When acute or chronic pain drags you down, you’re desperate for relief. Here are a few ways to put out the fire

Back, shoulder and neck pains are one of the most common types of pain resulting from repetitive use, poor posture and injuries. Anyone who has had acute or chronic pain understands how debilitating it can be. In this article, I will be sharing my journey in seeking treatment for my acute shoulder pain.

My search for treatment began when I had an injury near my rotator cuff, and I couldn’t lift my arm. The pain was unbearable, and I felt handicapped by not being able to have full use of my left arm. I knew I had to treat the injury immediately to avoid the pain spreading to other parts of my body. I began searching online, and the closest result I found was the FV Hospital Pain Centre, which primarily offered surgery and steroid treatments for serious complications. This was a non-option for me since I prefer a non-invasive and drug-free approach. Though for serious cases, surgery and medication may be the appropriate treatment. So beyond hospital care and medication, where does one go to treat musculoskeletal types of pain?

Chiropractic Treatment With Physical Therapy

I visited the American Chiropractic Clinic (ACC) in Ho Chi Minh City for my first treatment. According to ACC’s website, they defined chiropractic care as treating “neuromusculoskeletal complaints, including but not limited to back pain, neck pain, pain in the joints of the arms or legs, and headaches” through hands-on spinal manipulation. I was treated by the founder of ACC, Dr. Wade Brackenbury, an American chiropractor who opened the first international chiropractic clinic in Vietnam in 2006. Before the actual treatment, there is normally a diagnostic process which includes taking x-rays (or bringing your own), and an evaluation of your posture and physical movement. For my injury, Dr. Wade concluded that I had an inflammation in my bicep tendon though the pain felt like it could have been a tear. He proceeded to recommend treatments that were appropriate for my condition. First, he conducted a spinal and neck adjustment which is meant to restore mobility to the joints and to help increase blood circulation to the nerves and tissues. I’m not a big fan of adjustments, but it actually felt pretty good afterward and felt like there was a release of tension in my spine and muscle tissues.

I was very impressed by the holistic approach of the chiropractic care at ACC which went beyond spinal adjustments. The clinic is equipped with state-of-the- art physical therapy equipment to aid in the healing process. After I had my spinal and neck adjustment, shockwave and laser therapies were prescribed for me which are designed to reduce inflammation through heat therapy, in addition to acupuncture for pain-relief. After about an hour at the clinic, I left feeling revitalized, and my pain reduced significantly, though my mobility was still limited. As I was eager to regain my mobility and be pain-free, I was recommended to come for an additional two days of consecutive therapies for the best results. Miraculously, after three consecutive sessions, I achieved my quest to have full mobility and be pain-free. I think a major part of the success is due to the treatment of my injury in the early stages before it became a chronic condition.

However, after four months, the shoulder pain reoccurred in the same location probably because of not continuing with physical therapy. It started as discomfort and within a month escalated to sharp pain that extended to my neck and down my arm. Though I still had my mobility, I couldn’t sleep because of the increased pain when I lie down. The previous chiropractic care helped with treating my injury but I felt this time, I needed therapy that was more along the line of rehabilitation for sustainability and prevention of future pain. Fortunately, there are more options and availability of complementary therapies today and I was able to find a bodywork therapist at Mandala Wellness.

Deep Tissue Work And Body Alignment

The purpose of bodywork therapy is to correct physical problems relating to posture, connective tissue, and/or musculature to bring about greater ease of movement, less discomfort, and a higher level of energy in daily activity. My first bodywork therapy experience was with Shaun Alexander, a licensed massage therapist, who combines various modalities in his session, which includes myofascial release, deep tissue, trigger point therapy, cranial sacral, guided breathing and sports massage. According to Shaun, one of the biggest and most common source of shoulder pain, particularly those who work on a computer all day, is the tightness of the pectoral and rotator cuff muscles which causes the shoulder joint to pull forward and the muscles in the back to overstretch. His approach to relieving this type of pain is to break apart any restricted fascia inhibiting range of motion, loosen the muscles in the front, get rid of any knots in the back, and start to strengthen and train the weaker muscles to do their share of the work in supporting the body. Though this is his general approach, Shaun says that “every client receives treatment that is specific to their needs and I use the methods most suitable for the situation. Over the years, I’ve found my greatest tool to be my intuition and focus. I’m constantly ‘listening’ and conversing with the body and tissue.”

First, let me be clear that this is not the same as massage. It certainly isn’t relaxing since certain modalities, such as trigger point therapy, can be painful and uncomfortable. Shaun also applied cupping on my shoulder area which helped to loosen the tissues for him to access the source of the pain. I appreciated the fact that Shaun took the time to educate me on what was going on with my body and was in awe of discovering the interconnectedness of the body’s neuro, muscular, and skeletal systems. In one session, he focused on aligning and loosening my hip and at one point pressed on an area near my hip, and I felt a sharp pain on the opposite side of my shoulder. Though this was new information to me, Shaun says that hip imbalance is a common source of shoulder pain.

In the end, I had a total of three sessions with Shaun, each was different, depending on his evaluation of the state of my body on that day. He couldn’t guarantee how many sessions it would take to be pain-free since every individual responds differently to the therapies but I noticed that after each session, the pain was incrementally reduced. Surprisingly after three sessions, my shoulder pain was gone! Though the bodywork therapy treated my pain, I have chosen to continue this therapy for maintenance and prevention of future pain.

Other Consideration

Another form of therapy to consider is Osteopathy which has a similar approach to bodywork therapy and focuses on stretching, gentle pressure, and resistance techniques. I went for one session which is not sufficient to conclude the effectiveness of osteopathy, but it is good to know there are additional choices in seeking pain remedy. Personally, I was looking for a more aggressive approach to treating my shoulder pain, and I felt that osteopathy might be more effective for maintaining body alignment.

I know how challenging it can be to find the right treatment, especially in Vietnam. And when you’re in pain, you’re desperate to try anything to find relief. Though I found treatments that worked for me, this is not an endorsement of the therapies or to suggest that these may work for others since each person’s condition and the response is unique to their own. Through this process of treating my pain, I have gained a better understanding of my body and learned simple tips such as regular stretch, exercise, and correct posture, can help significantly in preventing future injuries and pain.