Geraldine James, from Ballinderry, and Elaine Patterson, from Antrim, thought they would be spending the rest of their lives in chronic pain. Now, they tell Stephanie Bell how the healing hands of Moira therapist, Dympna Hannon, have given them both permanent respite.
With 14 million people in the UK living in chronic pain, it's no wonder that more of us than ever before are turning to holistic therapies to try and find relief.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 65-80% of the population is now using holistic naturopathic medicine as a primary form of health care.
Living in constant pain can lead to depression, and a quarter of people will be so debilitated that they will lose their jobs.
Not only is it costing the health service millions in prescription drugs and treatments, but around £3.8bn a year is spent on incapacity benefit payments to people diagnosed with chronic pain.
For the past four years holistic therapist, Dympna Hannon has been using a combination of gentle techniques on people whose lives have been completely blighted by pain - with miraculous results.
People from all over Ireland - many of whom are only getting through with the help of strong prescription drugs - have been travelling to her clinic in Moira. And, after just a few sessions, many sufferers have been astonished to become pain-free.
Trained principally in traditional Chinese medicine, Dympna uses elements of cranio-sacral therapy, kinesiology, lymphatic drainage and massage to realign the body.
Her approach is gentle and non-invasive and involves placing the hands on certain parts of the body. She then uses a variety of techniques to work with each person's energy to draw the back, pelvis, neck, head, shoulders and legs back into their correct or natural position.
For the Moira therapist, it is as much about healing the spirit as tackling the physical pain in the body.
Dympna (45), who is also trained as a life coach, works with people whose pain stems from stress. She says helping to balance the mind can have a dramatic impact on the body.
She explains: “While clients would be aware of the manipulation and massage techniques offered by physiotherapists, chiropractors and osteopaths, what the clinic offers is a realignment of the bones and muscles in a manner that does not involve any forcing or cracking of the structure.
“When I was training, it was important not to just look at the physical pain but at the whole body and the mind. This incorporates spiritual balancing as well as working with the pain.
“I know someone who had suffered post-traumatic stress after being caught up in a bomb, and he trained in these techniques to help himself. “For him it was not just about the physical healing, but clearing out a lot of demons from the trauma he suffered. And that really opened my eyes.
“It has been amazing. Most people who come to me are really struggling. And many have been told there is nothing more that can be done for them.
“Generally people are pain-free after four or five treatments, but many only need two.”
We spoke to two people who went to Dympna for help with chronic pain, who now say the quality of their lives has been transformed.
‘I was in agony, walked with a limp and couldn’t sit properly’
Deputy manager of a day care nursery, Geraldine James, from Ballinderry, suffered with severe back and leg pain. The constant agony of pain was destroying the quality of her life and preventing her from being able to do her job.
Geraldine's pain was so chronic that she was forced to walk with a pronounced limp, dragging her right leg behind her as she couldn't bear to put her foot on the ground.
Sitting was also a problem. And the only way she could manage it was by twisting her right leg behind her - which meant she had to sit at the edge of the seat at all times. By far the worst aspect for Geraldine, though, was not being able to kneel or sit on the floor which she needed to do in her job working with young children.
It was six years ago, when she was lifting heavy blocks from the boot of her car and dropped them, that she sustained a labrum tear in her hip.
Geraldine (57), who has one son Matthew (22), recalls: “It was terrible. I couldn't kneel and working with children I need to sit on the floor to get to their level - and I couldn't do it.
“I couldn't pivot which made life really difficult, especially getting in and out of the car.
“My GP sent me for X-rays and scans. I was also on a waiting list to see a consultant. Meanwhile, I paid for 10 sessions of physiotherapy - but it didn't help.
“I couldn't stand the pain as it was so severe. I cried to my GP and begged him to do something to help me. I waited over a year to see a consultant and I will never forget what he told me.
“He said if I had been an athlete or younger it would have been worth fixing. It was as if he was just writing me off.
“Last year, I remember one day in work feeling completely useless and I just broke down and cried.
“A girl in work told me about Dympna and urged me to make an appointment. I didn't know anything about holistic medicine but I decided to give it a go.”
After just one session Geraldine was amazed by the difference. She no longer needed her walking stick and her limp had gone.
She could also pivot again and was able to kneel and sit comfortably.
After a total of seven sessions she is now pain-free and completely mobile again.
She says: “I cannot tell you the difference it has made to my life.
“Dympna gave me exercises to do at home - and I do them every day. The pain, which was horrendous, is gone and I'm just sorry I didn't go to her years ago.
“One of the biggest things for me was that I was feeling really hopeless and helpless. The first time I met Dympna and asked her if she could help me - she told me she could and that very positive attitude was amazing. To hear someone say they could help you when you were feeling desperate means the world.”
‘Dympna said she could help me ... her positive attitude was amazing’
Mum-of-three Elaine Patterson had resigned herself to a life of constant pain after she was told by doctors that nothing could be done to help her.
Elaine struggled to sit and stand and was only able to function with strong painkillers.
It was only after she was healed that she was shocked to find she had become addicted her medication - and had to go through withdrawal.
Now pain-free, she was amazed by how gentle the treatment she received from Dympna was, and how effective.
Elaine (43) developed an unbearable pain out of the blue in the centre of her back two years ago. Her GP sent her for a number of scans but the tests failed to pinpoint a cause for the pain. She was told there was nothing that could be done and was prescribed strong painkillers.
Elaine, who works as a team leader in health and social care, is married to Stefan (47), a civil servant, and they live in Antrim with their three children, Leona (8) and six-year-old twins Luke and Faith.
She recalls: “I was told I would just have to learn to live with it and was given amitriptyline and tramadol. Taking the medication was the only way I could get through the day and sleep at night.” The twins were only three when Elaine developed back pain. She says: “It just came out of the blue and I had a few scans which came back clear - the doctors put it down to my lifestyle.
“I used to do heavy lifting years ago and the doctors said it was just one of those things and I would have to put up with it.
“I couldn't have got through the day without the pain relief. A girl I worked with knew Dympna socially and she suggested I go and see her.
“She told me it was a non-invasive form of treatment and very gentle, so I went along not knowing what to expect. After my first visit I no longer needed the painkillers - but then I discovered I was addicted to the tramadol.
“If I didn't take one in the morning, I felt extremely anxious. I felt jittery all day and couldn't sleep. I was shaking like a 'tramadol junky'. “That lasted three days and it took me quite a few weeks to get off the tramadol.”
Elaine had just one more session with Dympna last year, and says she has been pain-free ever since. The quality of her life has also been transformed.
She says: “Before the treatment I couldn't put my chin down because of the pain, and I wouldn't have been able to sleep with it. I also had to sit and stand in a way that compensated for the pain.
“The difference is amazing and, if I hadn't had the treatment, I would still be addicted to tramadol. I can't believe how lucky I am that I heard about the clinic.
“Working combined with looking after young children, plus all the medication I was on, meant that I was tired all the time. And it wasn't until I came off the painkillers that I realised just how hard it had been. When I wasn't working or looking after my family I was sleeping.”
She adds: “It has been brilliant and I think if treatments like this were more widely available it would save the health service a fortune in the costs of prescriptions. I'm sure the pain relief I was on doesn't come cheap.”