The Whole Point of Acupuncture
Alternative medicine •••
The Whole Point of Acupuncture
by rosa kincaid, m.d.
“ You’re gonna stick some needles in my back to get rid of the pain?” — “Whoa!”
That was one patient’s response the first time I suggested acupuncture to help alleviate her pain after she was involved in a motor vehicle accident. Her second response was: “What is acupuncture? I don’t like needles.”
Her reactions reminded me that, although this treatment has been around for at least a thousand years and is a prominent force in the traditional healing system in China and other Asian countries, acupuncture remains a deep mystery to most of us in the West.
Traditional medicine and acupuncture are as common in China as was Grandma’s practice in the Deep South of plucking weeds from the woods and placing them on your painful ankle. Or as everyday as the “curandera” (a traditional Latina folk healer) incorporating herbs to help a patient complaining of dizziness. For some inexplicable reason, that ankle was as good as new in a few days and the dizzy person suddenly felt just fine.
And so it is with acupuncture. Because it does not fit neatly into a traditional box, acupuncture confounds some hardcore traditionalists in medicine. Yet, along with other nontraditional practices such as African herbalism, shamanism (quasi-religious practices that involve reaching altered states of consciousness to pave the way for interacting with the spirit world) and, for that matter, Grandma’s hands, these nontraditional traditions have stood the test of time.
In the West, acupuncture is considered an alternative treatment and it has not been researched enough by mainstream medicine to be recommended as any more effective than over-the-counter analgesics and prescription medications.
Although many sophisticated books have been written about this ancient and mysterious practice, it is not easy to explain how or why acupuncture works. But for centuries, people have attested to its curative powers.
The acupuncturist uses extremely fine needles to tap into channels of electromagnetic forces called “meridians” to balance a patient’s energies and encourage the body to heal itself. These meridians are like rivers. Instead of water, however, they contain energy – or “life force,” otherwise known as qi (pronounced “chee”). Problems or diseases begin when the qi is overflowing, stagnant or depleted.
The experienced acupuncturist determines which condition exists (too much of something, nothing moving or energy depletion), which river (meridian) is responsible, and which point along the meridian needs treatment with a needle.
My patient’s back pain, caused by a whiplash-type injury, dissipated after three treatments. She became so comfortable with having five or six needles inserted in her back that she could not feel the needles being applied and often fell asleep during treatments. She has since returned to have auricular therapy (which involves needles inserted along the outer ear) to help her quit smoking. She also wants me to find the point along the meridian that will decrease her appetite for chocolate.
Is acupuncture for you?
Perhaps. The worst that could happen is that it will not work or the relief from pain, headache or smoking will be temporary.
Don’t stop seeing your regular doctor. Acupuncture will not interfere or cause side effects with conventional medicine and it may enable you to reduce your use of pain pills, especially if they are taken for headaches. Don’t, under any circumstances, quit taking your medication(s) without first consulting your physician. Make sure your acupuncturist is certified. At a minimum, verify the acupuncturist’s training. Acupuncture is inexpensive, holistic and seems to improve overall wellness. And, if you just can’t get over the sight or feel of a needle, acupressure, moxabustion and electro-acupuncture are alternative nontraditional treatments for pain and other ailments.
The next time you have a right-sided headache, try this: Squeeze the web space between your left thumb and index finger. Switch to the opposite hand if your headache is on the left. Acupuncture, whether done with or without needles, is not pointless.