On pins and needles
As a migraine sufferer for 23 years, I’ve tried everything to help manage the pain: dark rooms, ice packs, prescription meds, even prayer.
I know what the triggers are, but avoiding them doesn’t guarantee I’ll be migraine-free. And once that pain sets in, nothing truly helps. You just learn to suffer through it.
Increasingly, chronic pain sufferers are choosing acupuncture as a way to alleviate and manage their pain. But there are skeptics who question the effectiveness of this treatment, and quite frankly, more than a few needle-phobes won’t even consider this alternative.
I needed to find out for myself.
I scheduled an appointment with Dr. Rani Sharma, a specialist in internal and holistic medicine at Advocate Medical Group in Mundelein. Although she’s trained as an allopathic doctor, she often recommends alternative remedies for patients who want to explore other treatment options.
Practitioners of acupuncture believe it works on pressure points located throughout the body called meridians, which are little pathways in the body associated with a specific organ or body part. In a healthy body, chi, or energy, flows freely through the meridians. In a body experiencing pain or discomfort, the chi becomes blocked or stagnant. Acupuncture needles release pressure in the areas where the chi is not moving, allowing the energy to move fluidly through your body.
A word about the needles: They’re not like hypodermics! They’re thinner (widths vary from .012 to .35 mm) and more like really flexible sewing needles with rounded tips. They vary in length from 7 mm to 8 cm, with longer ones being used in areas with a bit more fatty tissue, like your back.
I began my appointment with Dr. Sharma with headache pain at 7, with 10 being the worst and 1 being very little pain.
She started the session by pressing on my skin to find the right spot to insert a needle.
“Is this going to hurt?” I asked nervously, wondering whether this reporting assignment was really part of my job description.
“You’ll feel a little pinch,” Dr. Sharma said, as she pinched a bit of my skin between her thumb and index finger and pulled it upward to demonstrate. “Once the needle breaks through the skin, then you won’t feel a thing.”
For some reason I thought insertion would be done with more of a twisting motion, but it’s actually more of a jab. I felt a slight sting and then nothing as she pulled up on the coverlet that released the needle.
“Some patients feel achy when these are inserted,” Dr. Sharma explained. I didn’t really understand what she meant until she inserted a needle into my left hand. The achiness felt more like radiating pressure—not painful, just different.
Only one needle was really painful going in, in my left shoulder, where I hold a great deal of tension. Some patients gain instant relief when the needle is inserted into an area of severe pain. Not so in my case. It just hurt, but the sharp pain didn’t last long.
And just when I thought Dr. Sharma was done placing all the needles, she brought out an instrument that detects auricle (ear) tension, which connects to the muscles in your face and head. She touched the instrument to my ear and listened for a tone. When the tone increased, Dr. Sharma applied a bit more pressure, which generated a pulse and created what felt like a strong clamp. This too releases pressure in a painful area. And for good measure, she stuck three needles in my right ear to give even more release.
With 16 needles placed in various areas along the top of my head, my face, my shoulders, ears, hands and feet, Dr. Sharma then left for about 10 minutes and let the needles work their magic. My body began to relax, and I felt myself drift off into a relaxing sleep. And I could feel that current of energy moving around my body at every needle point, from my head to my feet.
When Dr. Sharma removed the needles, I didn’t feel a thing. She dabbed at each point with a cotton ball to catch any droplets of blood that may appear on my skin. Some people even experience a bit of bruising, she says, but nothing dramatic.
Once the needles were removed, the tops of my feet felt a bit tender for about 15 minutes, and I felt very achy in my right shoulder and my left hand. That night I felt like a Mac truck hit me, but after a hot shower and a good night’s rest, I felt much improved the next day.
My headache had gone from a 7 to a 1 in less than one hour’s time. Will I go back? With regular treatments, acupuncture would probably help with the severity and regularity of my migraines. It beats suffering for three days with an ice pack and a dark room. I’d definitely go back. Wouldn’t you?
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.