Slipped Disc and Acupuncture: A Personal Experience
It all started in late 1995 with a numbness, about the size of a 20-cent coin, some 3 inches above the outer ankle of my left leg. I was helping a colleague to take a rusty typewriter table downstairs for disposal, when the numbness suddenly appeared. I thought it would go away after a few days but it didn't. On the contrary, it became worse.
The company, that I was working for, had been taken over by one of its suppliers, after it could not repay its million-ringgit debts. I had resigned, after the new management gave me an offer that was very much less than what I was getting under the old management. This is against Malaysian law but as I knew that it would be pointless to fight the case, I decided to leave.
I applied for a few jobs but by the time I went for the interviews, sciatica had set in and I could hardly walk, as pain was radiating below my left knee,. Even so, I struggled by taking two tablets of Ponstan, a very potent painkiller. However, I didn't get any of the jobs, after they noticed how I walked.
What is a Slipped Disc?
Can You Heal a Herniated Disc?
Off to the Orthopedic Doctor
I finally decided to see an orthopedic doctor. He requested me to take a CAT scan and when he reviewed the results, he recommended immediate surgery, as I had a very bad slip disc at L4-L5, i.e. the intervertebral disc between my fourth and my fifth lumbar vertebra had ruptured and its jelly-like contents were putting considerable pressure on my spinal cord.
I asked the doctor whether there was any other alternatives and he just made a joke out of it, put on a monkey face, as if he was speaking to some idiot, and said: "I know you'd ask this. But what's the big deal about an operation?" I didn't like his attitude, so I went to see another orthopedic doctor. This one did some tests for me, after reviewing my CAT scan and confirmed that a surgery was required. When I asked the exact same question that I had asked the other doctor, he replied, "Your case is pretty bad. As you can see, you can't even lift up your left leg by more than 3 inches, while lying flat." After getting two similar opinions, I was finally convinced that a surgery was inevitable.
Since anything involving the backbone is considered a major surgery with high risk, my sister advised me to go to Singapore for the surgery. A colleague, who had undergone a similar operation at the National University Hospital in Singapore just the year earlier, brought me to that hospital, where I met a Prof. Dr. Dasday. Dr. Dasday advised me against undergoing the surgery, unless I really had no choice. He said: "If painkillers can help you, delay the operation as long as possible. Surgery is invasive and cuts into your tendons, meaning that it will weaken your entire spine. When this happens, a second surgery, either above or below your present afflicted vertebra, may be required in the future, for example, if you have a fall or someone accidentally bang into you."
With this advice, I left, with another appointment the following month to monitor the situation. When I arrived for the second appointment, I met another orthopedic doctor, as I was told that Prof. Dr. Dasday had retired. This doctor merely reviewed my reports, without doing any test, and said that I needed immediate surgery.
I was jobless then and with 3 orthopedic doctors saying the same thing, I had wanted to undergo the surgery and resolve the problem once and for all. My mother and my sister, however, were against the idea and advised me to follow Prof. Dr. Dasday's advice to delay the operation as long as possible, just in case something miraculous happened, or an alternative solution presents itself. In the meantime, they said they would help me out financially, if I require it.
Some 2 months later, another sister of mine told me to see an acupuncturist, after her colleague told her that she had a slip disc and was healed after one treatment. This colleague was washing clothes and when she stood up to lift the basin in order to pour away the water, she felt a sharp pain at her waist and could not walk after that.
Possible Causes of My Slip Disc
I first discovered that I had a slip disc when I went for a medical checkup, a compulsory requirement to enroll for my Master's degree program at the Asian Institute of Management in Makati, Philippines. The doctor said that I had failed my medical test because of that. He was worried that if something were to happen to me, while I was in Philippines, I would be in deep trouble. But I told him that I would be in deeper trouble if I could not take up the course. Moreover, I didn't even realize that I had a slip disc. The doctor said it was very amazing that I didn't feel any pain, given that my condition was real bad and my spine had curved so dramatically. In any case, the doctor said he would still need to reveal my slip disc condition in the medical report but added that he would remark that it was not a recent problem and that it didn't seem to cause me any problems so far. "Let the Institute make the final decision", he had said. The Institute accepted me.
I do not know the exact cause of my slip disc. I fell off a bicycle in my childhood days when going downhill and knocking against a fence. That could have been a possible cause, as I had lost my voice for a brief moment, after falling. But a more likely cause would be a masseuse falling off, while stepping on my back. I felt a pain on the left side of my waist which went off, a few days after I went to another masseuse to try to get it fixed.
Acupuncture and Lower Back Pain
Off to the Acupuncturist
I went to see the acupuncturist that was suggested by my sister. He told me that he had too many customers but would accept me, since he is the the only acupuncturist in town who could treat me. "How egoistic!", I thought to myself. He studied my CAT scan, but could not make head or tail out of it and advised me to take an X-ray instead.
I went to see the acupuncturist again, after my X-ray was taken. After studying it, he placed 3 needles on my intervertebral disc between L4 and L5 and then burned it with moxa, a process called "moxibustion". I told the acupuncturist that my pain was along my left leg and not on my spine. The acupuncturist said he knew but he won't be treating my left because that was not the symptom that was caused by what was happening to my L4-L5 intervertebral disc. In any case, I did not feel any noticeable improvement after my first visit. I was then told to come every alternate day to allow sufficient time for my intervertebral disc to heal, before the next treatment.
While I was undergoing treatment from this acupuncturist, I was also scouting for other acupuncturists in town, as I did not like the long wait of several hours before I could get a 20-minute treatment. (The acupuncturist did not have an assistant and appointments were by first-come-first serve basis where patients have to agree among themselves as to who came first.) Every acupuncturist had a different approach. Some placed as many as 10 needles along my left leg where the pain was, without a single needle on the spine. None worked.
When I became more acquainted with the first acupuncturist, he would sometimes talk to me about his experiences. It was then that he told me that the method he used to treat me was not based on acupuncture theory but was learned from a professor in Beijing. According to him, the concept is very simple: "You burn the intervertebral disc to make it smaller so that when the disc does not exert pressure on the nerve, the pain caused by your slip disc would disappear. It's as simple as that! Many think that I'm using acupuncture, merely because I use acupuncture needles," he had said.
The process, however, took 5 months of daily treatment (I had requested for daily treatment because I told the acupuncturist that recovery would be faster, since I could take it). I felt the numbness subside downwards from my knee to my ankle with each treatment. The feeling was as if I was standing in a bathtub, with the water being drained, i.e. the area (not the intensity) of my leg that was numb became less and less. And I projected that one day, the numbness would fall to the level of my sole and disappeared altogether. But that was not to be.
When the extent of my numbness reached my ankle and failed to go down any further, I decided to seek other means of treatment.
Off to the Physiotherapist
I went to the physiotherapist and did a few types of treatment, finally opting for only traction to cut cost (to the chagrin of the chief physiotherapist). With a self-determined 10 further treatments (I had refused medical supervision, also to cut cost), I did not see any noticeable improvement in my condition and would have given up after 3 treatments. However, since I had decided on 10 treatments, I decided to continue.
On the 7th treatment, something happened. I couldn't lie down flat, as my left leg hurt so much. I decided to twist my body until it didn't hurt. Since my bed was surrounded by curtains, the nurses did not see what I was doing, as I had been advised, time and again with each treatment, to keep my body straight at all time. After the 20 minutes treatment, I stood up and I was perfectly normal again. The numbness at my ankle miraculously disappeared!
Best Exercises for a Herniated Disc - Atlanta Chiropractor - Personal Injury Doctor Atlanta
A Relapse 9 Years Later
I had a relapse 9 years later, when a masseuse used her elbow to grind my left buttock. It was very painful and when I told her to stop, she told me that she felt something not quite right there and assured me that I would feel very much better, after she had set it right. Instead, I suffered a relapse of my slip disc and sciatica the next day.
I went back to the acupuncturist but after 3 months of treatment, I saw practically no improvement. I found another acupuncturist who could give me instant pain relief, the moment he placed his needle that would send an electric current to my sole. It was frightening but at the same time, I was very effective. However, he could not solve my slip disc problem but the sciatica would eventually disappear on its own, or so it seems.
I'm still feeling numbness on the outer edge of my left foot, but since I could live with it, I didn't seek further treatment. In any case, an orthopedic doctor did tell me that 9 years without a relapse was indeed a very excellent track record.
(P/S: While visiting YouTube to search for relevant videos for this hub, I discovered some alternative methods that may help heal my current numbness which, although not serious, I could do without. I'll try these method and hopefully, report good news!)