The thought of someone sticking needles in your body to bring relief sounds absurd, but I’m here to tell you that it’s way less painful than a bikini wax and totally worth trying. While it may sound like I’m talking about an epidural, it’s actually the healing art of acupuncture.
I tried acupuncture for the first time last year and found it really helpful. In one session I could address symptoms from a cold, a flare-up of plantar fasciitis, and some seasonal depression. My sister used acupuncture to help induce labor a few years ago and a coworker had great success using acupuncture to clear up clogged milk ducts (from breastfeeding).
I think people are scared to try acupuncture for two main reasons:
- It’s not a pill, procedure, or something familiar
To take away some of the fear and mystery surrounding acupuncture, here’s some basic info and an account of my first trip to the acupuncturist.
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into the skin to stimulate specific points on the body. It belongs to a broader group of techniques called Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). As you probably guessed, TCM began in ancient China. It is rooted in the ancient philosophy of Taoism and dates back more than 2,500 years. Tai Chi and herbal medicine are two other kinds of TCM recognized by most Americans.
The National Institute of Health classifies TCM as “alternative medicine” and “complementary and integrated health.” Basically, this kind of wholistic care is foreign to western scientists and very difficult to study. So, if you are a hard-core, rigorous examination, scientific method, show me the data kind of person, acupuncture and TCM might not be your thing.
(Source: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/whatiscam/chinesemed.htm National Institute of Health, National Center for Complementary and Integrated Health, 7-19-18)
My experience with acupuncture:
The local women’s hospital employs a licensed acupuncturist. (The licensed part is important. Get a qualified provider!) My therapist recommended I try acupuncture as an extra way to treat seasonal depression. I set up an appointment with the acupuncturist and she told me to plan on an hour for the first visit.
My coworker had acupuncture with this same lady, so I asked her for details on why the first appointment takes so long. “She asks you a million questions,” was my coworker’s response. “She asks about what you eat and drink, when you eat, how much water you drink, and what your energy levels are throughout the day.”
That sounded pretty normal to me.
“But she also asks you about your period, how much you bleed, and if you have cramps. Then she asks about bowel movements. How often do you poop? What does it look like? Do you have constipation or diarrhea?”
“Why does she ask that?” I demanded. “You’ll just have to listen to her explanation. It makes sense,” concluded my friend.
Great! Now I’m thinking about bowel movements and energy levels in addition to someone sticking needles in my body. Maybe I should cancel.
I didn’t cancel. I showed up for my appointment and sat nervously in the office chair ready to answer a barrage of weird questions. We talked about overall health, how I still had my reproductive organs, how she thought drinking soda was disgusting, and of course, details of my digestion.
With the question and answer round completed, she took me into the treatment room. It looked like any other doctor’s office exam room but seemed more like a spa. I heard soft, relaxing music. I smelled an unidentified yet soothing aroma and felt warm and at ease.
The charts and pictures of the human body and its systems covering the walls were mesmerizing. I had 8 million questions I wanted to ask, but my thoughts were interrupted by the following command, “Stick out your tongue.”
I did as she instructed and the acupuncturist closely studied my tongue. “Why did you want to look at my tongue?” I inquired. Her response consisted of a fascinating explanation of how all parts of the body are connected and certain parts, like the tongue, provide insight into a person’s health status. The abridged version goes like this:
- Inside your body exists a series of connected pathways called meridians. As a whole, the meridians circulate energy throughout the body and connect acupressure points with internal organs and sensory, emotional, and spiritual parts of the body.
- Because everything is connected, activating one acupressure point can positively benefit multiple symptoms. Example: Activating the webbing between your thumb and index finger can address arthritis in the hand, issues with your colon, and relieve symptoms in your head like headaches and sinus problems.
- In TCM, the tongue is viewed as a map to your internal health. Because it is connected to your organs, the size, shape, and appearance of the tongue changes as your body changes.
That’s pretty cool.
And now, the needles
Based on our discussions of my symptoms, the acupuncturist needed to access several body parts. I took off my socks and shoes, changed into a pair of comfy shorts and a tank top (that I brought with me, just in case!), and stretched out on the table.
By the time I took a few deep breaths, the acupuncturist had inserted a handful of tiny needles into my scalp. I didn’t even realize something was happening until she moved closer to my face. Fast-forward a few minutes and there I am, looking like a pin cushion. I had needles sticking out from my head, face, hands, stomach, all around my knees, and even on the bottom of my feet.
The only time I felt a twinge of pain was when she inserted a needle just under my cheek bone and one into the arch of my left foot. That was expected, she said, because those two places were actively inflamed due, respectively, to sinus congestion and plantar fasciitis.
Once all the needles were in place, the acupuncturist dimmed the lights, instructed me to lie still and relax, and said she would return in about 20 minutes.
I was dying to know what I looked like with all these needles sticking out of me. As soon as she closed the door, I tried to look down the length of my body without moving my head. That didn’t work. I tried to keep my head and shoulders still while using my stomach muscles to sit up just a bit. That didn’t work either. Apparently, the needles are in very specific places and get a bit angry if you move them.
So, I tried to relax. I took some deep breaths and listened to the sound of crashing waves. I envisioned each needle as a fire alarm sending alert messages to my brain. “Send help to the left foot. Get a team to the sinus passages. Let’s get those meridians circulating energy!” it said.
Before long, I felt my muscles loosen and the weight of my body sink into the table. It was like meditating in the massage room of a spa while seven different health problems were being treated. It also felt like a nap.
The acupuncturist came back way too soon in my opinion, because I could’ve stayed there for another 20 minutes with no problem. She popped those needles right out of my skin and asked me what I thought about the experience. “I think the ancient art of acupuncture is amazing,” is what I wanted to say. In reality, I think I muttered, “Yeah.”
I left the office that day feeling recharged, less congested, and with a “next appointment.”
(Additional info gathered from http://www.acupuncture.com/newsletters/m_may10/tongue%20inspection.htm and https://acupressure.com/articles/acupuncture_and_acupressure_points.htm)