I’m not being dramatic when I say that chronic pain (which I later learned was plantar fasciitis) in my feet was ruining my life.
I was waitressing at the time, and I spent a good part of the year traveling (both of which required functioning feet). During a particularly long work shift, it felt like I was walking with wooden boards instead of shoes. The arches of my feet felt stiff, and the heels felt like stabbing victims. I propped myself up back in the kitchen when I could. And sometimes, when I had no tables, I would sit on the toilet in the bathroom stall, just to be off my feet.
When I’d wake up in the morning, I couldn’t walk. If I put pressure on my feet, it felt like I would collapse. I start walking on the sides of them until they got warmed up enough to work properly.
This went on for about a month, but I tried to ignore it. I was saving up for a six-week backpacking trip around Europe and I needed all the money I could get, so I pushed through those double shifts.
Before leaving for Europe, I bought a pair of Toms, figuring that they were good shoes for walking. I tested them out and ended up returning them. It still hurt to walk.
Once we got to Europe, the situation wasn’t any better. I had to take frequent breaks to sit, and I was in so much pain that I couldn’t appreciate the sites.
Thinking my shoes were the problem, I spent a good chunk of change on some Pumas in Italy. I figured that this high-end brand would give my feet the support they needed. It turns out that they weren’t much help at all.
In England, I was having so much pain in my Achilles and my calf muscle that I went to see a doctor. He listened to my symptoms and told me that I probably had plantar fasciitis, a problem with the thick tissue that connects the toes to the heel bone. He showed me some stretches and prescribed a heavy-duty anti-inflammatory. Then, he sent me on my way.
When I returned back to the US, things weren’t getting any better. I was so distraught about the situation that I decided to try anything and everything I could.
With my own money, I bought specialty shoes for people with this condition. I stocked up on sneakers, boots, sandals, and waitressing shoes; all at over $100 apiece. I bought boots to wear at night in order to keep my feet stretched while sleeping. And, I saw a foot doctor and had custom inserts made for my shoes at $70 a piece (plus co-pays.)
The more things I tried, the more money I spent — which meant I had to pick up more waitressing shifts and be on my feet longer. It was a vicious cycle. Eventually, I went back to the foot doctor and got a cortisone shot in one foot to see if it would help. Things weren’t any better.
I was stretching my feet, massaging them, rolling them on frozen water bottles and tennis balls, but still, the pain persisted. I was only 22 at the time; far too young (in my opinion) to be having such aches and pains. This went on for over a year.
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Then, a family member gave me a coupon for acupuncture. I had never considered this kind of treatment before. Frankly, I thought it was a bunch of BS. But I had the coupon and nothing else was working, so I went.
I was surprised by how professional and clean the office was. It looked like I was at an actual doctor’s office. The acupuncturist sat with me and asked me to explain all of my aches, pains, and past treatments. I actually started to cry because I was so depressed and tired of being in pain every day.
She explained how the acupuncture treatment would relieve tension in my muscles and how it would redirect the energy in my body. I was scared of needles but I went with it.
I laid face-up on a chair similar to those at massage parlors. The technician started to insert thin needles into different areas of my body. I was extremely still. They went into my ears, my hands, my neck, arms, stomach, legs, and feet. Most of them I couldn’t feel. Others felt like tiny bee stings. Overall, the pain was pretty minimal.
Once she finished inserting the needles, she put on some calming music and left the room for about twenty minutes. I lay there, trying not to think about the needles all over my body. I was actually able to relax.
She came back, plucked them all out, and sent me on my way. My feet didn’t feel any better. A few weeks later I decided to go back for a second treatment. It was the same as the first, except I felt much calmer this time.
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While it didn’t happen right away, my feet started to get better. The pain became less and less until one day, I realized that they hadn’t bothered me in a while.
It was as if nothing had ever happened. I didn’t need to stretch my feet after work. When I got out of bed in the morning, I could walk. My mood improved and my finances were in order since I didn’t have to pay for all of the medical bills.
Acupuncture, a treatment that I never considered before, was the thing that cured my chronic pain. It’s now five years later and I haven’t had any issues.
Now, I’m a total believer in acupuncture and I honestly hope that more people give it a try. Being in chronic pain is awful but if you’re willing to experiment with something new (and maybe even a little strange), you may just find that it changes your life.
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Shannon Ullman is a writer, traveler, and experience junkie. When she’s not writing or off on an adventure, she probably has her head buried in a book. You can read more about her travels and find resources to travel more yourself on her blog, Lives Abroad.