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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