Wednesday, June 12, 2013

shoulder pain management: acupuncture

I have been dealing with a dysfunctional shoulder issue for several months now, and throughout this process things have gone from bad to better to worse to really worse to a little bit better.  This past week I experienced the most pain and discomfort to date, and I was feeling pretty sad and scared about the impact of this injury on my life. 
living with shoulder pain
At my last appointment, my chiropractor recommended that I get an MRI because he thinks I may have re-injured it and that I may have a small tear deep in the rotator cuff.  Once he mouthed the letters MRI, I pretty much spaced out and most certainly blocked the word "surgery".  I promised myself to take this experience step by step and (try to) remain calm and not think about horrific things like surgery (and the associated pain, boredom, inability to work, financial burden and loneliness) until that option is formally presented to me as a necessary treatment.  At this point, it is quite possible that it's not as bad as it seems, which is why we are doing the testing. So let us not speak of surgery again.
Dr. Grant told me that one reason why he is concerned is that I am so active. He's fairly in tune with the kind of work I do as a costumer.  He treats tailors, drapers, stitchers and other costumers that work in my field. He's familiar with the various ways that we use our bodies when we work.  He's also well aware of my yoga path, and is supportive of it- so much that he's asked me to teach yoga to kids in his summer wellness camp.  And he's right, I'm a super active person. Though I haven't done a yoga practice in over a month, and I try to avoid carrying heavy things with my right arm, etc., it's really the way that I use my arm in day-to-day activities that are preventing me from healing fully. I just started noticing how much of a strain it is for me to reach into the fridge to grab milk.  Making my bed in the morning hurts my shoulder, even lifting my laptop with one hand is uncomfortable.  And I won't even get into tasks like ironing, sweeping and mopping the yoga studio, cleaning windows or gardening.  I never realized how much I rely on my dear shoulder to do daily activities, and just how often, as in constantly, I use it...until I realized how much it hurts just to get through a normal day.

So again I have been easing up and retraining myself to be ambidextrous...ironing with my left hand, opening doors with my left hand, and of course, leaving my bed unmade! Obviously I'm still avoiding practicing yoga, and I've stopped digging in the dirt.  I'm functioning cautiously and taking time out to ice and heat almost obsessively. Yesterday I went to my first acupuncture session at Brooklyn Open Acupuncture.
After filling out extensive health history forms and discussing them with the practitioner Liz, I climbed onto the table.  I was looking forward to this experience even just for the opportunity to lay on a massage table in a quiet room for an hour! She took my pulse and looked at my tongue, then explained that I might feel a slight pinching sensation like a mosquito bite as some of the needles were inserted. Nothing about it was painful, but because of the severity of the tightness of the muscles around my rotator cuff, I felt some strange sensations.  Liz sort of pinched my skin in order to place the needle in the right spot, but because I had such huge, dense knots, it was clearly difficult for her to insert some of them.  The knots and/or the muscle kept sort of moving around and seizing up (?) it's hard to explain what was happening, but it was crazy!  It was as if the knots were moving to avoid the needles.  Liz explained that I had particularly tense muscles and seemed to have a surprised/shocked look on her compassionate face.  Finally she was finished left me to lay there for a very long time. 
Once all the needles were in, I tried to stay relaxed but was so aware of the minute movements in my muscles and the degrees of tension/release within them individually that I didn't fully drift into a tranquil state.  I wasn't nervous or anything, just aware.  It was really neat to notice the different sensations related to each point where there was a needle.  Some places tingled a little, like a mosquito bite that I wanted to scratch, while other places, like my back muscles-specifically my Teres Minor (maybe?)- seemed to actively tense up and then release then feel light like air.  This tension/release action repeated several times until either it stopped, or I drifted into a less self-aware state and no longer noticed it.
After a while, I felt that I was ready to get off of the table.  Liz came to check on me and remove the needles.  She told me to take my time getting up and I heeded her wisdom.  After laying face down on a table for over an hour and having the treatment, I was O U T of it! I felt so heavy, yet light headed, I didn't dare to stand up for a while. (I'm used to getting dizzy and light headed, so I wasn't overly concerned, but this one was a bit of a doozie) She could see that I was feeling funky, and was very attentive, getting me some water and reminding me to take it easy.  After what felt like 5 minutes of sitting, I decided I was ready to stand.  I slowly gathered my things and thanked Liz and wandered out to the street.  I was floating, and I kind of liked it. 
At this point, I was so floaty, feeling like I was on drugs or something, that I couldn't even tell if my shoulder felt better.  Plus, I wasn't concerned with that.  I just wanted to make sure I could walk down the street without getting run over or having my acupuncture-buzz killed. Was it just me, or was everyone looking at me?  Yes, I did have a super-cute outfit on and my hair looked great, but I also felt like maybe I even had a special glow, a supernatural aura that came out from the acupuncture, and that's why it felt like people were looking at me- they could see it!  Ahhh it's silly, I know, but that is actually what I was thinking at the time. 
So, eventually the heady weirdness wore off and I noticed that indeed my shoulder felt better, it was lighter, it hurt less.  At the end of the day I reflected upon how I had felt physically when I entered the acupuncture clinic that morning compared to how I felt now.  There was a remarkable difference and a great reduction in my discomfort.  I'm not saying that this will cure me, but it seems to have helped and I surely plan to follow up with more treatments.


  1. Acupuncture can't promise an immediate cure to injury, but it can soothe the pain as it corrects the damaged area back to condition. You may need a few more sessions before you can feel its effect. What matters is that your injury will be healed. Do not miss any session for faster recovery, and even after your injury is gone, ask your doctor if you can continue with acupuncture for other reasons like relaxation of the muscle or headache.

    -Sandie Derouin @

  2. You are so right Sandie! I've been skipping my acupuncture sessions because I got another cortisone shot so I'm feeling OK, but now is probably the time to go! thanks for the reminder.

  3. So, I assume you went back for another session. How was it this time? It seems to have been great on you. Keep it up and share with us more about your experience. I hope your shoulder gets better soon.
    Jessi Casas @ Fox Valley Acupuncture

    1. Thanks Jessi! I have been going back pretty regularly and my shoulder is so much better! There's still a little bit of a nagging discomfort, and compromised range of motion, but the acupuncture has been so helpful in speeding up the recovery. You're right, I should write a follow up post!

  4. Hope that has improved. That can be quite a bother, I'd imagine. It's thus wise that you've given acupuncture a go. We never really run out of remedies and options. That's really something worth recommending to as many people as possible, and for as many ailments, given the inummerable testaments to its merits. Here's to the good times!

    Shavonda @ Avicenna Denver

  5. I agree Shavonda! I am always happy to recommend acupuncture to people, like yoga, there are so many ways in which it can help so many people. And I continue to be amazed by my experiences with it. I'm so glad I decided to give it a go!