Victoria S. Hardy

Victoria S. Hardy

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Healing Power Of Tattoos?

I spent a day perusing the Internet and attempting to understand the public perception of tattoos. I recognize many don’t like them, but I didn’t expect to find such hate. In the voices of those writers I heard that the illustrated ones were low class, trash, sheep, new world order slaves, mentally ill, suffering from low self esteem, attention seeking, promiscuous and the list continued…

According to Life magazine, in 1936 approximately 10 million people had a least one tattoo in America. In 2000 the National Geographic News stated that number had risen to 40 million. In 2006, Pew Research Center completed a survey which found 40% of those aged 26 to 40 have at least one tattoo.

As many reasons as I’ve heard discussed about the reason to get a tattoo – to fit in, to stand out, in memory of a loved one, military service, religious reasons or simply rebellion - I have yet to hear of health as a reason, although there is some merit behind the idea. Sounds crazy, right? How can a tattoo may anyone healthier?

In 1991, a mummy was discovered on the border of Austria and Italy. The mummy was said to have lived approximately 5000 years ago and is now considered Europe’s oldest natural mummy. An interesting thing about this mummy were his tattoos, which are believed to be have been medicinal, instead of decorative.

The mummy’s tattoos - a series of lines, dots and small crosses distributed on his lower spine, right knee and his ankle joints - suggested that they were applied to alleviate pain. Studies done on the mummy have affirmed that he suffered arthritis, back and stomach issues.

In ancient Egypt many female mummies have been found to have tattoos, so many so, that it’s been suggested that it was an exclusively female practice. The tattooing on the female mummies shows a net-like series of dots along the abdomen, on the tops of the thighs and breasts believed to have added protection during pregnancy.

And now, inventers have created the medical equivalent of the tattoo gun to be used to treat acne scars. Dr. Shah is one of the nation’s only doctors combining two new treatments that remove acne scars while minimizing these side-effects. “Those tiny wounds attract platelets and growth factors without severely injuring the epidermis and dermis. Collagen fills up the ‘valleys’ of acne scars.”

The art of tattooing actually stimulates the body’s production of collagen, so those pregnant Egyptians were indeed protecting the babies they carried. Collagen has an important task in the human body supporting skin, bone, tendons, muscles and cartilage, as well as, the internal organs.

I had never considered the healing properties of tattoos until my acupuncturist, noticing the tattoo around my ankle, pointed out to me that he thought my choice of its placement interesting. I was born with a club foot and despite the surgeries and braces I wore as a child, my ankle and foot have always been weak. My calf on one side is thinner, my afflicted leg a bit shorter and my feet are two different sizes.

The acupuncturist explained that tattoos increase collagen production and when asked specifically if the tattoo could make my ankle stronger, he stated is was possible, but not a lot of studies had been done on the subject. In the year since I had the ankle band done, I have noticed I have suffered less back and hip problems.

On my clubbed foot I have very limited mobility and for as long as I remember, very little feeling. I can not curl my toes on that foot and my small toes move as a unit – unable to move independently of the next. I am able to separate my big toe from the smaller ones, but I can’t bend any of them. When I was young this caused a few issues for me, but as I grow older I have noticed the pain from my unbalanced foundation growing worse.

Years ago, when I still had faith in the medical community, I spoke to a couple doctors about my foot. Surgery was offered, but it was also explained that it wouldn’t increase the mobility, it would simply make my foot look more normal. I opted out of the surgery idea because I don’t much care what my foot looks like, as long as it works and doesn’t hurt.

Recently, I went back for more tattooing, working on the club foot scar and surrounding areas and for the first time in a long time I am beginning to feel the ball of my foot and my toes. My foot seems to be opening up more and contacting the floor fully, whereas, I had been reverting to walking on the side of my foot much like the gait of those with an uncorrected club foot.

Although I know the public perception of body ink is discouraging and judgmental, there may be some merit to the healing capabilities of the procedure. I am not a doctor and I am not offering medical advice, just a simple, personal observation.

For those who have considered the idea of getting a tattoo why not place it near or on an achy joint and see what happens? Even if you have to have surgery later in the same area, a study from the 1950’s showed that the collagen production continued in an open wound inside a tattooed area, leading to smoother healing of the wound.

There are many companies selling collagen supplements for joint pain, but wouldn’t our own natural production of collagen in the affected area be more effective? Is a surgical scar more appealing than a piece of art?