are the third person to have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia JUST ON MY BLOGROLL ALONE!

How prevalent is this?

I had acupuncture done after a car accident, and the back pain went away for good. Perhaps it was just a mild case, but it persisted for about 3 months, and all my HMO doctor gave me was pain killers. I needed more than something to mask the pain.

L-girl said...

Well, the blogroll thing is a coincidence. But now that fibro is finally recognized as a real condition (by most doctors - but still not all!), more people are getting a proper diagnosis, so the prevalence *appears* to be increasing.

In the past, people (mostly women) were told it was all in their head, or given diagnoses that didn't fit, and all the wrong meds and treatments that came with that.

From the first link above:
- It affects 900,000 (3 in 100) Canadians.
- Women are at least four times more likely than men to develop fibromyalgia.
- It usually occurs in people over age 50.

Fibromyalgia is a common disease, affecting from 2% to almost 6% of all people. Women are much more likely to develop fibromyalgia than men (by a ratio of 4 to 1). The incidence of it increases with age, and it is most common in women 50 years of age or older.

That's excellent about acupuncture eliminating your back pain!

Amy said...

That's too bad about the limited effects of your acupuncture treatment. Did you only go the one time? I have often wondered if it was as painless as people claim---do you think it was more uncomfortable for you because of the fibromyalgia, or have other people just not accurately described the discomfort?

I saw something recently on tv about people using acupuncture on dogs. I wonder how it feels to them.

L-girl said...

I went for four sessions.

The discomfort was definitely not from the needles going in. That's nothing, you don't feel a thing, as you have heard from other people. The discomfort was from the needle stimulating the trigger point.

Having a trigger point touched is painful, there's just no way around that. I could be using osteopathic treatment, but the pain would be intolerable. Massage is great, but I have to find a massage therapist willing to not work so deeply (which I have).

If I gently bump my knee or elbow, I can see stars from the pain.


I wanted to try acupuncture for our first dog's arthritis and hip dysplasia. But the vet who did it was in the suburbs, and without a car (and without much money) it was impossible.

impudent strumpet said...

I don't know if you can answer this, but is it painful because acupuncture is painful, or is it painful because you have fibromyalgia?

L-girl said...

I can answer it - and already have, above. :)

It was painful because of the fibro. The insertion of the needle is not painful. It's when the needle hits the trigger point. The trigger points are hyper-sensitive to any touch, and this is direct touch, on the spot itself.

impudent strumpet said...

Oh I get it, I wasn't reading trigger point as the fibromyalgia term for some reason, I was reading it as "the point that the needle has to trigger." I need to start doing medical translation again before I turn completely stupid. Or maybe this is why they don't give me medical translation any more

L-girl said...

But you know, both you and Amy had the same question, which tells me I should edit this post. For whatever reason, it sounds like the acupuncture itself - regardless of condition - could be painful, and I don't think that's it.

But do that medical translation anyway. :)

(That must be very challenging!)