The basic dos and don’ts of acupuncture

While attempting to penetrate the vast maze of Chinese culture can be shocking and hilarious, recently I also discovered it can be quite painful.

Sitting in the doctor’s office chair last week, I desperately tried to force a state of relaxation while pain shot out of my head as he chanted incoherent Chinese and attempted to massage a stainless steel needle placed on my skull. At that moment I deeply regretted not looking into the details of acupuncture beforehand. I’m already very skeptical of medicine practiced outside the realm of FDA regulations, a fear that most likely arose after living in Mexico, where legendary tales abound of foreigners who hop the border in search of cheaper medicinal alternatives and instead are awarded disfigurement or untimely death; however, with the first signs of carpal tunnel plaguing my wrists, I desperately searched for alternatives to pain medication. After hearing acupuncture success stories from my Mom and two close friends, for treatment ranging from tennis elbow to allergies, I was sold and after an unusually difficult search for a traditional Chinese medicine doctor, considering my current location, I found a sweet-looking 70-year-old English-speaking doctor to help me out.

Our first visit opened up with an assessment of the balance between my body’s hot and cold forces, or yin and yang. While I tried to stay open minded and answer politely that yes, I took hot showers and ate hot food, but no I actually thought overworking of my tendons was the issue, the voice of my inner cynic grew louder and louder. Once he brought out the stainless steel needles, I remembered my raging fear of needles; however, instead of bolting or fainting on sight, I proudly closed my eyes and began attempting to force a state of relaxation. Minus the never-ending pain and inability to relax, the rest of the appointment went without a hitch. My visit three days later, on the other hand, was a mess, and my post-traumatic-visit research taught me three valuable lessons about acupuncture and three reasons not to return to that doctor:
1. You’re not supposed to move
After placing needles in my head and back, the doctor asked me to stand up, walk across the room, sit in a chair and prop my legs up. I kindly informed him there was no way in hell that was happening. A bit of cajoling and threats to my ego proved to be all the convincing I needed and soon after channeling praying mantas-like instincts and carefully lowering myself into the other chair, blood promptly drained from my face and limbs almost making me faint. The NIH website‘s advice: “Improper needle placement, movement of the patient, or a defect in the needle can cause soreness and pain during treatment. This is why it is important to seek treatment from a qualified acupuncture practitioner.” Conclusion: “He crazy – stay away!”
2. You shouldn’t feel any pain
In addition to the previously-mentioned painful “massaging”, the massaging part of which is actually a normal part of treatment, the actual placement of the needles was also uncomfortable. The American Cancer Society website‘s advice: “Skilled acupuncturists cause virtually no pain.” Conclusion: “He sucks – don’t go back!”
3. You shouldn’t leave with needles still in you
Upon the session’s completion, I stood and felt the movement of my knees was restricted. That made sense once I found two needles still in place on the back of each leg. This discovery needed no formal collaboration, I came to the realization myself that this man is just freakin old, and should not be practicing anymore.

In addition to equipping me with the knowledge to stay away from that doctor, my research surprisingly made me more confident that acupuncture may be the answer to my problem. That week, my wrists didn’t hurt as much, possibly because my pounding head distracted from the pain, but in the past week sans acupuncture, the pain has returned in a lesser form. Also, while there aren’t significantly consistent results demonstrating acupuncture can cure pain, there are plenty of cases demonstrating it has a positive effect on joint pain, including that caused by carpal tunnel. Hence, my acupuncture experience continues, with a part two in the works involving a doctor who makes house calls. And although I’m not completely sold on this whole hot/cold, ying/yang, qi channels thing, who am I to refute a 2,000-year-old practice?

2 Responses to “The basic dos and don’ts of acupuncture”
  1. 3rdCultureKidBetweenWorlds says:

    Update to conclusion #2! A friend and veteran acupuncture patient informed me that some TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) doctors believe pain during treatment is an indicator of the severity of the problem, and doesn’t necessarily reflect on the “expertise” of the doctor (however, the evidence highlighting my doctor’s senility still makes me feel OK about my decision to part ways). Thanks Mariel!

  2. Amanda says:

    Wow Annie! That is crazy. Makes for a good story at least! Glad you escaped mostly unscathed. Miss you!

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