For this week’s edition of Scary Therapies You Should Totally Try, let’s talk acupuncture! That’s right people: needles. Promise me right now that you’re not going to faint or vomit just thinking about it!
Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that involves penetrating the skin with needles to stimulate certain points on the body. This therapy strives to regulate the flow of qi (pronounced “chee“) throughout the body; imbalances or blockages in the flow are thought to cause pain, un-wellness, and disease. The needles are typically made of stainless steel and are disposable (so sterilization/infection isn’t a problem). Acupuncture can be used to treat almost any ailment, from basic muscle tension or headaches to fertility problems or weight loss needs.
The cost of acupuncture will depend on your practioner. I typically receive acupuncture treatments from my massage therapist; this adds a $10 charge to the cost of my massage. I know physiotherapists who treat clients using acupuncture and the treatment is included in the cost of their physiotherapy session. Or, many practitioners will do purely acupuncture sessions, with no other therapy used. Generally speaking, an appointment with some type of professional who practices acupuncture might cost $80-$100.
What To Expect
Your appointment will begin with an assessment of your condition and complaints. Your practitioner will ask you some questions and may check your pulse, ask to see your tongue, ask about your sleeping habits, digestion/eating habits…don’t worry, this is all normal. Your verbal and physical responses to these inform your course of treatment and the points that may be used during your session.
Don’t be surprised if you go in complaining of a sore back…and the therapist suggests or applies needles to areas other than your back. There are hundreds of acupuncture points that have been mapped all over the body which are thought to affect the flow of qi in other parts of the body. For example, some points on the feet and legs are recommended to treat headaches; some points on the wrist or hands are recommended to treat asthma or respiratory problems.
When your needles are inserted they should not be painful; in fact, you might not feel them pierce the skin at all. They are extremely thin, and feel like a mosquito bite, if anything. However, once the needle is through the skin you may start to feel some weird sensations. Sometimes I feel tingling verging on numbness, sometimes the muscles nearby twitch, sometimes the area gets warm… In general they shouldn’t be sickening or debilitating feelings though. It might feel weird…but it shouldn’t feel worse. Your therapist may also manipulate the needles while they are in the skin – you might notice this, you might not. Sometimes they might twirl or spin the needles, sometimes they might wiggle them in and out a bit, sometimes they might flick them. These steps are just to get a more intense reaction, and are meant to increase the benefit you are receiving from the treatment.
Depending on what your treatment is for, your practitioner might leave the needles in for 5-10 minutes, or they may remove them very quickly. The first time I was treated I felt a bit warm, sweaty, and panicky toward the end. I have been told that that reaction is initiated by your sympathetic nervous system: the body’s fight-or-flight response. After the very first time, I no longer had that feeling, so just try to keep yourself calm and remind yourself why you are doing this treatment – to feel better!
Why It’s Worth A Try
For me, acupuncture has been very effective for several injuries. I often use it for headaches, jaw tension/TMJ pain, and shoulder tension. For each of those conditions, I would describe the treatment as “popping a balloon.” Imagine the pain and angry, inflamed muscles as a big inflated balloon under your skin. When the acupuncture needles are used, they “pop” the balloon, and I feel a lot better immediately.
I have also used acupuncture very effectively to eliminate nausea related to surgery. For a fairly major surgery (non-emergent, but in hospital, pretty invasive, completely anesthetized, around 3 hours long) my physiotherapist at the time recommended the use of acupuncture tacks. They look sort of like thumbtacks – teeny teeny tiny needles on the back of a little square bandaid. I wore these in my wrists and ankles before, during, and after surgery. It freaked the nurses out a LOT, and they tried to say that I could not use them, but my doc was fantastic and bought into the concept. Shortly after the surgery, even on a good dose of morphine, I was able to get up and walk to the bathroom without nausea, and I went home later that same day and didn’t experience any nauseous feelings after leaving the hospital either. By contrast, a year or so later I had routine dental surgery (wisdom teeth, anesthetized in the dental surgeon’s office, 30 minutes long) and I did not use the tacks. I threw up in a bucket in the car on the way home, and continued throwing up for the rest of the day. Lesson learned. I will not be doing any other surgical procedures in my lifetime without these use of these amazing little tacks.
Have YOU tried acupuncture? What kind of results did you achieve? Or, are you still too squeamish? Let us know in the comments!