Skip to content →

Natural Pain Management: My First Experience with Traditional Chinese Medicine

I just returned from my first appointment with a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctor, and I am truly amazed. Maybe I’m in disbelief. I actually feel good. One aspect of attachment parenting is finding balance in your life. This blends nicely with TCM, which also focuses on balance in all aspects of a person.

Three months ago, Gavin and I were in a car accident. We were rear-ended while driving down the freeway, and it is probably a miracle that our accident wasn’t much worse. I was driving 65 to 70 mph, and I was hit by someone driving much faster than that. I was able to pull off to the shoulder of the freeway and call 911. When the EMTs arrived, they told me that they had to read the report about our accident several times because they didn’t understand how we got in an accident at such high speeds and were even capable of making a phone call. They said that normally, they would have been pulling up to a horrendous car accident. I’m not sure how or why our accident wasn’t much worse, but I’m just thankful that it wasn’t.

Gavin and I both had whiplash injuries, but I consider these injuries minor compared to what could have happened to us. We both went to the urgent care center for a check-up after the accident. The doctor told me that I would be very sore, and he wanted to prescribe meds for me.

“I’m breastfeeding, so…” I told him.

“Well, that limits our options considerably,” he said. Of course it did – I knew that. The strongest pain reliever I had taken since I was pregnant was the ibuprofen prescribed by my midwife after Gavin was born.

The doctor prescribed Flexeril, a muscle relaxer. I had taken this medicine before, and I knew that it kind of worked with my previous issues, but more than anything, it wiped me out. I couldn’t function for at least 24 hours after taking it. I decided to pursue other pain management methods before  I took the pills.

I started seeing my chiropractor a few days after the accident. By that point, I pretty much had pain throughout my entire body. The chiropractor had successfully treated me in the past, so I felt like he would be able to help me again.

I also watched Gavin for signs of pain. A few days after the accident, I noticed him holding his neck,  just like he had after the accident. I decided to bring him in to the chiropractor, as well.

Gavin only needed a few weeks of chiropractic treatments before the doctor released him and felt like he would be fine. I, on the other hand, was different story. It has now been 3 months, and I am still visiting the chiropractor regularly because my pain persists. While he was able to treat much of the pain in my knee, ankle, and lower back, my neck and mid-upper back is still very stiff and sore. I tried the muscle  relaxers a few times over the past few months and they haven’t done anything to help me. Not to mention that I have to coordinate taking the pills with Gavin’s nursing schedule. I try to take them when I know he won’t be nursing for a while so he doesn’t get a large dose of the meds in his breast milk.

A few weeks ago, my chiropractor pretty much told me that there wasn’t anything else he could do. My muscle was still swollen, stiff, and painful. Since the chiropractic treatments did not completely heal me, I decided to pursue other forms of natural pain management.

My first go-to natural treatment method was yoga. This has always worked for me in the past when dealing with muscle stiffness. However, the stiffness was never caused by a traumatic injury like a car accident. While the yoga was helpful – and sometimes more helpful than others, my neck and back muscles continued to cause me pain.

Fast forward to this week, I decided to try acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine. I was most hesitant about this method because this is the method I knew the least about. I knew needles were involved, and I know people said they didn’t hurt, but needles freak me out. I mean, FREAK me out. I avoid them when possible. When I had to get an IV for my labor induction, I had a small panic attack as the nurse jabbed me with the needle. I put a blanket over my wrist for the rest of my labor, and I avoided looking at it the entire time. I really really hate needles.

Despite my fear of needles, I thought that the potential pros of acupuncture could outweigh the negatives. When I’m in pain, I’m just not a good person. My temper is short, my tolerance is low, and that is just not fair to my family. So I made the appointment. I successfully avoided thinking about the needle in my arm during labor, and I figured I could again block the fear from my mind during the acupuncture treatment.

I chose the TCM doctor based on personal recommendations, but I was also impressed with his education. The doctor I visited was actually trained in China, unlike some practitioners around here who attend local schools. I figured if I was going to get a traditional treatment, I would like it to be from someone who is traditionally trained. Not only was my doctor trained in acupuncture, but he also uses herbs, magnets, and other elements of traditional Chinese medicine.

I only had to wait a few minutes in the waiting room before the doctor was ready for me. His initial consultation with me reminded me of what I typically encounter in western doctors’ offices. He asked me several questions about myself, such as if I am married, have kids, where I work, etc. He asked about what brought me into his office that day, to explain the extent of my pain, etc. He even took my pulse. However, he wasn’t diagnosing it in the same way that a nurse might diagnose it if I were in a western doctor’s office. I won’t even pretend that I understand how traditional Chinese medicine works, so I’ll just link you up to an explanation of what a TCM doctor is looking for when he checks a pulse. After he took my pulse, he asked to see my tongue. Again, I can’t explain it, so read this article for a better explanation.

Then we prepared for the treatment. He asked if I wanted to lie on my side or my stomach, and I chose my side because that is more comfortable for me. He prepared the table using towels and blankets to make me comfortable. He left the room while I changed into an open-back gown (though I got to keep most of my clothes on, which made me happy). I climbed on the table and positioned myself the way he told me, putting a pillow between my legs and resting my arm on a stack of towels. When he returned, he fixed all of the pillows and towels to make me completely comfortable.

One of my favorite things about alternative medicine is that the focus is on making the patient comfortable. Unlike western doctors’ offices that are often sterile and uncomfortable, I noticed that alternative medicine offices are always focused on making me feel good. This was one of the first things I discovered as I started exploring natural medical treatments. I often wait in doctors’ offices feeling too cold, too warm, nervous, or physically uncomfortable. This isn’t the case during my alternative medicine treatments. In fact, I am asked repeatedly by the doctors and staff if I am comfortable.

Once the doctor ensured I was comfortable, he began inserting the acupuncture needles. As I said earlier, I am quite terrified of needles. He started inserting them into my forehead, so I closed my eyes. He asked if I had a headache, and I said I had a slight headache. He said that the needles in my head would help with headaches, but they also help neck problems.

I kept my eyes closed as he continued inserting the needles. We talked while he worked, and I could feel myself relaxing. My speech even started to slow down. When I was in labor with Gavin, I ended up getting an epidural. I was so relaxed after receiving that epidural that I spoke slowly, and that is exactly how I felt while I was receiving the acupuncture treatment.

The doctor asked me if I was sleeping okay. I told him that I wasn’t, but it was because my son woke me up. I’m not sure if I would sleep well on my own or not. The doctor talked about how mothers and babies are in harmony with each other, and he called it the mother/child boundary. He talked about how even a slight difference in a child’s breathing could wake up a mother. I was well aware of that because my son’s own breathing patterns have brought me out of my sleep many times. Maybe every night.

Then the doctor told me that he knows I hold my baby a lot, but I need to let my husband hold him more so that my body could heal. He said that my body still needs to heal from childbirth. He didn’t elaborate, and I was kind of out of it at that point so I didn’t ask questions. Next time, I will ask more questions.

I am not sure exactly what the doctor did, but I had needles from my head to my ankle. Some pinched slightly as he inserted them, but I couldn’t even feel some of the others. I was afraid to open my eyes because I had needles in my hands, and I didn’t want to see them. It reminded me of having an IV during labor. I knew if I kept my eyes closed, I could block the idea of the needles from my mind. The doctor put a heat lamp directed at the pain in my neck.

I can’t remember if the doctor told me he was leaving the room or not, but he turned down the lights, left the room, and I laid there on the table. I wish I could explain how comfortable I was. Maybe it was the treatment, or maybe it is because I never ever just lie alone, uninterrupted. I could have stayed there all day!

My body and my mind sank deeper and deeper into relaxation. I didn’t fall asleep, but my mind wondered. I started thinking about lying on the beach. Memories passed through my mind like a slideshow. They were all positive memories. At first, they were memories of when I felt completely relaxed, like during our trip to Carmel while I was pregnant and hiking through Muir Woods last March. My thoughts started focusing on positive and happy memories. It was like I couldn’t get a negative thought in my head if I tried (and yes, I tried!). I thought about the day Gavin was born and the day I married my husband. I thought about the vacations I’ve been on with my husband and my son. I remembered some of the times I spent with my best friend. Even when a slightly negative thought did cross my mind, I would just accept it and move on. I’ve never had a long stream of positive thoughts like this. I’m not typically one who has spiritual experiences, but this was a very uplifting and almost spiritual. What I found particularly interesting was that when I did force a negative thought into my head, I could feel a pain or sensation somewhere in my body.

This is the beach I kept thinking about while undergoing the treatment.

At some point, I opened my eyes and looked at the needles in my hand. I could see two in my right hand and one in my left hand. The needles in my right hand were hooked up to wires. I was able to examine them a little bit, but I decided to close my eyes again. The doctor came in to check on me, but then he left again. I was glad because I wasn’t ready to stop the treatment yet.

When he inserted the needles, I could feel different sensations throughout my body. Sometimes it would make my muscles tingle slightly or there was sometimes a brief and tolerable pain. These sensations came and went throughout the time I laid on the table.

I finally felt ready for the treatment to end and I opened my eyes. I continued to lie there, I wondered when the doctor would return. Not more than a minute later, the doctor walked in and began unhooking the wired attached to the needles in my hands, and then he started removing the needles. He talked to me about how he didn’t particularly like chiropractor treatments, and he thought acupuncture was a better method for natural healing. I was still in a state of total relaxation. He gave me some magnets to put on my neck, and advised me on how to use them.

He told me that I could lie there for as long as I needed (I would have stayed there all day, but I don’t think that’s what he meant), my treatment was over, and I could leave. I looked up at the clock and it had been an hour – AN HOUR! – since I arrived. I’m not sure if I was on the table for that long, but at least for 45 minutes. I had no idea. The time flew.

I scheduled another appointment for next week, and I’m looking forward to it. I plan to ask more questions next week.

I left the office in a total state of relaxation. I was actually unsure if I should have been driving because I was so relaxed. I was also in a really good mood, and I still am a few hours later. I’m also exhausted though. I feel like I need a nap. Oh, and I was starving, but I think that is probably just me and had nothing to do with the acupuncture treatment.

One thing that I am amazed with is that my neck is popping and actually has movement. I haven’t experience this since before the accident. My muscles finally relaxed enough for me to have some mobility.

As you can see, my acupuncture experience was very positive, and I recommend it. I wish I had taken this route first after my car accident. Live and learn, I guess! I’ll update again next week.

Like what you read? Buy me a coffee! Thanks for your support!

Published in Health