Cost is not the only reason why people don’t try acupuncture. There are many additional reasons and concerns that keep people from booking an acupuncture appointment.
“I’m afraid of needles”
I have to be honest with you, this is one of my least favorite objections to acupuncture. I mean I get it, you’ve probably only ever been exposed to large hypodermic needles when you’ve had blood drawn or received an injection- literally no one likes those. But those really aren’t in the same category as acupuncture needles, they’re nowhere near the same thing. In fact, some acupuncturists don’t even call their tools needles, preferring instead to call them “pins.” Who’s afraid of a little pin?
The differences between acupuncture needles and those used in the allopathic medical community start with the fact that they’re solid rather than hollow. As an acupuncturist I am not injecting anything into you! Which brings us to another key difference: without that space in the middle, acupuncture needles are WAY thinner. A thinner gauged needle makes it way less invasive and much more comfortable. Acupuncture needles are so thin, that many people don’t even feel it when they’re inserted! I can’t say that you’ll never feel a sensation, because you have many small peripheral nerves at the surface of your skin, but any sensation you do feel should subside within a few moments once those nerves acclimate. If it doesn’t, then that’s on me and I will adjust accordingly until you are in a blissful state of comfort!
“I don’t understand it/I don’t believe in it”
I joke with friends, family, and patients about the “woo-woo” factor of acupuncture. The reality is that Chinese medicine is not commonplace or well understood in our culture. It’s foreign to us, and many people are uncomfortable with that. This is only exacerbated by the fact that we talk about Chinese medicine in strange, foreign terms. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work!
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine is based on classical Chinese texts that are thousands of years old. These were written based on medical theory that was developed and passed down for many years. This medical theory was translated into English as an “energetic system.” I’m not denying that energy is a crucial component of our health and wellbeing (go back to your first biology course to re-learn how important ATP is, or the significance of an electrical synapse between neurons), but I am arguing that there is a lot more going on! The language that we use to discuss Chinese medical theory is sort of like a code, that organizes our system of diagnosis and treatment.
The 350+ acupuncture points on the body are organized into groups called “channels” or “meridians.” These channels may look confusing and sporadic to the layperson, but someone with extensive anatomical training (i.e. an acupuncturist) can see that these channels are all closely connected to anatomical structures. Some follow the muscle groups and planes of connective tissue, and others follow nerve pathways. It is easy to see how manipulating one end would affect the other end. Acupuncture points have even more connections to our internal anatomy. We now have a better understanding of this thanks to extensive research. For example, a point traditionally used to support women’s health and promote a successful labor (SP 6) has been shown to increase uterine contractions during childbirth. Another point used for eye problems (GB 37) creates measurable effects in the visual processing center of the brain.
Locally, an acupuncture needle can have several different effects. It can:
Release muscular & fascial tension
Reset contracted muscles
Increase blood flow & circulation
Induce an immune response
Systemically, acupuncture can have a broader influence on the body, including the ability to:
Release natural endorphins
Communicate with the nervous system (and how it interprets pain)
Activate the parasympathetic nervous system
Regulate hormone levels
It’s not voodoo, it’s science!
“I’m already using ‘X’ to treat my condition”
I have had the privilege of being able to treat patients alongside chiropractors, physical therapists, and massage therapists at Spine & Sports Injury Center in Boston. Some people will choose one modality to treat their complaint, but many will combine treatments from different providers. This is what some call “a “Multi-disciplinary Approach.”
Based on my own experience and personal observation, I am a huge supporter of this approach. I love helping people feel better, so when it’s possible for them to feel better FASTER I am totally on board! I am always happy to hear when people are scheduling time to take care of themselves, and using treatments like massage, physical therapy, and chiropractic. With any one of these treatment methods, you will have a certain rate of recovery. Combining these therapies is like adding fuel to the fire. It is extremely rewarding to learn about the progress someone has made during an initial consultation, and to then see how much faster they start improving by adding on acupuncture to their care regimen. Can you imagine accelerating your healing rate and getting back to feeling great and doing what you love exponentially faster?
“I went once and it didn’t work”
This one may top them all as my least favorite reason.. There are three components at play here:
The first being that going to one acupuncture appointment is not trying acupuncture at all. Trying acupuncture means that you’re committing to an acupuncture treatment plan as designated by your practitioner. The frequency and duration of this treatment plan will vary depending on several factors including how bad your condition is, how long you’ve been experiencing it, and your overall health. The reality is that there is no one-shot one-pill cure-all that you can take or do once to fix a problem that’s been bothering you for years. While many people feel better after one treatment, it will likely take several more to making a significant lasting change. The good news is that acupuncture treatments build upon each other, and with lifestyle modifications (to avoid the scenario that brought upon your condition in the first place) this successively increasing effect can create wonderful changes in people’s health and lives.
The second fault with this reason is that not all acupuncturists are the same. There are many different styles of acupuncture used by many different types of acupuncturists. All forms of acupuncture are rooted in the same classical Chinese texts, but this underlying theory has been interpreted in different ways by different groups of practitioners. The beauty of it is that all of these styles work, but some are better suited for certain types of people and conditions. For example, I am trained in both Japanese Acupuncture Style and Traditional Chinese Medicine. I have a wonderful toolkit of techniques and treatment protocols from both of these styles, ranging from non-insertive techniques to gentle distal protocols to more aggressive direct approaches. I use different components of my training depending on how each individual patient presents.
Not only are there different styles of acupuncture treatments, but there are also different types of acupuncturists. We’re all very different, and you’re going to have a different treatment and experience overall with each one of us. Have you ever had a doctor that just rubbed you the wrong way? Or had poor bedside manner? I sure have! I did not return to them, but I also did not swear off all Western/Allopathic medicine. I tried other physicians until I found one that I connected with better. Likewise, I have had bad experiences with acupuncture, too, with acupuncturists to whom I would not return. Medicine is an art. Trust, compassion, and connection are important factors in a healing relationship that cannot be ignored. Trust your instincts, and you will find an effective practitioner that is the right fit for you.