When you hear the words “Chinese medicine,” visions of ancient techniques and crude methods come to mind. But the practice of acupuncture, while grounded in centuries-old wisdom, has become a rather modern health practice. Here are 4 unexpected truths about acupuncture with tips for choosing the right Chinese medicine practitioner for you.
1. Acupuncture is good for a lot of health ailments, even stress or the flu.
Many people’s first impression of acupuncture is how it helped somebody with back or shoulder pain. It’s true, acupuncture can work wonders on both acute and chronic pain all over the body. There’s nothing quite so magical as walking into a room in a great deal of pain, and then leaving that room carefree after the insertion of only a few tiny needles. The reputation is well-deserved.
However, Chinese medicine is also a complete medical system. For thousands of years, Chinese medicine has been the primary modality practiced in China (as well as regional adaptations in other Southeast Asian countries) and continues to be in strong demand, even with the presence of conventional Western medicine. This same demand is growing in Western countries – people are increasingly seeking out acupuncturists for help with all types of health concerns. This includes the treatment of all types of disorders from those suffered during pregnancy, to colds and flus, to skin conditions and all manner of serious disease. If a human being is afflicted with something, chances are there is a place for Chinese medicine in its treatment.
If you’re trying acupuncture for the first time, note that some practitioners choose to specialize in one type of medicine or another, so this is something to look out for. While no medical provider can help every patient that walks through the door, you would be surprised at the versatility and power of this medicine.
2. Even if you’re afraid of needles, you probably won’t even notice them.
Many people avoid acupuncture because they’re afraid of the needles. (Ok, who actually likes needles? Not many.) Trust me, I understand. I hate getting injections and blood draws – in fact I often have to lie down when having these procedures done. Acupuncture needles are tiny- many many times thinner than the needles you’d see in your doctor’s office, even much thinner than a typical earring. Many people will feel very little at all when the needle is inserted.
What people often DO feel is a tugging or spreading sensation around the needle that sometimes travels up the limb or around the torso. This sometimes feels WEIRD, but it very rarely hurts. There are, of course, different types of acupuncture – some are fiercer than others – but if an acupuncturist’s style doesn’t work for your level of pain tolerance, there are other fish in the sea. “Japanese meridian therapy” is a particularly gentle form of acupuncture frequently practiced in the US. If you know yourself to be quite sensitive, seek out this type of practitioner at first.
3. Acupuncturists are well trained (in the US) and even regulated, just like doctors or nurses.
Some people have a sense that Chinese medicine practitioners are self taught or are in some way illegitimate or untrained. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the US, acupuncture is a highly regulated profession. In Oregon, where I live, our licensing and continuing education is overseen by the same medical board that oversees MDs, DOs, and chiropractors. We have a national certification board that standardizes and administers board exams that we all must pass in order to become licensed; other states do their licensing a little differently – but it is still highly regulated.
To be eligible to take the board exams, Chinese medicine practitioners must get from 1500–2000 hours of education (depending on licensing authority and planned practice type), pass numerous preliminary examinations, prove their identity and that their criminal history is free of trouble, and generally fill out a whole lot of paperwork.
All this education means that your acupuncturist is probably a pretty smart, conscientious person who knows their stuff. However, I do recommend that you avoid getting acupuncture from a traditional MD who only offers the service ‘on the side.’ Instead, focus on finding the right Chinese medicine practitioner for you who has a thorough grounding in the whole theory of Chinese medicine and who has gone through the work to prove this. The best practitioners have no qualms in sharing their backgrounds with you – in fact, it should be on their websites.
4. Acupuncture can be a part of your overall health care regime.
While there are still some struggles to be overcome with our healthcare insurance system, particularly here in the US, the good news is that there are an ever-increasing number of options available to us. Each system of medicine shines in particular ways – acupuncture isn’t a cure-all. Emergency medicine and other critical care are probably best handled by conventional Western facilities and practitioners. If spinal realignment is needed – chiropractors save the day. Physical therapists, massage therapists, mental health professionals, naturopaths, and other medical providers all render excellent care and can be vital parts of your overall healthcare team.
Ultimately, the most important member of the healthcare team is you. You must all rely on your own intuition and “gut feeling” to make good decisions about medical care you choose and the practitioners you use to work with. It’s all part of this crazy process we call living.