No! Don't run away from the needle! Run to it!
Yes, it seems a bit strange doesn't it? Stick a needle here, here, here and here - and you will be able to run better??
Most of our ancient simian instincts would tell us, "HEEELLLLLLLLLLLL no!"
However, allow me to convince you to just consider an option - just yet, another option in your toolbox of treatment options for you to choose from if you happen have a couple of creaks, bumps, sprains or noisy joints that you'd like to investigate (hopefully with the help of your friendly neighbourhood acupunk!) in order to get you back on your feet and running (or swimming, cycling, gym-ing, monkey bar climbing, etc) again. I can testify that it works - not simply because I do the acupuncturing on people but really because, I too, have been a patient of acupuncture myself and I am thankful that I have this modality of treatment to fall back on if, (the gods forbid) I should sprain my ankle yet again!
Getting back to things, if you have been following my previous ramblings (which most people would call posts), you'd have guessed by now that:
I like to run!
I'll run on most surfaces if my usual options do not present. I've run on running tracks on cruise ships, on staircases, in pretty busy malls (very difficult to do when its busy like during Xmas), after ice cream trucks (I have a feeling I am a PR queen for fastest sprint to the Mr. Slushie truck in Dufferin Grove Park), on the edges of fountains as I try and navigate a park trail (usually its because I am trying to chase buses that I have missed many times while running late for work)...you get the gist.
I try to run whenever I can. I book "dates" with my running shoes at least a few times during the week because that is how much I value this downtime to myself (don't look at me like I just grew a third eyeball.....I heard somewhere that "Your different is your superpower" and I fully intend to own it!)
In a previous post (from a year ago I think?), I mentioned how it just helps to ease a noisy brain and all the chatter of a busy day. Running is my therapy and my happy place. It's practically my medicine for a world that can go pear-shaped pretty fast (which happens often when you work for yourself and there are times when your "work baby" starts acting up and doing stuff you never planned on it doing).
It didn't occur to me to actually write something about the thing I enjoy doing and also, relate that to something I actually do for work - until literally last week when a patient asked me about acupuncture for an old knee injury that kept her from lacing up and joining a neighbourhood run team. As serendipity would have it, I kept on seeing references to running all week after her question and I knew I just had to crank one of these out.
Obviously, I follow runners magazines like most folks would follow celebrity gossip magazines. And then, one day, while googling acupuncture and recovery from injuries on Runners World (which I follow a lot on Instagram!), this jewel of an article popped up: https://www.runnersworld.com/advanced/a20827470/acupuncture-reversing-the-stressful-effects-of-running/ It's a great article that summarizes what happens in the body when acupuncture is used to treat pulled muscles, sprains, tendon strains and other such injuries that can happen when you are out on a run.
As I have mentioned a little earlier, I haven't been immune to such injuries myself. Probably because I am certainly no pro at running. In the runner's universe, I'm perpetually a "novice" but I don't really care to rack up the PRs or knock off race times. I don't intend to be a star athlete or take on the Boston Marathon (yet....?). I really do it as therapy, as a mental vacay, and as a reward for having survived a week and not done something crazy in response (like hold up a Baskin Robbins employee for ransom in the form of a year's worth of rocky road ice cream).
In fact, I've busted up my ankle a few times - three to be exact! The first time was minor. I had immediate treatment with a talented friend and fellow acupuncturist in a previous clinic I worked at and recovered within two weeks. I got a jump on the injury and after two (maybe three? I can't recall) treatments, things were great and I was out doing my thing again.
The second and third time happened one after the other, around two years years after my first ankle sprain. I tripped on a sneaky tree root while trying to run on a sloping hill to avoid a leisurely stroller on a very narrow path in my neighbourhood park. I tripped and fell - right on top of my right ankle and foot. But foolishly, I decided that I was fine and kept running for at least about 20 minutes before the pain forced me to stop. My foot had swollen to twice its size by the end of the day and after hobbling on it for another few days, I reluctantly saw my doctor who diagnosed me with cuboid syndrome (boo!) For those of you wondering what this is, this article on Medical New Today is a good place to start reading: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321626.php).
I was ordered off my feet and to stop any activity that would put any strain on my already overworked foot and ankle. I should have gotten acupuncture at that time but being a stubborn, headstrong and proud acupuncturist, I had decided that I didn't want to be the guest of honour at my own pity party and I was determined to suck it up, going straight back to the clinic to work, standing on my feet all day and refusing to sit and treat. I tried a light run for the first time 4-5 weeks after seeing my doctor and that was when the third sprained ankle injury occurred. At this point, I knew I needed help.
This time, I needed a few more than just two or three visits to my acupuncturists office to get better. My pride hurt about as much as my ankle at this point but when you're here and dying to get back on your feet for your "running dates", you'll do anything to get better. I wasn't going to go rogue in ice cream parlours across the city if I didn't have my "run therapy" happening. So with feet propped up on a pillow, I - the person who sticks needles in people for a living - finally became the patient and for a few minutes, the self-imposed pressure of having to be "the perfectly healthy practitioner" all the time eased off and I just succumbed to the dull ache of the needles on my ankle, leg and arms.
So what do they actually do? Well, I tell most of my patients that the needles are placed at strategic points along a meridian. Often they are placed near or on the area of injury. Placing needles into a muscle that has been locked in spasms or, around a tendon or ligament sprain, generally sends a signal to the body to let it know that a tiny ”micro-injury” (from where the needles have been placed) has occurred in the area and that anti-inflammatory chemicals need to be sent to the local area of injury. When this cascade of anti-inflammatory chemicals occurs in the area of injury, the actual work of tendon and muscle repair can take place and those tiny "micro-injuries" can begin the process of healing the original site of injury, where repair work wasn't fully completed or done quite as well. Acupuncture needles also stimulate the nervous system to signal for better blood flow to an injured site by opening up (vasodilation) blood vessels around the area where the "micro-injuries" have occurred and allowing fresh oxygenated blood to literally rush into and flood the area to stimulate tissue repair. For those of us who seek a more "brainy" explanation of what these chemicals are, this may satisfy your inner acugeek cravings for more data: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1781596/
Now I don't have a picture of my ankle or foot from that time (I don't usually take random selfies of my precious mug when I get treatments) but if you can imagine thin, hair-like needles being inserted around the bony protruding landmarks on the outside facing side of my right ankle and foot (commonly referred to as lateral aspect of the foot and ankle), along the shin, and also the inside (medial) ankle; that is pretty much where the needles went in order to start the healing process mentioned above. This stock photo below, from everypixel.com, will have to suffice for the envisioning process (photo taken from: https://www.everypixel.com/image-2595988717444250929.)
The needles went mostly around the outside of my right ankle since the weight of my body falling on top of my ankle put a lot of pressure on the joints of my foot causing the cuboid bone to slide a little out of place from its original position relative to the other bones that made up this part of my ankle and foot. In regular person's terms, what this means is that when I fell, I wobbled on my ankle, and caused my foot to roll and collapse inwards on the outside of my foot. Too much pressure on my ankle caused a bone to partially squeeze out from its original spot on my lateral or outward-facing side of my foot - its sort of like what happens when you put a lot of pressure on a tube of toothpaste at one end; something has to squirt out at the open end at some point. In my case, it was my cuboid bone.
The following may not be a great picture but it certainly gives you an idea of how many meridians (and acupuncture points on the meridians) actually pass through the lower leg and around the ankle area. I thought I'd include it here as a visual aid.
This picture was taken from https://www.shutterstock.com/image-illustration/acupuncture-point-sp7-lougu-3d-illustration-1054886990.
Acupuncture points along my leg were also used, mainly to help ease any strain that had built up on my shin muscle (the tibialis anterior) which had tightened up and contracted in response to the injury to help me stabilize the already wobbly ankle. Interestingly, points along there (like ST36 or Zu San Li in acugeekspeak), also nourish the blood and boost qi and blood flow which certainly was much needed in my case as the muscle of my right leg and the surrounding areas of my foot and ankle had atrophied (shrunk) a bit from underuse and recovery wasn't going anywhere unless fresh blood was being pumped through the damaged muscles and flooding the area around where the tendons had been weakened. This picture of the point ST36 was taken from: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/The-location-of-the-Zusanli-acupoint-ST36_fig1_235897175.
Of course, since meridians were being used in the treatment, other areas away from the original site of injury were also employed mainly to help relieve inflammation, swelling and the subsequent pain that follows these two unpleasant events. One such point I recall being used was on my arm on the outside of my elbow, known as LI11 or Qu Chi which is used mainly for clearing heat from the body - which in my case, judging by the angry looking red swelling around my foot at the time, was another issue I clearly needed some help with. The following picture of the point LI11 was taken from: https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-acupuncture-pool-crook-quchi-li11-image29603400.
Though it took more than just three treatments (I think I must have gone in at least twice a week for three weeks in total and then once weekly for another four more visits), it was worth the downtime to just take the pressure off myself and off my foot. One thing I realized while I was in the chair just being a patient and not busily doing the usual patient care-taking, was that I needed something to take me off my feet and take me out of the big picture for awhile. Humility and pride are certainly two aspects of the same coin and all it takes is a 50-50 coin toss to determine which side you land on. When I look back, I can certainly say I was running with all cylinders firing, between work, commuting, being a dutiful aunt and daughter, trying to max out my social life and slotting in a whole lot of "doing" without a whole lot of resting in between. I thought I had to be "switched on" all the time and always working, treating, taking care of people or on my downtime, working (by working out) or doing something productive for work.
Running just sort of became that thing that I went to in order to "fix" things in an active way that at the time, appealed to me and my mindset. I did it mindlessly, because it helped but it helped in a way that distracted me from my daily worries. I didn't realize that I could also run (like I do now) in a way that gave me joy and gratitude in my daily life for the simple reason of being healthy and able to do this for just yet one more day with ease and grace (ok maybe not a whole lot of grace after an uphill sprint...but grace nonetheless that I could do this!).
Running was always there waiting for me but it needed to teach me a lesson in humility in not taking it for granted as a crutch to "solve" my world's problems every single time I felt I needed an "active solve". I realize when I look back, that I got a whole lot more out of the acupuncture sessions than just temporary pain relief. I got a chance to be humble, to re-learn the process of being fragile, being vulnerable and being a patient again. And I learned that it was ok to just let go, not be such an A-type personality go-getter, and that it was fine to take a break and not be invincible all the time.
And that has practically made all the difference in how I thought about my treatment approach with my patients and made me (I'd like to think!) a better and more relatable practitioner. Until next time, I hope that you are in good health and living each day to the fullest with your face to the sun!
And...........interestingly segwaying this into a related topic of slowing down and getting ahead on my own health issues, if anyone has been following the last two (maybe three?) entries of my blog, I did mention that I was going through some weird hormonal and cyclical hiccups and was running some tests to get a jump on things with regards to my own health. Looks like the results are out and I am a-ok! It was a bit of a scare for me as it would have been the first time in a very very long time that I had experienced an irregularity in my own cycle and of course, being in the health and wellness field, my mental book of weird and rare pathologies just ran its own set of diagnostics in my head scaring the living bejeezus out of me even further.
Its yet another event (in probably many more to come in my own lifetime) that put me once again in a precarious spot of vulnerability and of having to admit that I may need more help than I would otherwise let on. I learn everytime that I step out on a barely visible edge of the known world of comfort, that its ok to admit you need help and that's more than ok to be scared of what you cannot see had of you. These "walking at the edges of the known" periods of our lives make us stronger because they make us see where our fragilities lie and make us see that when we push ourselves beyond what we feel comfortable in, we are actually stronger than we think and are able to get through even the most worrying moments of our lives with very little data on what we can expect.
Now my issues were not the hugely death-defying ones you see people hanging on tightropes or battling an unknown illness face so I know clearly well that this will not resonate with everyone who may happen to pass by here. But what I hope to offer is just a glimpse and insight from what I gained from my own experience of just being vulnerable and open - and discovering that those aren't weaknesses at all. They really are strengths waiting to be extracted and waiting to be honed into what can make you a better, kinder person who is more at peace with and more trusting of themselves.
No words of wisdom to impart here. Just trust yourself and the process and know that within every perceived weakness is the potential to get stronger.