Acupuncture continues to grow in popularity as people search for natural alternatives to the Western approach of shots, pills, and surgery.
Still, people come to us with misconceptions or certain expectations that can hamper their healing results.
I’m a licensed acupuncturist, and here are five things I like my patients to know:
1. Acupuncture is painless…most of the time.
“Do the needles hurt?” This is, by far, the biggest question I get from the “needle newbies.” Most of the time, needle insertion is painless; however, there are some acupuncture points on the body that are just a wee bit more sensitive than others. We know where those are and have ways to minimize the sensation.
Let’s be clear: we are inserting needles into your body. Fortunately, the needles we use are thin and flexible, similar to a cat whisker. Many times people don’t feel the needle insertion at all; other times, they might feel a slight pinch. Once the needles are in, folks get relaxed…and some even fall asleep during treatment.
And no, there is no medicine or magic juju in the needles; your body’s innate healing system is the magic those needles tap into!
2. One-offs are rare.
Occasionally, I will have a consult with a patient where they rave about that one time five years ago when they had an acupuncture treatment and remained pain-free for five years. Can it happen? Sure. Is it common? No. Nine times out of ten, the pain will come back after an acupuncture session. I must admit, whenever I hear this, I groan a little inside—as I know that patients will have unrealistic expectations…especially if they play the waiting game for several weeks before coming to see me.
Why does the pain come back? When we are injured, our muscles contract in an effort to protect the affected area. This contracture negatively affects the flow of blood and oxygen to the area, slowing down the healing process.
Acupuncture relaxes the muscles, improves circulation, and reduces pain. Relief time varies from individual to individual, but, at some point, those muscles will contract back up and pain will reappear. Continued treatments help retrain the muscles to stay relaxed, creating space and unpinching any nerves.
I also have to remind these patients that their bodies today are not the same bodies they had five years ago. Or even five months ago. Health complications and the process of aging can make the results of today’s acupuncture quite different.
Even newer habits such as bad posture or overcompensation can change how you respond to acupuncture, which leads to the fact that…
3. Your painful knee (or other body part) probably isn’t only due to the fact that you got hurt.
Patients come to us after an injury or an excessive or prolonged movement that results in pain. Whatever the reason, most times the area involved was already in a weakened state.
Take the example of back pain: you may have fallen down or hurt your back after twisting it—but these incidents in and of themselves are not the sole reason for your situation. Factors like chronic inflammation, disease, dehydration, muscular imbalances, and the aging process itself can weaken the body and help set the stage for injuries to occur.
Relieving the pain and strengthening the area can help give you back your mobility, but many times you are more susceptible to reinjury, and care (in the form of stretching, physical therapy, periodic acupuncture, and so on) should be used to keep the healed part as strong as possible.
4. Relief vs. Correction.
There is a tendency among patients to stop coming to acupuncture treatments once the pain is gone; they think the problem is fixed. No. No, no, no. Pain reduction is the first part of the process. Complete healing takes time. Just as you don’t lose 20 pounds overnight or wake up without diabetes one morning, your pain condition isn’t going to be cured in four for five treatments. Remember what I said about retraining contracted muscles? It also takes time to reduce inflammation and strengthen tissues.
Patients who stop after a few treatments because they feel better tend to boomerang right back to us—or worse: get frustrated and tell people that acupuncture didn’t work for them.
Patients that commit to a prescribed treatment plan will improve steadily, thanks to the miracle of compounded gains. They are also the ones who get back to work or the golf course sooner.
5. Strategic layering gives you the best, most long-lasting results.
Acupuncture is the best-known modality in Chinese medicine, but we practitioners have a variety of tools at our disposal to use depending on the situation, from cupping and electric stimulation to Chinese herbs.
Some patients are hesitant to spend money on these extras. They want to see how the acupuncture works by itself first, or are hesitant as they won’t know what worked if they add too many treatment layers. Increased costs are also a concern for some.
Acupuncture by itself is great, but the addition of herbs or other modalities strengthens the overall treatment, and patients will get better faster. A skilled practitioner will be strategic in what (and when) he or she adds a modality to a treatment to get the desired results.
Trust the process.
One final thought:
It is easier to support and maintain good health and good function than it is to clean up bad habits or reverse disease or imbalances.
The best thing you can do for your health is to stick to the basics:
>> eat good food
>> drink plenty of water
>> exercise or stretch most days
>> get a good night’s sleep
Nothing groundbreaking, nothing sexy, but the basics work.
As well as the occasional acupuncture wellness session.