Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Acupuncture: Needling My Way To The Start Line

When your muscles are burning and pulling, joints aching and throbbing, and legs creaky and slow, having multiple needles jabbed into your flesh might sound about as appealing as suffering a hole in the head.

But much to my surprise, a course of acupuncture, combined with rehabilitative exercises and plenty rest, have proven to be my ticket out of injury land. And at that, hopefully, a one way one.

Acupuncture is a treatment procedure whereby hair-thin needles are used to puncture the skin and to simulate what medical professionals describe as energy points. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the penetration corrects imbalances in the flow of qi, or energy, through channels known as meridians.

The history of acupuncture is contested but one school of thought argues that it dates back to Neolithic or even the Stone Ages, when soldiers wounded in battle by arrows were cured of other chronic afflictions.

These days, acupuncture can be used to treat a whole array of conditions from muscular tension, to neurological problems, depression and anxiety.


I most recently stumbled upon acupuncture after enduring numerous sessions of physiotherapy and massage doing little to remedy a stubborn case of sciatica pain.

The pain first occurred after a brisk 16k run at the start of December.

A few hours later I boarded a plane to New York. Within minutes of takeoff, a dull pain started radiating from my buttock all the way down my hip and thigh and envoleoped my knee cap. I even felt an ache into my sheen and calf.

Needless to say, I spent the flight awkwardly trying to stretch within the confines of my economy class seat, occassionally pacing up and down the aisle, much to the annoyance of the sleepy stranger to my right and my confused boyfriend to the left.

Nothing helped after that. I stretched compulsively, massaged until my thumbs went numb and rolled a tennis ball up and down my leg until a beautiful collage of purple bruises started adorned my skin. The pain, however, lingered stubornly.

Even the physiotherapist seemed at loose ends. His stretches and twist helped in the short term, but as soon as I laced up and started running, the dull ache would tighten its grip ruthlessly.


It was only after stumbling across a conversation on Twitter about acupuncture that I regained hope that this  would not be the death knell of my Spring marathon dream. 

During my next session I discussed the prospect of acupuncture with the physio who spoke of mixed results but agreed that it was worth giving it a try. The following week, I had my first session.

I'd had acupuncture before but for something totally unrelated to running so was surprised at how blase the therapist was when she asked me a few questions, got me to sign a  consent form and then promptly inserted needles all along my sciatic nerve, from the crease below my buttock to the back of my knee.

I must say, I was sceptical. The needles went in relatively smoothly, but contrary to what I had expected and remembered from my last experience with so-called dry needling, I was in quite a lot of pain. Each time the therapist touched one of the needles, I could feel shockwaves dashing up and down my nerves. It clenched my fists and jaw and counted down the seconds until I could leave.

The needles stayed in for 20 awkward minutes and admittedly the first session didn't yield any notable results.

After the second session, however, my sciatic nerve was undeniably looser, so much so that I did my first pain-free 5k in months the following day. Two days later, I clocked my fastest 7km in almost half a year.

I'm going back later this week for my third session and while I'm not looking forward to the sting, the twitching and the idea that seven needles will be protruding from my flesh for a discomforting half an hour, it all now seems a small price to pay for a clear road to the starting line of my 26 and a bit mile challenge.

(Image courtesy http://www.flowingwithlife.co.uk) 

No comments:

Post a Comment