Alternative medicines have been making their way across the country for the last decade. While many practices in alternative medicine are becoming more mainstream, acupuncture is still too ‘prickly’ for some to try. That wasn’t the case for me. Even though a fair amount of the linguistics surrounding acupuncture was puzzling, I didn’t let that stop me from becoming a human pin cushion.
And you know what? I actually liked it.
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is the insertion of very thin and sterile needles into the skin. It is a treatment used mostly for pain management but has many other benefits.
This practice is a key component of traditional Chinese medicine. But, is considered pseudoscience as it has no scientific basis. Though neither does astrology and most of us still know our zodiac sign.
Upon closer look, the response is a fully, demonstrable physiological phenomenon, according to Dr. Leena Mathew says.Attending physician in Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center
Does that mean it doesn’t really “work”? Even if it’s all in our minds, even while receiving a placebo, we still feel something. In this case the study showed the change in blood flow patterns in the cortices of their brains in fMRI. We all are on the varying spectrum of more responsive to the placebo effect than others. This is just the type of treatment where that could be heightened to placebo sensitive individuals.
What is acupuncture for?
In Chinese medicine theory, the needles are inserted at corresponding channels that run horizontal and vertical within the body. These channels move qi, invigorate blood, and tap into our vital essence. (All of which I took the time to read about). Stimulating the channels (or meridians) are said to unblock any ‘qi’ stagnation. In turn the body is prepared and pushed to begin to heal itself naturally.
Not only can acupuncture help treat the pain, common cold and stomach viruses, according to the World Health Organization, it is helpful for a wide variety of problems including mental and emotional stress, skin diseases, neurological disorders, dentistry, infections, childbirth, and other conditions.
How does acupuncture work?
It has been theorized that the needles are placed in the exact positions needed to mimic larger nerve fibers in order to cover smaller ones. When you stub your toe do you reach down to rub it or grab it in your fingers? This helps alleviate pain, even though it doesn’t actually do anything. It helps dull over the pain sensation with another, more pleasing, sensation like the rubbing.
Another theory is that our endorphins are the driving force behind the dulling of the pain. These are the chemicals that get released to help ‘calm’ or ‘soothe’ us during injury, distress or other harmful situations. You may also know it as the “high” we feel after a long run, eating chocolate, or speaking with someone we really care about.
Yet, other studies examined how acupuncture alters the body’s biochemistry and the release of neurotransmitters and hormones. Perhaps it’s a little from all of these theories.
What does it feel like? (I bet it hurts!)
I thought the same thing initially and that is where most my fears and anxiety about the treatment stemmed from. However, the sensation that was experienced, I found to be personally nothing more than a small pinching, if anything. Immediately after a warm, tingly, “pressure” was felt. At some points I felt these ‘tingles’ all over my body as five to twenty needles were inserted for 25 to 30 minutes. They explained to me that the timing depended on the condition that you were receiving treatment for–I was there for anxiety and insomnia.
But is it…weird??
Nothing was that strange given the actual procedure taking place. I was told to not eat a large meal a certain amount of hours before my treatment. I had read I needed to have enough energy to maximize the potential effects of the treatment but not be full. This was to prevent fainting.
One thing I was curious about was, if there was special attire needed or if I would be asked to remove clothing. Thankfully they didn’t really need to do anything under my clothing except access my lower back, which I had previously agreed to. I wore a baggy t-shirt and shorts and felt most comfortable…all things considered.
I got asked the typical routine doctor visit questions about my body and then was asked to past a series of small tests. These were easy and performed on me in the manners of having my blood pressure taken, taking my temperature, pressing on my organs for tenderness and my reflexes. All of these I passed in less than 5 minutes.
Surprisingly, I learned I had a lot more tension that I originally thought. I was advised to be more aware of those sensations in my body.
Is it safe?
I was concerned with my health and safety first and foremost. So, I did a lot of research and found a reputable place I liked here in New York City. In the United States needles cannot be and are never reused on any person (all of the 15 places I called stated they practiced within the law). What really helped me feel safe? Watching my acupuncturist opened my hermetically sealed bag of needles in front of me. There is virtually no chance you will contract a disease from receiving this treatment any more than you would when having your blood drawn. And the needles are smaller and made of very thin and flexible surgical steel, which gave me almost no pain at all.
Would I recommend it?
With non-insurance covered sessions ranging from $100-$250 this is something I would reserve for special self-care occasions. I was initially aware that after just one appointment, I would not be “cured” of my anxiety or insomnia. However, I’d like to note, I did feel a definite change and improvement with my mood afterward. I slept deeply for each night the week following my treatment.
I’ve only been to four appointments so far, but I feel as if my body reacts well to acupuncture. I know it’s very possible that this could be the placebo effect. Or it could be that my reactions are just coincidences, but that hasn’t stopped me. I will continue to go to sessions and see what the overall results are (I scheduled six in total!). I’ve also decided even if the reactions are all in my mind, if going to acupuncture is making me feel better then I don’t see a problem.
If nothing else, it’s a good time for me to relax, be calm, sit still, and focus on myself. It allows me to find my soulrenity.