Sticking Point - MS and Acupuncture
I’ll get to the point immediately – I know acupuncture is beneficial for me and if it were covered by my insurance I would go more often. My acupuncturist, earned a Doctor of Oriental Medicine degree and is registered with my state’s Medical Board, and has treated me since 2009 for various symptoms that most likely are associated with my Multiple Sclerosis.
That’s a short history compared to the 2,000+ years acupuncture has been practiced in China and I figure it has been around a lot longer than anything I can take out of a bottle, so there must be something to acupuncture treatment, I keep an open mind about its efficacy and the ways it might help me.
The common question or reaction I hear from others when they learn I get needled is ‘does it hurt?’ I won’t lie and say never, because occasionally there is some discomfort with the needle placement, but that is rare and easily fixed by backing off the needle depth. I rarely feel the entry of the needle, itself. Acupuncture needles are tiny things – about the size of a human hair or two. Those of you who know me, also know I am not very good with pain and if it hurt, do you really think I would pay to have this done?
So what is it that I find therapeutic about subjecting myself to be a human pincushion? It works for me – not only does it go straight to the point where I have a problem, the overall procedure of having this work done and the lying in a quiet room with dim lights is therapeutic in a different way. These sessions force me to stop, be still, and listen to my body. The application of needles to particular points in my body – I won’t and can’t get into a detailed explanation about chi and meridians and all the other things acupuncture is based on –relaxes the muscles and gives my body a break from tensions and relieves pain associated with the everyday strain on the body from MS.
Just the process of describing my problem to the acupuncturist helps me to visualize and understand what is ailing me and analyze the source of my problem. At our last session we worked on my left arm, which appears to have developed its own set of numbness and tingling, and my right leg, which has been the gimpy one from the start of this journey.
My acupuncturist also treats me for problems other than muscle spasms and muscle fatigue. His treatment for helping my chronic UTI’s was less than convincing, but I also have to admit he recommended multiple sessions for this problem and I only had it done one. Like so many of us, I’m always looking for the quick fix and acupuncture doesn’t always provide this and like other treatments it can take time to be effective. I get immediate relief, though, for muscle tension and it always improves my mood. Recent scientific studies have shown that acupuncture helps with depression and maybe that’s why I always feel better when those needles come out and I get off the table.
In the United States, we are far behind the rest of the world in considering acupuncture a legitimate medical treatment. We continue to be stuck in the Western medicine model of tests and pills to treat our diseases, and continue to ignore the Eastern medical arts which can be used to supplement our treatments. I like the idea of East meets West and combining the best of both worlds for improving my health.
In the UK, under that maligned National Health System (NHS) that we are often told limits care, acupuncture is routinely covered. A recent article says the NHS spent over £25 million (which would be about $40 million US) for acupuncture treatment and over 50% of general practitioners prescribe it for their patients.
So what has acupuncture been studied for and found effective in treatment? Here’s a short list of some of the ailments that acupuncture is prescribed for in the UK –
Mild bladder incontinence
Depression and anxiety
Headaches, particularly migraines
Nausea from chemotherapy and Post-surgery
Looking at this list, I can't miss that many of these are symptoms that people with MS deal with regularly, and I have to wonder how beneficial this could be for all of us if it was widely available in our medical coverage.
My daughter recently had a seriously herniated disc at the L5-S1 point and while waiting for her surgical consult, the pain in her leg and sciatic nerve was unbearable, even with strong narcotics. In desperation, she asked if I thought my acupuncturist could help. She went and was very happy with the relief it gave her from the pain in that area. No, it didn't fix her back and she still had surgery, but it did give her relief for about 36 hours after each treatment. If you have ever experienced back pain, you know how you would do anything for even a few hours of relief. She went twice a week for a short period before her surgery and is now a believer in acupuncture.
Most medical insurance will not pay for acupuncture, but my state's department of Worker’s Compensation will pay for acupuncture for injured workers and no one can explain to me the difference in coverage. I sure don't want to be injured on my job to qualify for help with acupuncture costs, and I continue to hope that cost assistance for acupuncture will be available one day. Each visit I go for is paid out of my pocket and for most people with MS there isn't a lot of extra in the budget for this type of treatment. I imagine you are wondering what these sessions cost – each one lasts about an hour, between an in-depth consultation and review of problems with the acupuncturist, and then the procedure - and acupuncture is not something to be rushed through. I am charged $75 for a session, which is comparable to the cost of a medical therapeutic massage (which is a topic for another day).
I can’t emphasize enough that I use this as a complimentary therapy to my other MS treatments and not as a replacement. If you decide to give acupuncture a try, it is important that you find one of the 18,000 registered acupuncturists in the US and discuss your MS symptoms openly before undergoing treatment.
What about you? Are you using any complimentary therapies to add to your drug regimen?
Wishing you well,
Does your employer provide workplace accommodations due to your MS?