As Spenser said in the last post, we have arrived to sandstone heaven. I could not be happier. Colorado has beautiful stone and a multitude of great climbs, but Joe’s Valley is just easy. Especially after a summer consisting of driving an hour and a half, hiking another hour a half, climbing, hiking over talus for a half hour, climbing, and repeating. Free camping, boulders everywhere, and a town with everything you need just a short ride away. It’s been effortless getting used to life at Joe’s.
But I’m getting carried away. The point of this post is to talk about piercings! Let’s go back to where my curiosity with this began. Towards the end of our first climbing day at Left Fork, we met Mina Leslie-Wujastyk and David Mason. Mina and I started talking about physical therapy and the recurrent shoulder/neck injury she used to struggle with.
Mina’s shoulder would act up, especially during training, much like my injury (similar neck pain with numbness down the arm). She went to a chiropractor in Britain that was more on the alternative side of things and he told her that her piercings could be hindering her recovery. Piercings? Really?
Her chiropractor explained that because of the repetitive stress on her body from traveling, climbing hard, training, and so on, her immune system was already working overtime. To add the piercings on top of all that was possibly the straw that broke the camel’s back, in a way. Since her immune system was constantly working to fight foreign bodies (her piercings), it was unable to properly heal her shoulder.
They followed up this discussion with proprioceptive muscle strength tests – measuring how strong her arms were at opposing force with or without the specific piercings. Apparently, the difference was striking – especially for the tongue ring (Mina said she had a tongue, nose, and earlobe piercings at the time) initially. Then, after a relapse, it looked as if her nose stud was also a problem. One by one, all the piercings were gone. Since then (around the beginning of February), she was finally able to take her training to the next level and the rest is girl crushing history – I’m sure many of you have seen Mina’s recent sends of Tetris and Mecca.
So I know this is all sounds like “airy-fairy stuff,” as Mina’s boyfriend, David, likes to say. But can there be some truth to it? I decided to get on the laptop at the good ol’ Food Ranch and do a bit of my own research.
I did a bit of online scouring prior to getting my tongue pierced. At that time, my research led me to the conclusion that the worst I could really end up with was a chipped tooth or lisp. I was willing to take those chances. As most of you already know, the exact words that you Google make a huge difference. When I started researching piercings and the effect they can have on the immune system, I was given a completely different world of information.
What Mina’s chiropractor was saying apparently makes complete sense. Piercings stress out your body and cause increased cortisol (the stress hormone) production. Pumping out cortisol is your body’s natural reaction to a threat, but sadly our body’s flight-or-fight response can’t differentiate between a real threat (a bear attack) versus a perceived threat (a really bad day at work or a piercing). Too much cortisol in the body is linked to weight gain, depression, and high blood pressure. Sure, I’m not worried about weight gain, depression, or high blood pressure necessarily, but continuously elevated cortisol levels inhibits the immune system while also leading to an overall cortisol depletion in your body. Low levels of cortisol can lead to low energy. A lowered immune system AND low energy?! Now this is very bad for climbing. Especially for a climbing road trip. This just skims the surface of what elevated cortisol levels do to your body, for more check out the Wikipedia page on it.
I then did a little more digging into tongue and navel piercings specifically, since those are the two that I am attached to, or that are attached to me, I guess. This is where we get into the more “airy-fairy stuff.” In acupuncture and related practices, such as acupressure, the tongue and navel are high-energy zones and metals (body piercings) are supposed to be avoided because they impede energy flow. What acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine refer to as “energy balance” can be related to the balance of our body’s endocrine system, for those of us who do not like to use words like “energy” and “flow.”
Acupuncture regulates our body’s Qi (pronounced chi) by improving energy flow through 14 meridians, channels that carry the Qi to various organs to keep our energy fields in balance. Before many of you start to dismiss this altogether, let me remind you that acupuncture is now recognized by NIH, the World Health Organization, and most medical doctors as an effective health therapy for certain medical issues.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the belly button is located in the middle of a primary energy line, the Conception Vessel Meridian. This is a forbidden acupuncture point known as CV8 and, in theory, can lead to core energy burn-out and cause fertility issues in women. While the tongue is divided into 5 parts: stomach, lungs, heart, gallbladder, and liver. The middle of the tongue (what is traditionally pierced) involves the spleen and stomach points, related to chronic digestion problems. Of course, we’re getting into theories at this point, but I found this all quite interesting. Anyone with piercings experience these types of issues?
I’m still figuring out what to make of all this. So far, my conclusion is the same as it has been for a while: every part of our body is connected, a disturbance in one part will inevitably effect the rest of the body in one form or another. I think the point that resonated most with me after all my reading was that a piercing will undoubtedly cause extra stress on the body. This, in addition with other common stressors, such as training, not getting enough sleep, and improper diet, will add up and the piercing could make the difference between your body healing properly versus the issue becoming chronic.
This clicked with me. I have an overactive immune system and continuing digestive problems due to Celiac Disease. Anything that could be getting in the way of me having an awesome climbing day and enjoying every day of this road trip needs to go. I took out my tongue and belly button piercings a few days ago. I figure it’ll be a fun little experiment (of course there are too many other variables, but a test nonetheless). I have grown quite attached to my piercings (I’ve had my belly button ring for 10 years now), especially the reaction my tongue ring gets from certain people, but I don’t need it.
A quick update, it’s been about a week since my tongue ring and a few days since I took out my belly button ring. My shoulder has really been doing well in spite of the heavy climbing load. I’ve even been sleeping on my left side (which I have not been able to do comfortably for months). This is also great since I’ve haven’t been able to do my physical therapy exercises consistently at Joe’s. Nevertheless, no shoulder pain. I know this does not prove anything, but I think it’s extremely fascinating and hopefully helpful to somehow else out there! Even if it’s just the placebo effect, who really cares? What I do know is I’m done with piercings for the moment.