Use of alternative therapy for treating pain

For the better part of my 27 1/2 years post-SCI, I count myself among the fortunate in that I’ve lived a fairly healthy life. A few near-misses with skin breakdowns but have caught them early enough that I avoided the worst cases we often hear about. No major dramas … until this past summer.

During an ill-conceived transfer from bed to my chair, while focusing intently on whatever the hell I was watching on TV, my technique failed me and I didn’t land fully on my wheelchair cushion. I transfer independently and didn’t have anyone with me at the time. To get myself out of the pickle, I thought I could simply power my way on to the cushion. Oh, that I was able to accomplish but not before feeling a sharp pain in my elbow that I had hyper-extended and locked to help me push off.

Mapping of Cervical Radiculopathy

I was finally in my chair and positioned properly but now was panicking because I thought I must have pushed my luck and did some serious damage to my elbow. The stubborn person I am, I blew it off, thinking that it’s a temporary setback. Went about the rest of my day, still feeling the pain but it subsided throughout the day since I wasn’t using my arm that much.

That all changed later that night when it was time to get back in bed. Again, by myself, I went about doing that and was once again met by the sharp pain I had experienced earlier in the day. Got in bed and knew that I was in trouble and hoped that the overnight rest would help. The next morning, my caregiver arrived and after her routine with me, I was ready to transfer to my chair. I could sense a little bit of tingling in my elbow and asked her for some mild assistance with the transfer. Sure enough, the pain was back again. Houston, we have a problem!

Called my primary doctor’s office and begged to be seen ASAP. After being ridiculed by my request for a few minutes, they were able to see me the next day. I could hardly wait. As I was driving my car and using my arm, it reminded me that the pain was still very much there. The next day, I was at my doctor’s office. After a routine examination of my arm, he didn’t feel anything structurally wrong and thought that it was a case of tendinitis.

I think I was hoping to hear those words and felt relieved. Nevertheless, he had me get an x-ray to make sure nothing else was wrong. Had the x-ray taken the same day and the next day, he called to tell me that my x-ray was super clean and didn’t show anything. Nevertheless, he suggested a few days of prescription-strength anti-inflammotary to see if that would help.

The few days passed and I kept on struggling with the pain as it did not get any better, so I called his office again. He called me and suggested I try some physical therapy that involved some light exercises as well as use of ultrasound therapy to deal with any inflammation that might be causing the pain. A week later, I started seeing a PT twice a week. I kept hoping that would do it.

A month later, my pain had not only not gone away but it actually started getting worse. The pain was now at the top of my shoulder extending all the way to my elbow along with the right side of my chest. My hand had gotten weak. I could no longer do independent transfers. I could hardly hold utensils or a pen to write checks with. I couldn’t write any of my Christmas cards for the first time ever. I was getting depressed, thinking that after 27 years, my body was finally breaking down and was I getting close to accepting my condition. I stopped with the physical therapy and the pills and just figured out shortcuts to doing my own transfers. Yes, I am stubborn, too.

By Thanksgiving time, my pain was getting worse and I thought this is not normal, there must be something more serious going on. So, I asked my doctor to refer me to an orthopedist for further examination. I was able to see one within a couple of weeks. He put my arm through a battery of tests and was able to replicate the pain but couldn’t feel the source of it, structurally speaking. So, he suggested an MRI to have a better look. I pinned my hope on the MRI to finally tell me what’s going on.

Had the MRI done the next day and went back to see him a couple of days later, fully expecting him to give me the bad news that I had some torn ligament/tendon/whatever in my arm. He finally stepped into the exam room and said, “I have good news and bad news.” I told him let’s start with the good stuff first. “Well, your arm looks perfectly healthy and sound. There is nothing wrong with it,” he proclaimed. I was like what the hell. OK, asked him for the bad news. “The bad news is that I have no idea what the source of your pain is,” he finished. UGH, I felt. What does this all mean? He suggested that I go for some hand therapy that also included the use of steroid cream applied with the ultrasound to see if that helped as he did not want to give me an injection of it directly in what he felt was a difficult area for a syringe to go into.

Oh well, I felt, let’s try it. Thanks to some screw up between his office, my insurance and the therapist’s office, my visit didn’t get scheduled for a few weeks. During that time, I was reminded by my mother of this therapist she saw a few years ago that specialized in biodynamic craniosacral therapy. I remembered her well. She basically saved my mother from years of back pain that no one else — doctors, chiropractor, acupuncturists — was able to cure but this therapist did it in a couple of months time, much to our disbelief. I thought what the hell, while I’m waiting for the physical therapy visits to start, why don’t I try craniosacral.

Biodynamic craniosacral therapy (BCST) is a gentle, non-invasive hands-on treatment for the body. It is focused on supporting the health of a person’s whole being, especially the nervous system. The therapist uses a light and still touch to tune into your body, listen deeply to your nervous system, and facilitate the functioning of your body’s own ability to relax, unwind and regain balance so it can work to resolve pain, tension and dysfunction.

I was a bit skeptical but also well aware of how it worked effectively on my mother. During my first two hourly sessions, I didn’t feel much though the therapist said she was feeling a lot of tension and negative energy in my body and that for me to be patient. In my third session, something unusual started happening. While I was laying on my back during the session, my right foot began to kick out uncontrollably once every couple of minutes. I thought it was spasms, so didn’t think much of it. At the end of that session, she said she was beginning to feel the release of energy from my body but there was still more to do. We both felt that the spasms “may” have been caused by this release. It was weird but I started believing it.

My fourth session was a repeat of my third session, only this time my left foot began kicking out uncontrollably every few minutes. At the end of my session, she told me she felt a large amount of release of energy from my body and asked if I felt differently. I didn’t, at least not at that time.

By now, my insurance authorization had finally come through and I was planning on scheduling my first hand therapy session. So, I thought that the craniosacral may not be doing anything for me. The next morning, I woke up, my caregiver did her routine, and I was getting ready for my usual assisted transfer I was now relying on but something interesting happened. As I put myself in the usual position, I realized something was missing. I had no pain. I thought I was dreaming but sure enough, I started putting more weight on my arm and still felt no pain.

I finally realized that my pain was COMPLETELY GONE. This is unreal. Quick, wake me up. This can’t be possible. But it was true. I quickly remembered my conversation with the craniosacral therapist as she was telling me about the release of energy she was feeling. I was still in disbelief. I was back to my normal self again though decided not to push my luck and do crazy stuff, so I was a bit cautious for the next few days though kept on testing my arm and it passed with flying colors each time.

In my fifth session with her, I told her what had happened and that I was pain free. I asked her to explain what the hell happened. She said during those four sessions, she kept looking for the exact location of the energy that was trapped in my body and she was finally able to locate it at the base of my neck where it fed into the nerves and muscles that feed into shoulder and arm. She felt all the tension was originating there, not at my elbow. The end result may have been affecting my elbow but it was not the root cause of it. All she did was assist my body by accommodating the release of that energy. The symptoms were consistent with what’s otherwise known as Cervical Radiculopathy except there was no actual damage to the cervical area.

But why was that energy trapped there, I asked her? This is where the skeptics may roll their eyes. She explained that stress is a major contributor and people that are not able to decompress and allow for the escape of stress from their body are more susceptible to illnesses or malfunctions of their body. Craniosacral centers around the belief that the body can often repair itself but at times it requires assistance. In this case, my body was unable to dispose of the stressful energy it was producing and she was simply allowing my body to relax and help pass that energy through.

I immediately thought of those two sessions which involved the kicking of my feet. She was right. That was the energy that was escaping out of my body and judging by the amount of pain I had been in for the past six months, it was a lot of negative energy that exited my body.

I’ve always been terrible about identifying stress. My job (sales) is stressful, I have my daily life’s challenges to deal with thanks to my spinal cord injury, plus other stresses of life involving family, friends and the world around us. No one ever hears me complain about the stresses of my life because, quite frankly, I could never identify them or acknowledge them. For some reason, my body stopped dealing with the stress levels and energy I had been storing and that’s when things started going bad for me some six months ago.

Even though my right arm is now cured, I decided to continue seeing my therapist once a month for preventative reasons and to continue helping my body deal with my stress levels. Modern medicine may not always have all the answers to our ills and pains, so it’s not a bad idea to look for alternative therapies so long as they’re not invasive.

By the way, the moral of this story is this: don’t ever transfer while simultaneously watching TV.

Franklin Elieh is a contributor at the Patterson Network Project. He has a C-6, ASIA A complete SCI injury.

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