Member Story: Chronic Pain Meets a Creative Solution

Member Story: Chronic Pain Meets a Creative Solution

Nov 26 2019

Mary Anne Dettar was working full-time as a graphic designer when the pain started.

First it was headaches that kept coming back. Then it was soreness that crept through her arms. Doctors initially diagnosed her with tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. But when the pain eventually flared up in her back and neck and would not subside, that’s when Mary Anne began to understand she was dealing with something much more complicated.

“I felt like my body was on fire from deep inside,” Mary Anne said, remembering those early burning flashes. “It was a hot and constant pain.”

Mary Anne’s journey with chronic pain has been a long one. She’s received treatment for it for over two decades now—and has found some measure of relief in a combination of massage, physical therapy, chiropractic and spinal decompression treatments.

She’s recently started a more holistic treatment recommended by her Spectrum Health Spine and Pain Management doctor, one that she says has given her a glimpse of a pain-free life—and a lot of hope for her future.

Through it all, Mary Anne says she’s grateful to have Priority Health insurance. It’s been her one constant support through nearly most of this journey. As she navigated through numerous appointments with doctors, nurses and therapists, her insurance coverage has been the common thread in their conversations.

“Many providers told me it was a good thing I had Priority Health, and recommended that I don’t change insurance,” Mary Anne said, adding she’s been relieved to have had such good insurance coverage.

She is especially grateful for her current course of treatment, which has been carefully orchestrated over the last several months by her doctor and a small team of physical therapists. Mary Anne says in addition to her regular doctor visits, she has twice-weekly physical therapy appointments that concentrate on a mind-body approach. Because of it, she says she’s been able to feel what a pain-free life could be like.

“It’s some of the most helpful health care I’ve had in decades,” Mary Anne said. “I think everyone should have access to the type of healing I’m getting. It’s an incredible transformation I am currently participating in. It’s not a short or easy fix, but I’m thrilled to be on this incredible healing adventure.”

While part of her therapy visits focus on physical therapy, her medical team is also using a treatment called “dry needling” to calm the nerves running through parts of Mary Anne’s body. Dry needling has grown in popularity in recent years and to the untrained eye, it can look very similar to acupuncture.

Most proponents of dry needling say the long, thin needles that are inserted into a patient’s skin are used to target spots where a person’s muscles are knotted, or there have been muscle spasms. The goal is to relieve pain and relax the muscles in those areas.

At the Grand Rapids Performance Center, practitioners use a systemic approach involving placing needles in a variety of locations around the body to promote proprioceptive awareness which refines the brain’s perception of the body. As this awareness increases, the nervous system comes out of “fight or flight” mode and into “rest and digest” mode. In addition to pain relief, the treatment can provide a sense of calm and improved sleep.

Mary Anne said she read up on this holistic treatment path on the advice of her doctor, and raised an eyebrow over claims from people who said they were able to get off the treatment table feeling pain-free. Then it happened to her a couple months ago.

“I reached a state of complete relaxation,” she said, remembering the therapy session when she walked out feeling completely well. “That one day opened my eyes to real hope. I had tears of joy going to bed that night. I did not want the day to end!”

After her second needling experience, Mary Anne no longer needed a cane to walk and hasn’t used one since. Now that she knows what her body should feel like, Mary Anne says she looks forward to working hard at her therapy sessions, and dedicating herself to the ‘homework’ it entails, so she can achieve that feeling as her new normal.

“Now that I have had that taste of a pain-free life, my hope has been refreshed in a big way. It even crossed my mind that with success, I may actually be able to work again in a normal capacity,” said Mary Anne, who had to leave her career behind when her pain became too great.

She looks forward to volunteering once again for local theaters, and regaining her art-filled life of writing, drawing and painting.

“I am a creative person, and it’s like I’ve had this artist’s block for 20 plus years now. I have not been this hopeful in many, many years.”