Yesterday, I had acupuncture (among other things) for the first time in my life. After a year of trying everything imaginable including, most recently, intense PT and visits to a rheumatologist, the pain in my feet has not abated. In fact, if you compared the pain a year ago to the pain a week ago, it was the same or worse. As of yesterday, on a scale of 0 to 10 with 0 being no pain and 10 being literally unable to walk, I was still at an 8 most of the time with the occasional 9. So I decided to give non-traditional therapy a try.
I started my visit by explaining to the acupuncturist what my pain is like and what I have done so far. We talked about possibilities for 10 or 15 minutes and he let me know that although he has a good track record treating plantar fasciitis, if I was not significantly improved after 4 or 5 visits, he probably was not going to be able to help me. I appreciate that he does not want to string me along for months, waiting to see if it is going to work. It either works or it doesn't, he said.
After our chat, he instructed me to lie face down on the padded table in the treatment room. The lights were dimmed to try and make it a relaxing experience, but I was nervous. The thought of needles being poked into various painful parts of my body is not a pleasant one. But I tried to relax, and he started feeling the backs of my legs, and the next thing I knew I had about 4 or 5 long, thin needles inserted into each calf. Like the physical therapists, he tied the plantar fasciitis and foot pain to the calf muscles. Next, he placed a few more needles into each ankle and the sides of my feet. He did *not* insert any needles into my heel, for which I was thankful. He did say that we were starting "gently" but if needed, he could insert the needles directly into the inflamed "nugget" of tissue at my heel at a future visit.
I can't say the needles didn't hurt at all. But they weren't as painful as, say, the needle used for a shot or a blood draw. It was just a teeny poke. Then, he dimmed the lights further, instructed me to lay there and relax, and left the room. He came back in about ten minutes and then turned or twisted each needle in place until I felt a "jolt" at each spot. Then the lights were dimmed and he went out again. This was repeated twice, and then he pulled the needles out. Acupuncture was over!
Next, he performed something called gua sha. He used a Chinese soup spoon to *very* roughly scrape the bottoms of each heel. It reminded me of the Graston technique or the ASTYM I had done in physical therapy before, but oddly, it did not hurt. Even when he went over the usually tender heel points with quite a bit of force, I had no pain. He remarked that he was surprised that it was not painful. The gua sha is to stimulate blood flow and healing.
When that was over, it was time for some moxibustion! I had no idea what he was talking about, but as I was lying there on my stomach, I started to smell something burning. I looked over my shoulder and saw him standing there holding a lighter to a small piece of something. Ever so slightly alarmed, I said "what's that?" and he told me it was a moxa made of mugwort, and he was lighting it and was going to place it on my heel to "warm" it and increase bloodflow and circulation. He placed a piece of smoking mugwort on each heel, right where it's most painful... but the skin is so smooth and tough that the moxa wouldn't stick. "Hang on, I'm just going to tap it into place with a needle," he said. "Take a deep breath." I did, and ::tap tap tap:: he hammered an acupuncture needle through the mugwort and into my heel! More scary than painful, and then I got to lie there and relax to the smell of smoking mugwort on my feet. When that was over, he took them out and declared my session done.
I sat up, wondering. I didn't know if this was some kind of voodoo weirdness or if thousands of years of Chinese tradition might just have something that would help me. I left with strict instructions NOT to ice my feet anymore, but instead, to soak them in hot Epsom salts water for 20 minutes every night, lightly stretching before and after the soak and then coating the heels with an herbal "Pain Terminator" cream. Also, he gave me an herbal supplement for inflammation response (Zyflamend) to take instead of the steroids and NSAIDS I have taken over the past year. "See you next week!" he said. And home I went.
Funny thing. As soon as I left, my calves were sore. They felt like a pulled muscle... both of them. But the pain in my feet was a little better. As the day went on, the calves kept aching but my feet improved. Still sore, but I'd say a 6 out of 10. Later that night, I did my foot soak and stretch, put on the cream, and went to bed.
Today I had to be on my feet for 3 hours. I admit it... I was almost limping by the end of that time. I came home, took my supplements, and put my feet up for ten minutes. When I got back up... very little pain! Normally, being on my feet for a long time has me hurting and limping for hours. But today... knock on wood... I'd say my worst pain was about a 5. As of right now, my calves are only slightly achey and my feet are at about a 3 on the pain scale. I am very hopeful that this treatment... whether it's the acupuncture, the gua sha, the moxibustion, the supplements, or the whole combination... will actually work. We'll see!
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