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Brenda McLemore loved playing with her grandchildren and lifting them up to give big hugs.  But with chronic pain, her days of holding them seemed a distant memory.

Brenda, 55, from Pine Hill, NJ, is a Virtua patient navigator. She had been suffering with back pain for 15 years due to herniated and bulging disks.  She was also overweight and a smoker. In hopes that it would help with her pain, Brenda decided to get healthy. She lost more than 60 pounds and started an exercise regimen.  

Despite her weight loss, Brenda’s pain continued. She developed numbness in her feet and turned to pain management to help her get through the day. “Some days, I would be in so much pain,” she recalls. “I wasn’t sure if I would be able to sit at my desk all day.” 

After seeing a podiatrist, a spine specialist, a neurologist, an orthopedic specialist and a rheumatologist, Brenda finally got a diagnosis. Her pain was caused by complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), also called reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome. In someone with CRPS, an increased level of nerve impulses cause chronic pain at the affected site. Experts believe that CRPS occurs as a result of dysfunction in the central or peripheral nervous systems, which is why Brenda was in constant pain throughout her hips, legs and feet.

“I love cardio, and I was using my elliptical every day. But when I was diagnosed with CRPS, I was told not to walk on my foot for months. This meant I couldn’t do my cardio routine,” says Brenda. “Sadly, I started to gain back the weight I worked so hard to lose.”

Brenda’s doctors prescribed medication to help ease the pain in her feet and legs. But, the medication didn’t help, and she experienced uncomfortable side effects. “I hated the way the medications made me feel,” Brenda recalls. “I got dry mouth and jittery, and I was still in agonizing pain. Then, a friend who was suffering from nerve damage in her arms told her about the relief she got from acupuncture treatments, so she suggested Brenda try it too. 

In October 2015, after attending information sessions at Virtua’s Center for Integrative Medicine, Brenda made an appointment to see the Center’s medical director, Polina Karmazin, MD. Her practice combines conventional medicine with holistic therapies that are supported by high-quality evidence and recognized by the National Institutes of Health. 

Brenda was treated weekly with both acupuncture and biopuncture. Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body, while biopuncture involves injecting natural, homeopathic remedies into the affected areas or into the acupuncture points. Both therapies stimulate and support the body’s natural healing process. 

After four treatments, Brenda noticed a big difference in the way she was feeling.  “I’m so glad I took the steps to meet Dr. Karmazin,” says Brenda. “I didn’t feel any negative side effects from the biopuncture or acupuncture.” She no longer needs to take pain medication, and she’s starting to get some feeling back in her feet. 

“My family and friends are amazed at the change in me,” notes Brenda. “I still have my moments where my back hurts, but it’s not as bad as it was. I can stand longer, walk farther, and most important, I can hold my grandchildren without wincing in pain.” She adds that she still has to be careful:  “I can’t twist in certain ways. But, I’m starting to exercise again and that will help the pain.”

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