by: Dr. Allison Heffron
I cannot count how many people I have encountered that question whether or not acupuncture works. It is kind of amazing that one of the oldest medicines in history is still being questioned on its benefits and efficacy. “Woo-woo”, “voodoo”, “snake oil” are a few terms I have heard as descriptors to Traditional Chinese Medicine. Let’s dive into some myths and debunk them, shall we?
- Acupuncture deals with energy and meridians that aren’t tangible. Firstly, I don’t like using the term “energy” because if you were to ever speak to a physicist about it they would argue wholeheartedly with that verbiage. “Qi” or “Chi” is a more accurate term and it relates to the body’s innate intelligence to heal itself. The analogy I find to be useful is this: if you were to break your arm and used a cast, which would be healing your arm? Your body or the cast? Your body! That is Qi. With or without the cast there would be a healing process taking place; the cast is there to manipulate it so it isn’t deformed. With regards to the “meridians” or “channels” they are not intangible or made up imaginary lines in the body. They are based on actual human dissection way, way, way back in ancient China. The structures in which the meridians are based on are actual nerve and blood vessel pathways. They are also based on connections of muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Although the benefits and success from acupuncture may make it appear to be mystical and magical, like something from Harry Potter, it isn’t. It is all based on science and has consistent research within it just like any other reputable medicine.
- Acupuncture is only useful in treating pain. False! If you take a look back at previous blog posts you can see that it has a number of uses, like reducing anxiety and stress, weight loss, etc. It is used for a number of ailments including, but not limited to, gut disorders, infertility, brain fog, headaches, allergies, and more. Look at the person next to you and I guarantee they are a good candidate for acupuncture. Why? Because it’s a phenomenal anti-inflammatory therapy. If you are aware of the current state that we live in where the majority of people are stressed, eating inflammatory foods, and not sleeping enough, then you know we all have inflammation to some extent. Acupuncture can help decrease that by increasing blood flow as well as stimulating the release of endorphins (the body’s pain killer hormone).
- Acupuncture is scary and painful because needles are scary and painful. We often associate every needle as the kind that you have your blood drawn with, and usually that’s a horrible experience. As a side note, I am terrified of those needles and I am on the verge of crying every time I have to get blood drawn. I’m an adult and I am an acupuncturist and that is the truth. Acupuncture does not use those needles. Instead, the needles are extremely fine and solid, like a cat whisker. Patients may experience an initial prick of the needle, but that dissipated very quickly. The sensations that follow can be described as heaviness, dull ache, electric, throbbing, or maybe even no sensation at all. All of those are actually desirable to the practitioner and can be manipulated to the patient’s tolerance. It really is a very pleasant and relaxing experience that often results in falling asleep or deep relaxation.
- Acupuncture works miracles. Acupuncture must be coupled with practicing a healthy lifestyle in order to see the maximum benefits. If you are seeking acupuncture for gut health, infertility, anything really, then you cannot expect full benefit if you lead a sedentary life eating a lot of poor quality food. It would be like going to the gym for an hour, eating ice cream and cookies post-workout, and then complaining about how you haven’t seen much change. Often times, acupuncture is coupled with dietary guidance and home exercises in order to reinforce the treatment and a better lifestyle. It is hard to see a lot of progress if you expect that the once or twice a week treatment is all you need to improve quality of life.
- I’ve tried acupuncture once and it didn’t do anything for me, so I won’t try it again. Oh, really? Did you also eat really well one day and because you didn’t lose a pound you decided to go back to bad habits? That sounds kind of ridiculous, right? Well, we tend to demand immediate results since we live in a time where almost everything is attainable in a second. Of course it would be amazing if we saw results that quickly, but that is not reality. Acupuncture, just like most things influencing the human body, takes time to make significant changes in chronic disorders. The chronic disorders took time to become chronic, so we can’t really expect the disease process to abruptly halt once a needle is inserted. Acupuncture has a cumulative effect, meaning there will be more and more improvement with every treatment. That doesn’t mean you will need to be treated forever, but for a period of time the consistency of treatment is very important so that we can build upon the progress from each treatment.
I hope that this clarifies some pre-existing assumptions or thoughts regarding this wonderful medicine that is available to you. It is a great way to help your body help itself without the intervention of drugs and with very little adverse effects. Acupuncture has existed this long for a reason and that reason is not because it is magical, but because it is effective and safe.