Acupuncture (for) a Pain in my Butt

I had, what seemed to me, a chronic jaw issue–otherwise referred to as TMJ. While TMJ is a shortened term for the actual name of your jaw joints, it is also often referred to as jaw pain caused from incorrect teeth placement, grinding, and even arthritis in your facial joints.

For me, TMJ was caused by all of the above, and my first acupuncture experience was just three small needles placed directly into the side of my face.

Scary, right?!?

Actually, it wasn’t scary at all.

I had felt pain in my face for years. So by this point I was willing to try anything. While the idea of little tiny needles going into such a thin, sensitive area was a little bit of an unknown, the quick tap of the needle was over in an instant and all there was left to do was lie there, waiting.

The first needle was the weirdest sensation. Rather than any pinch or prod, I felt the rush of endorphins surround the area as if my body was instantaneously delivering little microbubbles through my system. In a way, it tickled and maybe even itched for a brief moment. But the overall sensation was more like a ZING than a ping.

What was really surprising to me was that the third needle was tapped into my hand – directly between my thumb and forefinger. I was somehow far more aware of that sensation than I was with the presence of any needles in my face.

My hand wanted to clench out of awkwardness, but I could tell that any sense of pain I thought I had was more mind over matter. I was just perceiving a reaction to an unexpected thing. I didn’t know how else to feel about it. In reality, it wasn’t much of a feeling at all.

Since then, I’ve had acupuncture to my jaw only a few more times before I was done with any need for long term pain management in that area. But recently, I have moved on with the help of a couple of BounceRehab’s physios.

Now, I’m on to bigger things that are quite frankly (and literally) a pain in the butt!

Lately, I’ve been getting acupuncture treatments for my sciatic nerve. If you already know what your sciatic nerve is because you’ve also somehow damaged this huge piping of nerves from foot-to-bum, I apologize. There are few long-term pains that I have known and agonized over as much as the surprising pinch and sting of sciatic trouble.

For me, I’ve suffered from random and re-occurring sciatic pain for six years. While I’ve learned a few stretches for it and found over time that movement does more to for me than lying down and wallowing in my own suffering, I had slowly learned to accept that sciatic pain will never go away.

Well, now I am here to tell you that may not be the case.

With a few extra stretches added to my psycho-sciatic (yeah, not a typo) repertoire and a few regular acupuncture appointments, I suddenly know what it feels like to sit for hours on a plane without the complete agony of swelling and bent knees, and I no longer have sharp, shearing pains or constant throbs that disrupt my sleep. While my sciatic is still on it’s way to healing (strength training is required–see my post about my first Pilates class), I am feeling a new sense of relief.

Even if you aren’t an acupuncture first timer, getting acupuncture on a new area is a complete unknown. I think everyone wonders exactly what it will feel like. Too many people, like me, will wait until they have a pain that’s so annoying that the idea of adding a little more pain to the problem suddenly seems like it isn’t such a bad idea.

From my experience I can tell you that instantly and proactively treating a problem will cause you less pain all around.

I can also attest that one acupuncture experience does not speak to other pains and acupuncture experiences all. Every part of your body will feel and react differently.

I think what matters most about deciding if acupuncture is right for you, is knowing that all this talk about “needles” is far scarier than it actually needs to be. I dislike that they even call them needles. An acupuncture needle is extremely thin and has no physical resemblance to the feeling you have when getting a vaccine, for example. The feeling of an acupuncture needle, to me, feels more like ripping off a bandaid than being poked by something. I wouldn’t even compare it to a bee sting, like, say, an electrolysis needle.

That being said, ripping off a bandaid comes with a variety of sensations depending on the size of the bandaid and how long it’s been on, right? That’s why I think acupuncture is most similar to a bandaid.

The actual feeling of the needle being tapped in or taken out is no big deal at all. I wouldn’t even describe it as a pinch. The bandaid analogy is more about how a body part that is already experiencing pain may react to the presence of this foreign object. But that’s precisely what makes acupuncture work.

The finite presence of a foreign object directly into a muscle or nerve triggers your body to instantly pay attention to that exact point. Rather than your body trying to heal all kinds of pain that you may be experiencing throughout your body, between your physio and the needle, you’re identifying the exact spot and notifying your body: “This is the place.”

The body is a miraculous and wonderful self-healer. In just twenty meditative minutes lying in wait, your body comes to the rescue and you will leave feeling more energetic due to the endorphin rush experienced during this healing process.

Sometimes you may experience and extra twinge that seems above and beyond any blog post you’ve researched on the topic. The good news is, it isn’t the acupuncture causing you pain. It is the needle FINDING your pain.

For example, my most recent treatment was just a few short hours after my first Pilates class. I had a whopping 10 needles placed around my lower back and side of my bum to really get to the top of the sciatic nerve. Having the needles placed was no big deal especially since I mentally knew I had plenty of cushion around my love handles so I didn’t end up psyching myself out with what I thought it might feel like.

Since my problem has been unrelenting and years overdue for a checkup, there’s a little extra twist involved here or there. It’s the twisting of the needle that helps to really find which part is going to activate the greatest healing for your body. In fact, your physio can often physically see the slight twitch a twist will cause in the area that needs it most.

For me, 7 out of 10 needles weren’t even a thought. I couldn’t tell the difference between a slight breeze on my lower back and a twist of those needles. Three of them, far from each other, were spot on to the problem. But the insane grit of the teeth that comes from the twist of those spot-on needles is not any different from the grit caused by the problem those needles are helping to heal.

The needles are simply activating the same sharp jolt my sciatic will give me on its own. But I know that rather than being a random, tormenting pain caused at any given moment throughout my day, that this moment is precise and the purpose is healing. You can physically and mentally sense the healing even if it feels like a pain in that brief, microsecond.

In the end, I’ve never felt better and more relieved. I couldn’t even remember the time in my life where I wasn’t randomly debilitated by something that lasted for longer than the split second it takes to pinpoint the problem during acupuncture. Again, not every experience is the same. This is an experience that, I think, can be considered extreme and it really isn’t bad at all. For most, you won’t feel anything worth writing home about.

If you don’t feel that targeted pinpoint, you’re still healing. You don’t have to feel that “ah ha” moment for acupuncture to be working. Most of the time, like with my jaw, you’ll just lay there having a conversation with your physio for a short while and then it will all be over.

To be honest, my experience has made me more aware of oncoming problems and has taught me to listen more to my body. I’d rather be proactive with my self care rather than prolong the process by putting it off like I have been. After all, a little acupuncture never hurt anyone. Promise. Give it a try. You can book in here.

Join me in my journey to recovery and renewal while I blog about my one-stop-shop experience with the amazing people at BounceRehab.

Next stop: orthotics.