Friday, 9 November 2012

Acupuncture and Facial Pain

As the weeks progressed, the pain became more intense and debilitating. I was unable to function. I missed countless days at university and was struggling to keep up with the tight deadlines. Due to my family situation, I still had to go to work but I had managed to cut down my hours to 7 hours per week and tried to live off of a smaller income. I had been in nonstop pain now since January 2010 and we were now approaching the summer. At this point, the GP’s had prescribed me co-codamol 8/500mg and I was taking maximum dose of ibuprofen. I have never liked pills or medication and I usually react badly to it.  I found myself relying and praying for these drugs to help me….even in the smallest way.  I became very withdrawn and unsociable. I was exhausted from the pain and lack of sleep. What made it seem worse was that I had no idea what was going on in my body and why I had this unstoppable violent pain. If it was not for my mum supporting me at this time and reassuring me constantly, I would have been suicidal and might have acted on it. My boyfriend was no help. He was busy working and lived far away and came back weekends to see his parents. He could not understand what was wrong with me and why I was so low. He just told me to keep calling the hospitals to get my appointment dates moved forward. This did not help in the slightest. Unfortunately, it is times like these that you realise who your true friends are and who will be there for you when you need them.
Whilst I was waiting for my pain management appointment at King’s, I booked a private appointment to see an acupuncture specialist. I have never had any form of acupuncture or physiotherapy, so this was a little daunting for me. I am also really scared of needles (wonderful I thought, what have I let myself in for). One of my family friends, who had bad problems with her back, suggested this form of therapy. It had worked for her for a limited period of time. So I booked an appointment at a private practice for a Wednesday afternoon in July 2010. The 50 minute session cost £35 pound. The lady who saw me had no knowledge of facial problems but was very honest and said she would speak to a few colleagues and undertake some research for my specific case.

For anybody who has ever tried acupuncture it is nothing like having an injection or blood test. The needles are very thin and are only inserted into the trigger points of the body. I am not an expert in this field. But from what I have been told, acupuncture stimulates certain points in your body that control your energy flow. By stimulating these points this brings blood to the area and this promotes healing. Additionally, by inserting a needle into the key areas, the muscles should react with it so when the needle is taken out the muscles should relax. I had needles placed in my head, neck, face, shoulders and back. The needles sting a little when they are put in and stimulated by the acupuncturist turning them. But this was nothing in comparison to the pain I was experiencing in my face. It is advised to take a sugary drink or a sweet with you after acupuncture as it can have sedating effects on people. Studies have shown that some people’s sugar levels drop after a session of acupuncture. In my experience I felt tired and more drained after acupuncture. So a sugar rush was much needed before driving home.

I had two private sessions with Julie the acupuncturist before I was seen at King’s College for my pain management appointment. This initial appointment consisted of a meeting with the pain management consultant and several specialists in the field of pain and physiotherapy. I was signed up to the pain management clinic and was issued with some sessions for acupuncture and physiotherapy at the hospital. I must say, the team were excellent and very accommodating. However, the medication I was prescribed did alarm me a little. I was prescribed amitriptyline 10mg-40mg (an antidepressant used in small doses to treat pain) and baclofen 5mg-10mg (a muscle relaxant). As someone who has never taken regular medication (other than my asthma pumps and antihistamines) this was a big shock. I was taking between 14-20 tablets a day and the side effects alone had a large impact on my life. I found my body was weak and tired. My muscles would ache every day and be very hard and painful. I had large knotted muscles down my neck, shoulders and back. I could hardly walk some days. I was finding it hard to communicate, I was confused and I struggled to concentrate on anything even reading or watching TV.  During my sessions with the various members of the pain management team I would often cry and be so withdrawn. I was a shell of the woman I once was. I felt like an old lady who had no hope of being young again.

The acupuncture and the limited physiotherapy, was actually making my pain worse and aggravating whatever condition I had. The drugs were making me so tired and weak and I would completely zone me out every evening. The muscle relaxant was lethal. Those made me feel like my brain had completely switched off. It was so bad that, once I had taken them I could not even string a sentence together or do anything physical. It was so frustrating… I could not think of how to phrase my university work and sometimes would not be able to get any words out at all. I would cry and throw huge tantrums in the house and throw things are the bedroom door. I would lock myself in my room for hours, crying into a pillow and screwing up my draft university work… which did not help me at all. I would resort to pulling my hair or picking my thumbs until they bled, in deep contemplation of where my life was going and how I would end up. Then, after being completely exhausted, I would ask my mum for help reading and phrasing certain things I could not put into coherent English. My mum is a complete angel and I could never express how thankful I am to her. She is a truly selfless woman and I am beholden to her for staying with me through my journey. 

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