Thursday, March 6, 2008

Living Pin Cushion

So if you've been reading along, you know I've been having some troubles with my back. I feel like at old man at the ripe age of 30. I guess 2 decades of hard sports (football and futbol) have taken their toll on me. My friend Anne Cave keeps telling me I need to take up swimming. She's probably right, but there's just something so stress relieving about the competition and physical contact of soccer. I'm not ready to give it up yet.
To deal with the pain and muscle tension in my upper back, I've been trying out Eastern medicine. It's really more than acupuncture. The whole process takes more than an hour.
When I get to the doctor's office the first thing I notice is the mild aroma of some herbs or roots brewing somewhere in the background - maybe ginseng, I don't know. If there is a line, I get a cup of some herbal tea, which is very brightly colored - red, orange, or purple - kind of like hot koolaid. Then one of the nurses leads me to a heated table. I spend the first 20 minutes laying on my back on a heat pad (in addition to the table which is already heated) and with a hot rock on my stomach. Sometimes this heated table is so hot that by the end of the hour, my legs are drenched with sweat. Koreans believe that very warm environments are health inducing. (When we visit moms in the hospital after giving birth, they are dressed in sweat suits, and the room temperature is about 90 degrees Fahrenheit!)
After getting my muscles warmed up (literally), the doctor comes and begins the acupuncture. He asks me some questions about the locations and severity of the pain and the situations in which I have been feeling the most pain. Then, I lay on my stomach or side, and he puts about 20 three inch long pins into my back at various depths, angles, and locations. He feels around my back like he is preparing to do a massage, but I think he is feeling for where the knots in the muscles are. Sometimes he pinches the skin and muscles together to get the pin to go in just right. It usually doesn't hurt much at all when he pushes the needle in. Sometimes there is a bit of a prick, but once the pins are all in, I don't even notice them unless I move. When he is finished, I just lay there for another 20 minutes.
Next, the nurse comes and takes out all of the pins and begins the 3rd wave of treatment: electro-therapy. Either the nurse or the doctor places four electrically charged suction cups in the areas of my back with the most pain. Then they set the charge on the machine to the highest level that I can comfortably tolerate. Then, the machine sends a pattern of electrical charges into my body for about 15 minutes, working in a kind of rhythm with varying intensities and frequency. It actually feels pretty good.
The last stage (which I only get about half of the time) is the application of negative pressure suction cups. This stage only lasts 3-4 minutes. The nurse applies the large suction cups to my back which actually suck up the flesh of my back about an inch into the cup. I think this is supposed to stimulate blood flow or something. The end result is that I have several perfectly round hickeys on my back. It's kind of surreal.
So in the end, I'm still not sure if all of this works. My back is definitely feeling better, but I never know if that's just because my body is healing itself or if it's because of the treatments. I think it does actually help, though, and the benefit is that I don't have to take any medicines with unknown side effects. So I guess I'll continue being a living pin cushion.

Update January 28, 2013: I finally decided that acupuncture is not helpful for me.  However, some people see amazing results with Eastern medicine - even after Western medicine failed them.  So, I stand by acupuncture and the surrounding network of Eastern treatments as viable alternative therapies.  It seems that it helps some people but not others, but for those it helps, it can really help a lot.
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