Thursday, November 21, 2013

Acupuncture: How Does This Voodoo Actually Work?

When people hear that I have acupuncture treatments weekly, they often ask, “Does that actually work?”  I'm so tempted to say “No. I just like wasting 2 hours of my time and pissing away my husband's hard earned money for fun”...but I fight the urge and tell them how it really is.  Acupuncture has made a huge difference in my life and I'm so grateful that it was recommended to me.

If you haven't been to acupuncture, let me give you the skinny on the basics.  Acupuncture was started like a million years ago in China and is still practiced today. It's an all natural way to control pain and keep you in good health. The basic treatment is done with very small needles.  Sometimes they can enhance this with electro stim therapy (similar to the way physical therapists use it).   Cupping, bloodletting, and herbs can also be incorporated into your treatments.  I'm sure there is way more involved, but these are the things that I've experienced.

What Happens First?

My acupuncturist escorts me to a private office and we have our “chat”.  I sit down and I'm asked how I've been feeling since my last visit.  After I tell them all my ailments, they feel my pulse on both wrists (to doubly make sure I'm alive) and then I stick out my tongue.  I don't know exactly what all this does, but it's part of the Chinese magic that gets recorded in my chart.  Next, I'm off to the treatment room.

The Treatment Room

I first start out by stripping down to my underwear (settle down!).  This makes it easier for your acupuncturist to have access to all the places that may need treatment.  When I had my cast on my ankle and it was a pain in the ass to get my pants on and off, I just left on my shorts (it was summer at the time).  As long as your knees are available and you have a waistband with a little give that allows for your lower back to be treated, you should be fine.  Occasionally, I'll need a needle or two in my hips and they'll need to lower my underwear to about my butt're welcome for the visual ;)

I'm given a paper sheet to cover myself and after I get situated I ring the little bell to let them know I'm ready.  The treatment starts out face down with the paper sheet covering my buttocks and upper thighs.  I usually get about 20 needles on both sides (so ~40 total).  I don't know if that is the usual for everyone or if it's just me (I think it's just me).  They unhook my bra to get full access to my back, and after all the needles are placed, and the warming lamps are put over me, they leave me to lay there anywhere from 15-25 minutes, depending on how busy they are and how long I have to “cook”.

My own personal cupping set

If I have cupping done, they'll do that before the needle acupuncture.  After cupping, they apply this ointment that has a cooling effect on the skin.  I don't mind the smell, but my hubby hates it.   The funniest part is that it's called "Po Sum On" a redneck version of "pour some on!" 

After my back is done, they come in and remove all the needles, then leave the room so I can flip over and lay face up.  This is when they'll do spots on my hands, feet, legs, face, and sometimes (rarely) my stomach.  I lay there again and cook...rinse, repeat.

But Needles Are Too Scary!

Most people are kinda freaked out by the whole needle thing.  Please understand that these needles are NOT the same as the needles you get at the doctors...those are injections...they are bigger because they are administering medicine or drawing blood.  Acupuncture needles are smaller than silk pins you use in sewing.

That's the scary needle in the to a .7 lead pencil.  The part of the needle you get "poked" with is the I-can-barely-see-it part on top.  Only the tiniest bit goes in your skin...they are put in very superficially.

Most of the time the needles don't hurt.  Sometimes they burn after they're put in, but then calm down after several seconds.  The ones in my sinuses usually hurt the whole time they're in...a hurt like you are poking at a black and blue.   And the ones on your ear hurt the whole time too.  Only one time did a needle hurt so badly that I cried.  My acupuncturist removed it immediately.  It was in my right shoulder and it felt like someone stabbed me.   Even after he took the needle out, I could still feel pain.  Again, that happened ONCE.  If I get, on average, 40 needles per week, that's over 2000 needles per year.  And I've been going for about 4 years.  Even if you count the first year that I went twice a month...that's still over 7000 needles.

All their needles are individually packaged and before each needle is placed, they apply a swab of alcohol to the area.  They don't wear rubber gloves...I asked about this a few weeks ago and was told that contact with blood is rare and even when bloodletting is done, the amount of blood is so little that it's inconsequential. *side note out of left field--did you know that not all urologists use gloves? :0 True story*

How Long Does The Treatment Take To Work And How Long Will It Last?

A treatment usually lasts me a week or two, depending on what's hurting, the weather, my activity level, etc.  Initially, it took 4 treatments for me to start feeling the positive, healing effects.  Everyone's body is different, so it can take people shorter or longer for it to work and the lasting effects will also vary.  Usually, I feel better the next day, but sometimes the acupuncture “kicks in” pretty immediately.  It's all very mysterious and magical to me.

Who Performs This Magic?

I realize I'm using the term “they” a lot...that's because I get treated by two different people.  Depending on the schedule, I'll see either just one of them for both back and front, -or- one for my back and the other for my front.  It doesn't matter much to me...both are licensed acupuncturists and are great at what they do.

If anyone is interested in finding an acupuncturist, I would recommend you ask around and see if you can get a recommendation from someone you trust.  You can even ask some of your western medicine doctors, as more and more doctors (especially pain management doctors) are getting educated about the healing effects of Chinese medicine.  And remember: do not ask Aunt Betty to poke you with sewing's not the same thing.

Costs And More Praise Of Acupuncture

That's the basic on how it's done.  I've been having acupuncture treatments for a few years now, and it has really helped with my chronic pain and has also kept me in better health.  I don't get sick as often and when I do, it doesn't seem to last as long.  I've taken various herb concoctions for pain, illness, anxiety...some have helped and some haven't.  All the herbs are out of pocket and cost anywhere from $15 -$30, and are about a week's supply.  Each acupuncture session is $85 and my insurance covers part of it.  I used to have to pay out of pocket for everything...when I did, they only charged me $60 per visit.

I love acupuncture and recommend it to everyone who will listen.

Have you ever had acupuncture?  If so, how did it work for you?  If you have yet to try it, what is the reason?  Anything that I didn't cover or other related questions for me?  Ask away!

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