When to see an acupuncturist.

I hear this all the time – “What do I even go see an acupuncturist for?”  Acupuncture can help with a long list of things that ail you – as you probably noticed if you’ve gone to an acupuncturist’s website (like my friend Ryan) and they’ll tell you they can treat anything from:

  • Acne
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Musculoskeletal pain, such as hip, low-back, or ankle pain
  • Traumatic injuries or post-surgery healing
  • Headaches
  • Menstrual issues and PMS

And this is just a fraction of them!  How is this possible?  Do you feel overwhelmed and confused yet?

I like what Michael Max said in one of his Everyday Acupuncture podcasts, “You can’t touch one thing without touching everything.”  What does that mean in terms of acupuncture and herbal medicine?   Craig Mitchell, the Dean of the Seattle Institute of Oriental Medicine (also an acupuncturist & herbalist) gave a great example in this podcast of a patient he was seeing who was coming in for chronic headaches.  The patient says to him after a couple visits, “Well you didn’t help my headaches, but I didn’t realize I was having frequent abdominal pain and now that’s gone.”

It’s like peeling an onion (excuse my poor metaphor!) for your body on its healing journey – you peel off one layer and another appears, and you just keep peeling!  This doesn’t mean it’s endless, it just means we might hit a few layers before we get to the good stuff.

Let me get real with you here for a minute and tell you a story:

This year I was having a really odd stabbing pain on my left side.  It would come on at the weirdest times: when I was lying flat on my stomach, if I was sitting in a chair for too long, and it eventually got so bad that when I was walking, with each step I took, it was another stab into the front of my abdominal wall.  If you looked real close, a rib seemed like it was poking forward a bit… did I break it during a massage training class??  Was I really pushed so hard in the mosh pit the week before and didn’t notice it (this actually happened)?!  Injuries like this can sometimes actually be very subtlety acquired.

I didn’t know what to do, so I saw a Naturopath, a massage therapist, and talked with various people about it.  The consensus was that I either had a rib or vertebrae out of place, that I had a hairline fracture on my rib, that my spleen was enlarged somehow, maybe it was the Copper IUD… the list was too long and I had no idea who to see!  So?  I turned to acupuncture, because that’s what I do!

Without going into too much detail, my acupuncturist narrowed it down to a few things – I likely didn’t have a fracture, but my vertebrae and rib were out of place, but we couldn’t adjust them because there was too much pain.  She noticed my belly was very tight and she started working there.  After a couple of sessions and some herbs, she was able to ease up the tension in my abdomen so that I could finally lay on my stomach, and then she kindly put everything all the bones back in place using a cupping method.  CUPS!!  (I will write more on this later, because cupping is REALLY cool).  Suffering over!!

Acupuncturists will get a ‘full picture’ on your first visit, asking all kinds of questions that seem unrelated to what you’re experiencing like your menstrual cycle, what your bowel movements are like, how you sleep, if you’re sensitive to hot or cold and more.  You’ll think it’s irrelevant, oh but it’s not!  In fact, we are like Sherlock Holmes – the tiniest detail could help us solve the puzzle of your case!  It’s fascinating (and really fun for us too!)

Craig, in that particular podcast also asks about how many treatments are appropriate for a person.  Are 1 or 2 treatments enough?  “It’s a conversation you have to have with the practitioner,” he says.  Example could be chronic low back pain you’ve had for 20 years.  Craig says 4-6 treatments within a month, the back pain might not be resolved, but by that point both of you should get a sense of whether it will be able to help or not.  If you come in with a respiratory infection (something acute), it should clear up sooner.  “Healing from a longer term illness is a process.”

Lastly, TALK TO YOUR ACUPUNCTURIST.  Come on folks, if you haven’t figured this out yet, I’m ALL about communication!  TELL them if you liked it or didn’t and what your hopes and fears are.  Are you feeling skeptical that it’s not working?  It doesn’t really help us as healers much if you bail after a couple sessions and we have no idea why.  We usually guess that everything cleared up, or that you didn’t like it, but if we have a conversation about it, maybe we can adjust things for you.

Check out the Everyday Acupuncture podcast here for more topics related to acupuncture.  Also, comment below if you have any thoughts or additions to this post!

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The “Danger” of Herb Misuse

I saw this article about the Pros and Cons of Turmeric and immediately knew I needed to address the topic of herb misuse.  My dad and I were having a conversation a while ago, and he always gets really excited whenever he discovers some new herb or supplement that he can tell me about – and he most recently had started taking Turmeric.  He’d been taking it for a while (a couple months) and said he had been feeling great, but something wasn’t quite right.  He lives in Arizona and it’s incredibly dry and hot, and my dad runs hot generally.  I asked him if he was noticing any dryness in his body – did his mouth feel dry, was he hotter than usual, were his eyes dry?  He said yes, and hadn’t really noticed it before I asked.

All herbs have their own “personality” I say.  They all have certain properties like temperature properties and direction of movement – one example is an herb like Senna that causes peristalsis in the colon (makes you poop!), so in that way it would have a downward moving action.  For temperature, you can think how peppermint cools you down, thus it’s more of a cooling herb.  Turmeric is hot and drying, and most recently it has become very popular as an anti-inflammatory.  Naturally, people are flocking to use this herb, but taking it like a drug, because well, we all basically live in a state of chronic inflammation with the diets that we eat and environments we live in so often we try to tone the inflammation down with drugs  (like constantly popping ibuprofen…).

In the article, I LOVE how Lesley Tierra quotes that Turmeric is “quite powerful and can strongly imbalance the body if over-used or misused,” and I could say this about a good handful of herbs.  Don’t get me started on Oregon Grape or Goldenseal (or maybe I will later!)– but these are also other herbs that are frequently misused.  An example might be for you to think of someone who is cold all the time – hands and feet, maybe their stomach feels cold, and you ask them what they’re eating and they’re constantly drinking ice water, eating salads, lots of raw food – no wonder they’re freezing!  Herbs can cause a similar effect like this over time with improper use.

HOWEVER, what I want to empower you with is that herbs are relatively safe (they are medicine AND food), and a lot of “damage” or “danger” can be counterbalanced with other herbs and treatments.  What I ask of you, dear reader, is to please consider what you are taking before you just pop herbal pills of the latest trend, or after you read someone’s blog who is stoked about all the new super-food herbs and tells you to take all of them – they are not all for you!  As an herbalist, I not only want to consider the well-being of your body, so that you are not throwing it into imbalance, but also that you consider that whatever herbs you put into your mouth are things that were harvested and along with your usage comes a demand that will need to be filled.  Many plants are over-harvested and some close to extinction (or already extinct!).

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Here are some steps you could take when you feel like you would like to take an herb, or you’re interested in getting some treatment:

Do some research before you take something.  Check the internet if you want, but find an herbalist in your community or a Naturopathic doctor that knows herbs.  There is SO much misinformation about herbs on the internet, BUT there are some good things too (like Michael & Leslie Tierra’s blogs, Rosalee’s blog– I love the intro here on her herb page, please read it!).  Come into a shop like Rainbow Natural Remedies, where I work, and have conversations with people about it.

It’s also empowering gathering knowledge from people who know their stuff, and books!  It’s empowering to have conversations with people, and not just take everything you read on the internet as “the gospel” so-to-speak – even this entry! 🙂  Now go forth my little herbie minions.

Photo credit (a handful of some of my favorite herbs and my altar items): Meghann Wiedl