I’ve never been a big fan of needles. Like most young kids, the only way to get me through shots at the doctor’s office was the promise of a treat, which usually included a Wendy’s frosty and a new shirt from Limited Too. I’ve matured some with age (thank goodness), but I still didn’t jump for joy when my doctor suggested acupuncture to help with my stomach and stress management.
My thought process was as follows:
Isn’t that an ancient Chinese thing?
That must be pricey.
I briefly wrote about my experience with acupuncture in May (read more here), however, the practice has since become a crucial member of my self-care toolkit. Despite my initial hesitations, some quick research (and later first-hand experience) showed just how effective acupuncture can be for a variety of health issues, both physical and mental. The concept may be foreign in origin, but it does hold merit in the Western world too.
In this second wellness post, here’s what I’ve learned about the ancient Chinese practice.
A disclaimer for all wellness posts: my goal isn’t to share expert knowledge or write an Encyclopedia, although this is a lengthy post. I’m just sharing what I’ve learned throughout my experimentation and personal research. I’m also very open to learning more, so if you’re reading and have experience, feel free to share! Bottom line: You do you.
All About Acupuncture
For starters, what is it?
Used for more than 2,000 years, it is a process of stimulating certain points on the skin (acupuncture points) in an effort to regulate the flow of oxygen and blood through the circulatory system.
Tell me more…
At the center of the treatment is Qi (pronounced “chee”). Sounds weird but stick with me. Qi is the is the natural flow of energies in the body through pathways (meridians). There are 14 primary meridians throughout the body and, as my acupuncturist explained, they are like flowing rivers in the body. You want them to be open without obstruction.
However, certain points along the meridians can become clogged, stopping the movement of Qi. This happens due to things like physical/emotional trauma, stress, seasonal changes and diet. By inserting acupuncture needles along the meridian, you can regulate the flow of Qi in a painless and therapeutic manner.
Further reading: The Chinese Medicine Meridian System
You lost me. What is it again?
Simply put: when vital energy pathways in your body are blocked, acupuncture helps you unblock them.
What you need to know
It doesn’t hurt
Let’s get that out of the way. I have a low tolerance for pain and I’ve never had a problem. Certain acupuncture points will cause more of a pinch than others (my acupuncturist will usually warn me first) but any painful sensation is gone after a few seconds.
It treats a variety of ailments
Aside from pain, which seems to be the most common reason for treatment, studies have shown acupuncture to treat/manage: migraines, fertility, allergies, anxiety, insomnia, IBS, acne and weight loss, among other conditions (source, source).
It’s not cheap
Depending on your situation (where you go and how often you go), sessions can range from $75-$150 each. FYI those are the prices at local places near me, although I’ve heard about community centers where treatments are cheaper. Certain facilities are more like spa-like (think oils and peaceful music) and others more closely resemble a doctor’s office.
As for frequency, that will vary based on condition. If you have an acute issue (injury), you might go a twice a week for a short period. Whereas, for a chronic condition, it seems like once or twice a month is the standard for maintenance. As with most things, the use and goal of acupuncture is different for every person.
Full disclosure: my sessions are $75 each and I go usually once or twice a month (see below for current status).
That’s great, does it work?
Similar to essential oils, there are claims that acupuncture can cure basically every ailment. Got a problem? Now there’s an oil and acupuncture point for that. Done and done. But as a comparison, I’m much quicker to advocate for acupuncture compared to oils.
The first time I went to my acupuncturist, I didn’t expect to have such a holistic evaluation. Ironic because the whole reason I was there was to receive holistic treatment! We talked about a range of topics (health, family, job search, college, daily activities, hobbies) because, well, EVERYTHING is connected. If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that. As much as I was taken aback by this at first, I understand the importance of having an open dialogue with every practitioner. By informing her of certain things (like constipation ((TMI)) or job search stress) she knows which acupuncture points to target.
I was extremely worried about the pain of the needles but I laugh about that now. Once the needles are in place (about 20), I just close my eyes and relax for about 30-45 minutes, which seems to be the average length of my sessions. The removal of the needles doesn’t hurt either. I leave feeling relaxed, no question, but things do seem to move better throughout my body too.
The Healthyish bottom line
I started treatments in April, mainly to address GI-distress. In June, I *thought* things were all fixed health-wise so I stopped going. When I had a small setback mid-summer, I pulled acupuncture out of my health toolkit. Is it THE ANSWER? Probably not. Do I think it’s a good thing to include in my healthcare routine? At the moment, yes. I seem to respond well to treatments and have been on a relative upswing since August. TBD on its ability to help my foot pain, although I recently decided to get more aggressive with treatments. I’m cautiously optimistic it could help.
I’ve also gone to two different facilities, just to get a feel for the practice before judging. Both were similar experiences, although different in terms of atmosphere “vibes.”
I’ve read many testimonials from people saying that acupuncture helped with fertility, insomnia and chronic migraines, but I’d still be curious to hear from someone first hand. The low risk side-effects make it a viable option for treating pain and keeping things in balance, at least for me. I obviously haven’t had an earth-shattering change, but used in conjunction with other tools, it’s something I’ll keep around.