I Got Nerve Damage From Acupuncture
The title says it all, really. The rest is just the story of what happened, and how I’m processing my anger. This might as well be a therapy session, because I think just getting it all up and out of me will help me move to a place of acceptance that will allow me to actually heal.
If you read my top tips for your first acupuncture post, then you know that one of the first things I always recommend is to go with a practitioner who’s been referred to you by someone.
This story is a cautionary tale of what can happen if you don’t work with someone reputable or referred.
To be clear, I’ve never gone to an acupuncturist who wasn’t referred to me. The only reason I did this time is that my regular practitioner was out of town for the week, and I was getting weekly treatments with her for fertility. Keep in mind, this person has been treating me and my family for well over a decade. So, as you can imagine, I trust her deeply.
The woman I normally see now owns her own wellness center, and employs other acupuncturists under her business. Because I’d been under her care for so long, I assumed anyone working at HER facility would be of the same caliber.
I was wrong.
When I went to the new person the week my regular gal was out of town, I was still being treated for fertility, but I was also having digestion issues (ugh, bad sushi…don’t want to talk about it). I didn’t currently have any nerve damage, let alone any physical ailment of injury when I walked into the office. But when I walked out, I did.
She reviewed my chart of all that my regular woman had been treating me for, and I filled her in on my digestion stuff- hoping to get some relief for the cramping and bloating. When I got on the table, she started putting needles in me while making small talk. Nothing was setting off any sort of alarm bells.
Then, she put a needle around the backside of my left knee…sort of on the side, not directly behind the knee itself. When she did, I felt painful electric shocks course down my shin. I jolted, and gasped.
“It’s sending shocks down my shin,” I told her, staying calm.
To be fair, I’ve had needles put in before that have caused some sort of physical reaction. Some of them can definitely be spicier than others, especially when it’s hitting a point that’s relevant to whatever your issue is. I assumed because I was having stomach problems, this was related in some way.
“Oh yeah that can be a tough one for a lot of people, don’t worry,” she said, unbothered.
Other times when I’ve told a practitioner that a needle hurt going in, their first response is always:
“Are you okay? Does it still hurt, or has it dissipated?”
Like I said, it’s normal for something to give you a bit of a release right away, but if it continues to throb, pulse, or hurt at ALL- then they’ll take it out.
You’ll notice that she didn’t even ask me. In fact, she didn’t seem phased by my reaction at all. So I didn’t say anything else. Also, the pain did die down eventually.
After they put the needles in you, then they leave you in the room for about 30 minutes. Usually there’s soft music, low lighting, and a heat lamp. Here, you can nap or meditate, or just sort of drift off to an inbetween state.
The issue with most places is that if you are having any pain and you’re alone, you’re literally forced to call out for help. This isn’t the case for this center, as they leave a little call button in your hand should you need assistance. The pain wasn’t bad enough for me to make a call. I just tried to relax and meditate, instead.
When she took the needles out, I still didn’t think much of it.
It wasn’t until over the course of the next few days that I realized something was wrong.
It started with this heavy feeling in my shin. Almost like it was about to fall asleep, and needed continual massage and movement. Then, it turned into random electric shocks down my shin when I wasn’t expecting it. Finally, it turned into continual shocks in my shin all day, a swollen leg, and throbbing by the time I went to sleep.
I felt like I couldn’t get comfortable in any position. The only thing that didn’t seem to hurt or bother it was walking, but yoga was out of the question- as were most sitting positions, going up or down stairs, and even driving.
It hurt to sit on the freaking toilet, because of the pressure it created in the nerve. That’s when I knew I needed to get checked out.
I went to the emergency room exactly one week after that damn needle was put in my leg.
I should mention that I also went back for a second session the day before I was in the ER. This time, the session was with my regular person. Plus, it was before the symptoms hadn’t quite exacerbated to the point of tears yet.
The real kicker is that when I told the woman what happened (the woman who’s been treating me for over TEN FREAKING YEARS, mind you), she didn’t even flinch. She didn’t apologize. She just told me unblinkingly:
“Sounds like she hit a nerve. That usually takes 4 – 6 weeks to heal.”
As if it was normal for someone to walk into her facility without an injury, and to walk out with one. As if it was normal for acupuncturists to hit nerves causing you pain for 4 to 6 weeks. As if it was normal to have to get treated for something that your medical provider caused.
I was in shock. I didn’t say anything.
What’s worse is that by the time I was on the table, she nearly stuck another needle in my shin had I not stopped her.
“That’s where the pain is,” I reminded her, even though I’d just told her 5 seconds before.
“I don’t want any needles there.”
She laughed. Yes, you read that right…she laughed. And said:
“Are you paranoid after last time? Don’t worry, I won’t put any there.”
Again, I was in shock. I was silent. I didn’t stick up for myself. And I just wanted it to be over at that point.
I left the office mid morning, and by the afternoon I was limping. The symptoms got significantly worse, landing me in the ER 24 hours later.
“She could be right, it might take 4 – 6 weeks to heal. But nerve damage usually takes a lot longer. Could be a year. Could be something you feel your whole life. Everyone recovers differently, and it’s too soon to tell.”
This is what the ER doctor told me. He went onto add (somewhat smugly):
“This is why you shouldn’t let people put needles in you for no reason.”
Because clearly this was my fault. I was the problem in all this. Eye roll.
I don’t know about you, but there’s something pretty damn scary about hearing a doctor say you might have a condition, or pain, or symptoms…WHATEVER…for the rest of your life.
All I could think about was my livelihood. I’m a yoga teacher. I need to use my body to teach online, and the way things are right now- I can barely do forward fold without pain. Plus, yoga isn’t just my job, it’s also a huge part of my self care for my physical, mental and spiritual well being.
I know I talk about yoga being more than just a physical practice, and I still stand by the fact you can practice yoga whether you’re on your yoga mat or not. I know that if my asana practice changes, that doesn’t mean I can’t do yoga altogether.
Yet still…it feels like a loss. It feels scary. I felt flooded with sadness, anger, and even grief.
How could she do this to me? How could she be so careless? And why doesn’t anyone seem to give a shit?!
There’s something about our culture that tells us to just roll over and take it when it comes to pain or discomfort.
Just take the pills every day.
Just accept that you can’t move the way you used to be able to.
Just get over it.
I refuse to do that. I refuse to accept that I’ll flinch every time I walk down the stairs to do a load of laundry.
I refuse to accept that I need to hold my breath in anticipation to sit on the goddamn toilet to pee.
I refuse to allow a medical practitioner of any kind to minimize my pain.
So, I stood up for myself.
First, I needed to let the tears pass. That took a full 24 hours. Who knows if it was the microdosing that let the floodgates open (as it often does), or if it was really just a reflection of my pain. All I know is that I couldn’t talk about it without crying for the first day.
Once I was more grounded, I sent the owner of the wellness center (yes, the woman I’d been seeing for 10 years) an email. I wanted her to know the severity of what happened. I wanted her to know that I wasn’t able to move or work. And I wanted her to know that the way she had handled it was unacceptable, and I wouldn’t be seeing her again.
Advocating for yourself in the world of medicine is imperative.
And the thing is, it can be really hard to do. Chances are, if you’re getting treated for something, you’re sick or injured or vulnerable in some way. Chances are, you’ve given your power away to the person in the white coat, or the shaman with all the answers.
The truth is, it doesn’t matter if you’re seeing an allopathic doctor and taking prescriptions, or if you’re going to alternative therapies and drinking mushroom tea. What matters is that you remember your pain is valid. What matters is that you’re not rushed through your appointments, you’re heard, and you’re not dismissed.
If you’ve followed along with me for a while, then you know I’m no stranger to hospitals. I’ve had, and continue to have, my fair share of health issues. In dealing with all of those over the last decade, I’ve been brushed off by more doctors than I can count. While allopathic medicine has literally saved my life at times, it’s also driven me to seek alternative therapies due to the poor treatment in more Western medicine type places.
A lot of people go to acupuncture because allopathic medicine is failing them in some way. And most people stay with acupuncture not only because they feel relief, but also because they feel seen and heard in a medical setting for the first time. That alone is healing.
Maybe this is why I was especially heartbroken when my acupuncturist turned out to be just as flippant as the ER doctor. It was like this person I’d known and trusted for most of adult life who had HURT me just didn’t care. And that might’ve hurt worse than the injury itself.
Let this post be a reminder to advocate for yourself in medical settings.
Let them know when something hurts. And let them know if something doesn’t feel right. Cut them off if they talk over you. Look them in the eye, and actually say:
“Please listen to me.”
I know it can be hard when you’re vulnerable, when you’re sick, or weak in some way. But I promise you that it’s worth it.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of gems out there who do listen, who do care, and who will help you in the way you need. It’s just that the process of finding that person can be more exhausting than dating, I swear.
As for me, I don’t know exactly what the future holds as far as this injury goes.
I don’t know if my yoga practice will ever look the same.
I don’t know if those shocks in my shin will ever go away.
I don’t know.
But I guess I never really knew what the future held for me anyways, right? So what’s the big difference anyways.
In the meantime, I’ll be adjusting the way I move. I’ll be exploring my body in a new way based on these limitations. And, of course, I’ll be doing my best to heal this injury to the best of my ability, because I sure as hell won’t just roll over and accept it.
Here’s to the unknown.
Thanks for coming on this ride with me.