June 21, 2018
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Knee pain leads to search for alternative treatment

Renee Ordway
By Renee Ordway, Special to the BDN

The first time my knee stopped working correctly I was on the sidewalk two blocks from my house.

I had my dog on a leash in one hand and a plastic bag with her “business” in it in the other.

With one step, in one instant, what once was my perfectly fine right knee failed me.

It would bear no weight, and I stood on the sidewalk on one foot trying to decide if I should try to hop two blocks on one foot with a dog and a doodie bag or whether I would have to crawl.

Neither seemed like a dignified alternative.

Someone stopped to help. I eventually made it the short distance home and put the first of what would turn out to be many ice packs on my frighteningly swollen knee.

That was two years ago.

There were MRIs and a short-lived stint with physical therapy, until I was informed that my cost was $200 per session until my $3,000 deductible was met and the therapist wanted to see me twice a week.

There was a referral to a surgeon, who said what I needed was a complete knee replacement but that he would prefer to wait 10 years because of my age. There were cortisone shots into my kneecap followed by joint lubrication injections.

A needle was used to drain a cyst that had developed on the back of my knee.

Some of those things brought much-appreciated, albeit temporary, relief.

Within six months my left knee was involved.

My exercise level dwindled to nothing. There was no hiking, no snowshoeing on the golf course, I gave up on downhill skiing ever again. I was unable to continue a group weight-lifting class. My “gentle” yoga class proved too painful, as even the relaxing prayer pose put too much pressure on my knees.

Cleaning my house occurred in short increments. I could no longer haul around laundry baskets.

And I began coming down the stairs like a 2-year-old – one step, two feet, one step, two feet. I apologized and stepped to the side to let people pass me on public staircases.

Eight-hundred milligram Ibuprofen became a staple of my diet.

And, of course, like many women in their late 40s who get no exercise, I began to gain weight. Fast.

It was not the happiest of times.

Last spring, tired of the pain and tired of feeling sorry for myself, I finally heeded the advice of several friends and made an appointment for acupuncture.

I wound up in the chiropractic office of Dr. Michael Noonan in Old Town. I’ve been to chiropractors many times because of severe arthritis in my spine — the same arthritis that eventually spread to my knees, it turns out.

His treatment started with common adjustments. He didn’t use these words, but it became clear that, skeletally speaking, I was a big hot mess. Two years of warping my frame into positions to accommodate two weak knees had taken its toll.

There was some snapping and some tugging and two sessions per week – some of which was covered by my insurance.

Eventually, I noticed I was feeling a bit better and I realized that he had never even looked at my knees.

I was faithful to the treatment and did the gentle exercises he suggested. After a couple of months I graduated to acupuncture treatment.

Twice a week I lay on a table while he placed teeny needles in various locations on my body – knees, hands, feet, ankles, groin and even my ears. There was no pain.

It is suggested you don’t move very much for the 20-minute session and so you lie still, which of course means that the moment the last needle is in place, I get an itch.

Twice-a-week sessions turned into once a week and I have now gone on a maintenance program that involves one visit every five weeks.

It’s been a gradual process throughout the summer. In August, I was able to hike around Jordan Pond In Acadia National Park and I was mostly pain-free.

I can easily walk four miles at a brisk pace. I can at last take part in a yoga class, while avoiding certain positions.

I can ride a stationary bike at the Bangor Y again.

I have at last stopped the weight gain and am looking forward to reversing that troubling upward trend.

For the first time in two years, I am confident that I can have most of my active life back and that I will only improve as I start shedding those dastardly pounds.

I am not an expert on insurance coverage or health care, but I do know that insurance companies didn’t hesitate to cover injections into my knees that were only mildly effective. They would have most likely approved a total knee replacement, perhaps even a double one, had my surgeon indicated it was necessary.

Large amounts of 800-mg Ibuprofen were easily approved.

Interestingly — sadly, I dare say — the one thing that actually worked, the one treatment that is relatively reasonably priced and involved no prescription medication, is not covered by most insurance companies. Acupuncture, chiropractic care and massage therapy are considered alternative treatments. If they are covered at all, the number of visits is generally so limited that the treatments are rendered nearly ineffective.

Clearly, this sort of treatment may not work for everyone, but it is continually proving to be more effective and is far less costly than “traditional” treatment for many illnesses and has far fewer side-effects.

As the nation continues to bushwhack its way through the national health care crisis, access to more affordable holistic treatments should be at the forefront of the discussion.

Trust me, I haven’t dumped my Ibuprofen. I still believe in the miracles of modern medicine. But I sure know what worked for me after two years of searching, and for many of you it might be worth a moment or two of consideration, as well.

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