First a Little Background
Regular readers will be aware that besides breaking my neck in August 2010, I’ve been contending with the further misfortune of being one of those SCI survivors (estimated at 15%) who suffer severe chronic neuropathic pain + debilitating allodynia that is related to my damaged Central Nervous System.
And then there are other pain issues that I share with the broader SCI population, who suffer recurring injuries due to overuse of arms and various kinds of rehab.
For example, I suffer intermittently from an intense a knife-like feeling that cuts directly into my right scapula and shoulder blade where many muscles overlap under the scapula bone.
This pain dates back to shortly after I broke my neck and resulted from constantly driving my power wheelchair with my right arm in a fixed position. Also, rehab weightlifting often aggravates this injury, and it flares up every few months for about 1 to 2 weeks. During break-out episodes, I can barely even drive my wheelchair or exercise.
This is a pretty common problem for SCI survivors, who suffer periodically from upper body muscle/tissue damage resulting from life in a wheelchair. And therefore this is why I’m planning to devote a number of upcoming blog posts to sharing with the SCI community what I’m learning about pain management.
So far I have tried quite a few different therapies that have not worked out as I had hoped, but SCI readers may have some luck with these:
- Conventional acupuncture
- Electro- acupuncture
- Tiger balm, all kinds of sprays, muscle creams
- Ibuprofen + Tramadol
- Relaxation by meditation
In January I also experimented with Lithium carbonate but ended up poisoning myself. By now, though, I’m ready to try another experiment, this time with Traditional Chinese Medicine (“TCM”).
A Brief Overview of Acupuncture
The practice of acupuncture originated in China and has been clearly recorded for over 2000 years. Many different forms of the practice evolved over the centuries and in some cases combined traditional needle therapy along with use of Chinese herbs.
TCM holds that the human body contains a network of energy pathways through which vital energy (called Qi and pronounced “chi”) circulates. These pathways are often commonly referred to as “meridians.”
Along these meridians there are specific points that function somewhat like gates through which chi flows as it circulates throughout the body. Acupuncture needles are inserted into these points to free up the flow of chi through the meridians.
TCM further holds that fundamental illness and related symptoms are caused by problems in circulation of chi through the meridians.
Western science has determined that these meridians and specific acupuncture points identified by TCM actually do coincide with anatomical features that can be observed.
For example, electrically-charged particles called “ions” had been found to flow through “ionic streambeds” that correspond with meridians just beneath the surface of the skin. And acupuncture points identified centuries ago by TCM have been found to emit light, which can be detected with sensitive laboratory equipment. How about that for a mind-blowing discovery?
Needle Knife Acupuncture
Needle-knife acupuncture (that’s a literal translation of the Chinese characters) is a special type of acupuncture in which the needles used are very thick with sharpened tips that look like small knives. Here’s what they look like:
In China, needle-knife acupuncture is frequently used to treat knee osteoarthritis.
Then just a few years ago it was discovered that needle-knife therapy was also extremely useful on soft tissue injuries and could help to relieve neurovascular compression by relaxing soft tissues in order to relieve tension pain.
Over the last 10 years multiple universities in China have undertaken large scale needle-knife therapy acupuncture studies, enrolling over 2000 patients who were treated for various soft tissue ailments. It was found that needle-knife therapy apparently had an effective rate of approximately 85% effective rate.
And even the U.S. NIH has published an evaluation paper on the subject … see:
I have to acknowledge that these large, knife-like needles look scarier than traditional acupuncture needles, but a couple of months ago my Dad and Jenny attended a physician-training session at a Kunming university that offered free treatment to members of the public. Of the 15 or so procedures they witnessed, not one patient seemed even to winch when the needles were inserted … typically shallow at a flat angle.
Unlike traditional acupuncture, needle-knife acupuncture only takes between 3 to 5 minutes per session. Also, depending on the ailment, one only needs treatment 1 to 2 times a week for about 4 to 6 weeks.
I have been told by the Chengdu-based national director of research on this procedure that I will know if I have any relief after the first two sessions.
So, wish me luck as I try this TCM therapy … yet one more experiment on Lab Rat Ali … hoping to discover a path to alleviate at least one type of pain from which I know the majority of spinal cord injury patients also suffer.And even if this doesn’t work … well … I will just keep trying new things until something does work!
The last few weeks here in Kunming have been pretty hectic as we’ve had an influx of foreign patients coming either to check out the Kunming walking program or researching spinal surgery options.
There’s one lovely Australian family presently here whose son underwent spinal cord surgery last Wednesday to remove a bent screw (!) as well as to remove a large cyst like the one I had last year, and he is currently recovering well. Fortunately, the Tongren Hospital team have gotten the hang of post-surgical pain management.
I’ve also been extremely busy with trading over the last few months. I have a pretty steady routine now, one in which I go to the gym in the morning for 3 ½ hours to work out and then I come back to my apartment for an early lunch. Right after lunch I hit the financial market screens and focus on trading for the rest of the afternoon.
My neuropathic pain has pretty much remained constant, but as I mentioned in previous blogs, I have recently started working with a gifted hypnotherapist, Dr. Stephen Kahn from Chicago. We get together over Skype video several times a week. This subject is more complex than meets the eye initially, but I believe hypnotherapy holds great promise and feel very lucky to be working with Dr. Kahn.