Acupuncture and CFS

As the child of science teacher and an engineer I am a big sceptic about homeopathy. I am of the opinion that if something works it becomes medicine, so alternative medicine must not work. However when struggling with a chronic health condition you try anything.

My encounter with acupuncture was before I was actually diagnosed with CFS, when I was stuck in the horrible limbo of feeling awful and not knowing why. My CFS initially presented as chest pain and a fatigue I put down to struggling to breath comfortably. I was desperately trying to continue my normal day to day life but my body had other ideas!

That was when someone at work who I respected and thought of as a very logical person suggested acupuncture. Immediately I was incredulous, how could someone I thought of as very smart be suggesting such a silly thing? A week later I booked an appointment. Funny how desperation overrides being stubborn!

The first session we spent 90% of the time going over why whole life, every illness, every trauma. The practitioner was very nice, she seemed to know what to ask, and was very interested in the whooping cough I’d suffered from as a child as she felt my current pain was linked back to previous experiences and traumas.

Then came the part I was dreading, I had to undress and lay on the table ready for the needles. I have had a phobia of needles since I was a child so it had taken a lot of courage to try acupuncture (okay more desperation than courage but whatever gets you through!).  I braced myself for each tiny sting as she put needles into my wrists and ankles. Inwardly I rolled my eyes, my chest hurts so you are stabbing my feet and hands? after about 6-8 needles were in place she stopped. Is that it? I’d assumed I’d be a full hedgehog.

She moved next to me and placed her hand on my sternum. Now at this point in my CFS I could not stand any pressure on my bestbone, even the tension of breathing hurt it. The doctors had been considering costochondritis, an inflammation of the connecting tissue either side of the sternum, as the potential diagnosis (later disproved by an ultrasound that showed no swelling). So when she pushed down I braced myself and tried not to whimper… but it didn’t hurt. I was in shock.

“That didn’t hurt!”

“Yes” She nodded, this is what she had expected.

“No, it really didn’t hurt!”

I have inadvertently let my shock show, revealing that I thought this was bollocks up until a moment ago. She looks mildly annoyed by hides it well.

“It actually doesn’t hurt!” I double down on insulting her profession with my shock. Usually I am much more tactful, but it’s like I’ve just seen a magician turn a skyscraper into a rabbit. How can pins in my wrists and ankles stop my chest hurting? It is so bizarre and illogical I cannot compute it, but it works. Undeniably it works.

Further research has shown that scientists agree with me, they don’t really understand why acupuncture is effective at pain relief, but it is. I’m sure all the practitioners out there would explain it’s to do with energy flow and blah blah, but my understanding of the nervous system and my experience having acupuncture just don’t line up. Does it matter? Not really, if something works for you that’s the important part, the why is just for interest.

I continued having acupuncture once a week for a few months, and found that it would relieve my pain for a few days at a time. Not a permanent solution and in the end too costly to keep up, but I will never get over the feeling of wonder I had that first session when it worked.