Back pain can sideline the strongest of us. When an ache becomes a chronic pain, even something as small as a single step can feel like too much. Here is one woman’s story of coming back from the sidelines to recover from a seemingly endless amount of pain, and how acupuncture helped.
Mindy came to my office after suffering for one year from bursitis in her right hip and referred tightness and soreness in her low back. She had made all the rounds with the medical doctors and had all the tests and procedures needed to diagnose bursitis of the hip. At the end of the day she was told to take over the counter anti-inflammatories and have physical therapy sessions twice weekly.
Even with the anti-inflammatories and physical therapy, the pain was unbearable. Too much walking, standing, or sitting caused the hip to ache, which then referred into the right side of her back and into her right knee. She had difficulty getting up and down from seated positions. She walked with a limp and could not get comfortable sitting, standing, or lying down. Her sleep was disturbed because her hip pain woke her throughout the night. She had a 24/7 pain cycle that kept her very stressed, anxious, and depressed.
After months of painful physical therapy did nothing to relive the hip and back pain, Mindy’s doctor resorted to injections of cortisone shots into her aching hip. But this proved ineffective as well. Her doctor told her to take her medications daily for the pain and that she should “be happy that she didn’t have arthritis in her hip.” She felt dismissed and discouraged with this “recommendation.”
Through the entire ordeal Mindy had also been receiving massage therapy. While this helped her relax, it did nothing to relieve the pain. After months, her massage therapist recommended that she try acupuncture for her chronic hip and back pain. And that was how Mindy ended up in such a desperate state at my office.
The year of pain and suffering had taken its toll on Mindy. She was losing hope in returning to her “normal” life. She was an articulate, youthful 62 years old when we met and she had lived a very active, full life up until the hip and back pain had sidelined her. Happily married with two grown children and two grandchildren, her life was full with family, friends, and travel.
Before the pain she adored spending time with her young grandchildren that were only a train ride away. Her daughter relied on her to help with the children and up until the chronic pain, Mindy was always up to the task. It frustrated her that she could no longer go to the park with her grandchildren or get down on the floor to play with them — not to mention that she could not longer walk around NYC without hip and lower back pain.
Before the pain she often volunteered her time, going to third world countries to participate in building homes and structures in depressed communities. The builds were very physically and mentally demanding, lasting for several weeks at a time, and were impossible for her to even consider with the pain. She had cancelled all her upcoming builds due to her physical problems and this felt like the beginning of a long life of pain, suffering, and inactivity.
As we sat and talked during our initial intake, I noticed that she was sad and lacked confidence that she would ever have the physical ability to live her former full life again. She usually walked three miles up steep hills every weekend with friends, which was a great source of exercise, fun, and social connection for her. But with her hip pain, this was out of the question. The pain was taking away, little by little, all the things in life that were rewarding and brought her pleasure.
Mindy had always been a powerhouse, full of life and passion. She constantly was helping and giving back to her family, friends, and communities around the world. Although she had little hope that she would regain her old life, she had some dreams.
She hoped that she would be able to go on a build again, to give back to the communities she so cared about. She hoped to play with her grandchildren with ease, rejoin her friends on the weekends, and start enjoying her normal day-to-day activities again.
I made no promises or guarantees except that I would do everything in my power to help mend her hip and back. This is when I wished for my magic wand, to wave her back to her former active self.
Mindy’s Chinese Medicine diagnosis was “qi and blood stagnation” as well as “cold damp bi” (pain) syndrome. This was an acute condition that had persisted for the past year, now turning her condition into a chronic one — much tougher to resolve.
Bursitis is a painful condition that affects the small fluid sacs, call bursae, that cushion the surroundings bones, tendons, and muscles around the joint spaces in the body. The bursae reduce friction on the joints during movement and it is when these bursae become inflamed that bursitis occurs. The symptoms are stabbing, shooting pain and stiffness around the effected joint. Movement makes the pain worse. Bursitis in the hip joint is very common and is usually due to overuse or repetitive movement.
This was the case with Mindy. She had been working with a personal trainer for several years and he had recently added a routine of repetitive squats and lunges that had lead up to the bursitis of the hip. She stopped all physical training when she began seeing me, as even the physical therapy was causing more pain.
We began our acupuncture treatments with a focus on reducing her hip inflammation and reducing the muscle spasms in her low back at the sacrum and buttock area on the right side. She came twice weekly for the first month and then when her symptoms lessened, we continued with weekly treatments. As the inflammation became less and less, we added gentle stretching exercises to encourage better range of movement and blood flow to the effected joints.
After six weeks of treatment, Mindy was able to ride on her stationary bike for twenty minutes at a very low resistance. After three months Mindy was ready to increase her exercise routine. She wanted something more engaging than the stationery bike that bored her to no end. This was when I suggested the mini trampoline.
Bouncing to Health
Before she began the mini trampoline workouts, I scheduled a home session so we could go over proper form and establish a safe workout schedule. Her excitement and motivation to regain her strength and fitness was the force that helped her achieve this goal. After six months of working together she was back with a vengeance.
Not only was she rebounding on her mini trampoline, but she had also incorporated strength training into her routine. Mindy was a little apprehensive about taking classes at a local Pilates gym, but she went in in spite of her fear. These strength classes have done her a world of good for both her bodily and mental confidence. She now has her muscular strength back as well as her cardiovascular strength — all without pain.
This past summer Mindy took part in a build where she endured heavy lifting, lots of walking, and extreme heat — all without hip or back pain! She is back to “full speed ahead” in her active life, enjoying all her roles as grandmother, wife, world traveler, and woman extraordinaire.
Mindy continues to amaze me with her interest and zest for life. It’s patients like Mindy that make my work so rewarding. Her spirit, inner strength, and belief in herself made all the difference in her healing.