My Experience with Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT):
Oooh baby, I’ve been around the block. And in my opinion*, if you’re hoping for PAIN RELIEF from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome or Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (CRPS/RSD) - you may have the wrong address with Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT).
However, please don’t think me a gloomy cynic - it definitely was not all bad whatsoever. In fact, if you have the money & the time, I’d actually recommend it.
Let me explain…
My approach to the treatment of my CRPS/RSD was that I would try the least invasive therapies first. For example: physical therapy (I call it physio because I’m foreign & also a bit weird), medication, then nerve blocks, HBOT, etc, etc…
To increase your chances of remission, I can’t stress how vital it is to treat this illness as quickly possible. I suppose I was lucky in comparison to some in that, once diagnosed, I was able to trace my CRPS/RSD back to the ‘scene of the crime’ (my accident 8 months prior). In other words, I had time…
I’d already been in very intensive physical therapy for the better part of a year (again: I’d almost lost my foot in an accident…) learning how to use my foot and walk, so - in continuation with this - we found a pain specialist and moved on to nerve blocks and medication.
While the medication helped somewhat, I had no luck with the blocks in my spine. So, In continuation with physical therapy (something I still do 3 times a week and consider extremely important while simultaneously loathing it - but shhh! I never said that!…) The train now seemed bound for HBOT…
INSURANCE & I OFFICIALLY DO NOT SEEM TO GET ALONG…
If you’ve been through this process as a citizen of the United States, I applaud you. AAARRRGGGHHH!!! Insurance was an absolute nightmare. I’m incredibly blessed that at this point I had the support of my mother to guide me through the process, and there’s no doubt in my mind that had I gone it alone, I’d have quit due to nothing more than frustration. CRPS/RSD is an illness that breeds on stress. How can it be that in order to get the treatment, those in a position to help put you instead put you through the ringer?!
Needless to say… I got denied.
WHATEVER, INSURANCE! I’M DOING IT ANYWAY…
And so, I flew to Trinidad & Tobago where thankfully I am lucky enough to have a very generous Uncle with (of all things) a Commercial Diving Company, and thus a hyperbaric chamber in his yard (I know, can you believe?! You see how things always work out?).
Of course, the chamber wasn’t necessarily as pretty as the fancy first-world hospital chamber shown at the top. In fact, it was rather hot (no A/C), uncomfortable (I had to breathe through a mask), and loud (as it stood right in the middle of a noisy, industrial yard).
Quite a difference, no?
However, when it came down to it, my aim was to be healed of my CRPS/RSD - I would do ANYTHING - and I couldn’t care less on the vanity of it all.
I was a woman on a mission and I was up for anything!!! When you’re chronically ill, vanity quickly somehow becomes a thing of the past - or at least in many ways this is how it has been for me„,
And so, for 2 months, I’d sit for 2 hours - and not just any hours, from the godforsaken hours of 6am-8am - I sat in a little metal tube, and inhale as hard as I could. I was not allowed to fall asleep for fear that they’d think something had happened to me in there - it’s highly pressurized so once that hatch shuts, there was no getting to me for at least 20 minutes. Due to the fear of sparking something, electronics were strictly forbidden; and thanks to that fantastically attractive mask on my face, books were rendered pretty much impossible to read (booorriiinng, but that’s beside the point).
SO WHAT DID HAPPEN…?
Well, I most certainly lived to tell the tale, that’s for sure. And like everything in life, it was not all bad. Here are the positives:
I found that my sensitivity levels decreased. Isn’t that great?! I was able to start swimming, shaving my legs sometimes, wearing trousers etc. While I can’t attribute this in all parts to the HBOT as I was also in very intense PT at the same time, I feel that it most definitely played a very part.
What I can attribute specifically to the HBOT is that my circulation increased, allowing the color changes, and at times even the incredibly uncomfortable sudden boiling hot to freezing cold temperature changes to decrease somewhat slightly both in frequency and in intensity. I’d say that this relief lasted approximately for a year. AMAZING! For anyone with CRPS/RSD you know how exciting this must have been.
As you may know, CRPS/RSD & its effect on your circulation subsequently has a profound effect on the health of your tissues (because the veins are opening & closing so the tissues suffer). Thanks to the HBOT therapy, I’ve spoken to doctors who say my tissue health has profoundly improved. Something very necessary as there was damage there also from the accident.
Unfortunately - as stated above - HBOT did not play a part in my pain levels. It did thought, grant me much relief in how uncomfortable it can be once my legs would heat up or freeze. You know? When your limb suddenly begins to boil causing the rest of you to feel as though you’re having a hot flash? Or as though there’s a frozen river within your veins? Or a freezing knife cutting through you? Lovely! x
And so… I’d say in conclusion that HBOT is definitely not worth it if you’re looking for CRPS/RSD pain relief and have to go out of your way to pay for it privately. But is most definitely worth it if you have affordable access to it and the time to dedicate to it.
Hey, in this case what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, right? xx
(Ps - Referring back to when I was speaking of vanity above, here’s a fun fact for you… that picture is actually from one of me and Josh’s first dates. Eeessshh!!! By profession, he’s a commercial diver and so I asked him to come in the chamber with me to, “help”. Ay! 1) I got mooooves! 2) He agreed! You read where I said 6am, correct? Plus, you saw that picture? If that wasn’t love from the start, I don’t know what is…)
* Please keep in mind that this is my opinion. I’m not a doctor, nor do I claim to be. Different things may work for different people, especially with an illness as random as CRPS/RSD. Please consult a doctor trained in HBOT before embarking on this treatment. Be sure to always have a certified technician running for the chamber for you.
(Top image via Hyperbaricanswers.com)