I met a man during my travels in Fairhope, Alabama recently who had lost all hope of ever returning to a life with less pain and some sort of normal activity. He shared his story with me: active all his life, competitive runner, cyclist, swimmer, he is a writer, worked in healthcare for years, lives a pretty healthy lifestyle, and about 10 years ago was diagnosed with Charcot Marie Tooth Disease (CMT). Unlike the name might suggest, this has nothing to do with his teeth. Instead, it is an inherited genetic disorder that causes nerve damage predominantly in the arms, legs and feet.
He had noticed over the years a progressive deformation of his right foot that created a substantial bunion such that he would buy a new pair of running shoes and immediately cut out a "vent" to allow room for the bunion to not rub up against the fabric of the shoe. At this point, he continued activity of life, not knowing there was a deeper issue happening. As he aged, and time progressed, the arch of his foot started to lift more to compensate for the shifting toes, and he began to experience pain and numbness and some occasional lack of sensation in the foot. Fast forward through the years. The shifts, pains and degeneration continue and have become increasingly difficult to bear for even simple daily activity.
Current day, not only is he experiencing pain and lack of sensory awareness that causes difficulty with walking and having faith in his own body's ability to do what it is supposed to, but he has been told by medical doctors, podiatrists and other health care providers that pharmacology and surgical intervention are all that can be done and likely to little effect.
Enter me. Through a chance meeting with a friend of this man, I talked about my work as an acupuncturist and cases I've seen. A lightbulb went off for this friend and he asked if I would be willing to see this man, hear his story and see if I could in any way help. Always interested in helping people, I said I would absolutely meet with him and see what (if anything) I might be able to do. Before our meeting, I familiarized myself with this disease - its presentation and progression. I formulated thoughts based on my education and experience, and so many more questions that I wanted to ask the man.
It was a pure pleasure for me to get the opportunity to offer him an acupuncture treatment (his first time). He, like me, is a person who enjoys a good experiment, accepts the limitations of the medicine and is willing to see what happens. So together, we journeyed into conversation about the brain's motor and sensory cortices, the way neuro acupuncture overlies these areas in the brain, the way acupuncture has 8 meridian pathways that run all around the head, how the mechanisms of acupuncture work through these meridians, and more. I love educating on this medicine and the human body as much as I love doing the actual treatment, so this was a real gift to get to share and discuss so much all the while inviting him into the story of how he can see his body able to heal with this work.
I began our treatment with two needles placed in the leg motor sensory area on the top of the head on only the left side. TWO NEEDLES!! I did this in large part because his area of issue is on the right side and involves both mechanical (motor) issues with movements as well as feeling (sensory) issues that include pain and lack of feeling. Then, I asked him to walk up and down the stairs on his front porch. We used stairs because this is his main area of concern for falling issues. His first attempts were quite slow and apprehensive. I had him hold the hand railing and my hands for support and to build confidence. After a few trips up and down, I had him pause so I could manipulate the two needles in his head and remind the brain motor and sensory areas of the work they are supposed to do and where. Then back up and down he goes. This time with a little more pep in his step, confidence in his attitude and a desire to experiment to see if he could do it without the railing. We repeated this process three times. Then, I upped the challenge. This is where my yoga therapy skills lend themselves to my work as an acupuncturist and where the two work in tandem.
After a tune up on the needles to stimulate the brain again, I asked him to step up on the step with his right foot and then press with his toe mounds to lift the heal higher, engaging and activating the muscles around the lower leg. With this disease, there is a tendency toward drop foot as the message isn't sent to the toes to lift and activate so the foot has proper movement mechanics for walking. So, I used this exercise to stimulate the pathways to help address the neuromuscular connection to re-engage the foot mechanics. Again, I had him do several lifts, then stop so I could "tune up his brain" by manipulating the needles and repeat. Each time, he repeated a little stronger and a little more coordinated and a little more confident. We spent about 10-15 minutes in these yoga therapy based activities with the two scalp acupuncture needles in. He was quite fatigued at this point.
So, we went back inside and he relaxed in the recliner while I inserted a few more needles in his body for added support. Through our conversations, it was clear to me that I am working with an issue of Qi stagnation likely due to the accumulation of phlegm. This is my starting point for seeing what we can accomplish in this first treatment. As we work together more, and I learn more about how his body is responding, I may adjust the diagnosis and treatment. But, with this medicine, we have to start somewhere. So, I opted to apply the following body needles to address more of the pain and root causes, while also leaving the neuro needles in place as well.
LI4 + LR3: The four gates. Chosen to move the qi and began to bring more harmony to the movement of energy through the whole body to help alleviate pain.
SP9 + ST40: Empirical points for Dampness and Phlegm respectively. I believe these pathogens are part of what is slowing the qi down and creating a back up leading to pain along the pathway of the legs. He has some plaque deposits in his leg veins shown on imaging and also had a heart blockage surgery a year ago.
ST36: Tonify Qi. This not only is a great point to tonify qi over the whole body, but will also help in moving the phlegm and damp by working on the systems that help transform and transport food and fluids.
After insertion, the patient rested in the recliner for 25 minutes. I did two manipulations on the needles during the time. After the time passed, I removed the body needles and we once again went outside to do the stair activity. The patient was walking with more speed and confidence than he had in the first round of exercises. His body mechanics and range of motions, as well as control over his body had improved as well. He said to me that he felt so good and confident in his body that he wanted to go for a run. He laughed, his eye shone brightly and there was a lightening to his energy that was visible. He said to me he thought he would never be able to have a life like he once enjoyed. He thought pain and being cautious and guarded with his body was all he would ever be for the remainder of his life. He felt like there was hope that he may be able to enjoy his life in a new way.
Upon following up a day later, he continues to feel the benefits of his treatment. I will see him again about 3-4 days post treatment to give a follow up while I remain in the area.
What a gift it is to be able to provide a compassionate ear, an experimental attitude, so many skills from my tool box and the feeling of hope to someone who had lost it all. I love this medicine and feel the privilege of getting to share it every time I sit with a patient.
If you are feeling hopeless, it is my sincerest desire that this story brings you hope. If you live in or around Athens, Ohio, I am happy to meet with you and see what we can do together to restore your body, mind and spirit. Please don't hesitate to reach out to me. I am here with an compassionate heart, a curious mind and willingness to give you a space for your experience to be heard and respected.