If you begin googling, “does acupuncture…” you won’t make it past the first “u” before Google characteristically injects by finishing: “Does acupuncture hurt?”
What I’ve come to realize is what people are really asking is not whether acupuncture actually hurts, but: Does it feel like a lab needle? The answer is no.
Needles used to give shots or draw blood are comparatively huge in width, as they require a hollow center to either inject or extract fluids from our body. Acupuncture needles are a fraction of that size, as they are solid don’t have to hold anything. Additionally lab needles typically puncture veins, whereas our intention is to purposely avoid them in order to stimulate particular “points.” These factors combine to form two experiences so dissimilar in sensation that it doesn’t even seem accurate to label them both as “needles.” I can guarantee you that acupuncture feels nothing like drawing blood. HOWEVER…
The tips of all needles must all be pointy in order to pierce the skin, which means you may on occasion feel a slight pinch; with the proper technique of the hand being quicker than pain receptor response, I assure you there will be some points to which you exclaim: “I didn’t even feel that one!” HOWEVER…
Simple entry is not the end of acupuncture. It’s important that we elicit a “chi sensation” with the needle, just for a quick moment before allowing you to relax (and heal). This brief sensation most often feels like a dull ache or heavy cramp and can occasionally travel down the pathway of your limb. Not to worry. The sensation is no different than what we’ve all felt from any strong massage or pressure point, because there is no such thing as a “pressure point.” Those are acupuncture points, and that sensation of “pressure” is the chi. It doesn’t freak any of us out when someone does it with their thumb, but for some reason when we’re aware that the same sensation is being elicited by a needle, we freak out. It’s mostly psychological.
I say mostly because there are tangible components as well. Some points are more sensitive than others, for example points on the hands and feet can be sensitive where there is minimal fat and muscle, but maximum “chi”. Certain medical conditions can make one more sensitive to sensation, such as Fibromyalgia. Our intention in acupuncture is to manipulate fluids and/or energy in the meridians, which in many cases have been stagnant for many years. It doesn’t feel like lab needles, but it’s not a kiss on the cheek either.
I see between 30-40 patients a week of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds, and I’m fascinated by the gamut they run in response to acupuncture. I have some patients who begin freaking out even as I approach the table with the needle in hand. I can see them closing their eyes and tensing their muscles (hint: not a good idea) as I decide how to be effective and gentle. One lady used to cover her face with one arm as if “watching” a horror movie, until finally for the last point I’d request: “Okay, I need that arm now.” It can be quite comical, though I understand that it mostly comes from fear and not from how torturous the tiny needles themselves are.
At the opposite pole are the patients who are experienced enough with acupuncture to have developed the proverbial palette for it, or are just naturally tolerant. They give me the gift of being able to practice like the stereotypical, old school Chinese practitioner I so aspire to be, aggressively twisting and twirling the needle to the point that I can walk out of the room without a shadow of a doubt that I’ve manipulated their chi. They’re tougher than even I’ve ever been on the table, God bless ‘em.
One (female) colleague of mine mentioned to me that she’s observed men to be more sensitive than women in general, echoing the idea that women have higher pain thresholds. Interestingly, my experience has been the opposite, which berthed in us the hypothesis that much of patient sensitivity is psychosomatic and (at least loosely) influenced by who is needling us.
Don’t get me wrong. Acupuncture doesn’t have to be “no pain, no gain,” and I don’t necessarily believe the more it hurts, the better it works. But there is something to be said for the potential long-term benefits of short-term discomfort.
I’ve thought about it often, while abstaining from eating something I shouldn’t, calling that girl that I know I shouldn’t, or holding any yoga pose for two breaths more than I thought I was capable of, specifically “humble warrior.” Maybe this says something about my struggles with humility? It happens at least once a class, I find myself sweating and exhausted, finally unable to breathe as the teacher instructs us to: “breathe easily,” and the burning muscles in my thigh feel like they’re going to give out at any moment, and I wonder: “Why do I do this? Am I enjoying myself?” Of course not. I mean, there are enjoyable moments in yoga class – days that I feel strong and fluid and my energy is high and I get to observe and experience progress. Obviously, this part is fun. But the majority of most hours are as socially advertised: a workout. Work out: An exercise in disciplining my breath while learning about my body and pushing myself to that point just past comfort, so that I may grow and expand, and evolve, but on most days just so I can maintain and maybe even feel positive about this world and all its craziness.
Full disclosure: I hated acupuncture probably the first five times I received it. Now it doesn’t bother me at all. I also disliked plain green tea and kale the first time I tried them, though probably contrived otherwise about the latter. Now I genuinely love both. I crave them both, that biting bitter flavor that is all too neglected in our western diet, which partially explains our rampant obesity and chronic disease, and anytime someone corrupts my green tea with sweetener I feel how Italians do about adding parmesan cheese to seafood pastas.
Acupuncture kinda hurts, yeah, for one or two seconds multiplied by 8-12 needles each time, for a maximum of 30 seconds, after which you get to relax for 30 minutes and absorb who knows how many benefits as a result. Acupuncture can hurt, yoga hurts, martial arts classes hurt, not eating the bad things you crave for every meal hurts, and the broken heart from leaving toxic relationships hurts. So? Welcome some reasonable discomfort into your life, and who knows how strong you can become.
“An analysis of drug-free interventions to reduce pain or opioid use after total knee replacement found modest but clinically significant evidence that acupuncture and electrotherapy can potentially reduce and delay opioid use” via @sciencedaily #acupuncture #kneereplacement #healing #health #traditionalchinesemedicine #evolveyourlife #drugfree Image: Vascular bundle of a fern rhizome, artist unknown
Low back pain is an extremely common complaint that millions of people suffer from every day. In fact, back pain is the second most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office, outnumbered only by upper-respiratory infections.
It may be merely bothersome for some, but it can be debilitating and unbearable for many. When receiving a diagnosis of a disc herniation, disc bulge, degenerative disc disease, sciatica, or any other back pain-related issue, it is easy to feel as though there is no relief in sight, or worried that you may need surgery or have to take painkillers for the rest of your life. Sometimes surgery is the right answer, as when there is a progressive loss of muscle strength or other serious neurological issue. But if major red flags have been ruled out, there are quite a few non-surgical options to consider for treatment and management. One of the most important things to consider is how to help yourself and develop a daily routine to improve health and alleviate back pain.
Following are some of the most frequently asked questions about back pain that I encounter in my practice:
If I have an issue with my discs, how do I know if the problem is getting better or worse?
Location, location, location! One of the first questions to check in with yourself about is: where is the pain? There are two ways to think about the relationship between pain and movement: peripheralization and centralization. Peripheralization means that pain is moving further away from the damaged tissue. In the case of a disc injury, we are referring to the back or spine. Centralization means that the pain is becoming more focal, and moving closer to the damaged tissue (again – the spine). The further away from your spine the pain is – the worse that specific movement is going to be for the disc.
Take the most common scenario: if bending forward to towards touching your toes relieves your back pain, but makes the pain in your calf worse – this is bad! If standing up straight or extending backwards makes the pain in your leg go away, but does not relieve your back pain – this is good! Even if it makes your back pain worse, as long as the symptoms further away from your spine decrease, research supports that this is a good movement to help your back. So – avoid movements that generate pain in places further away from your spine.
I have heard that strengthening my core will help with my low back pain. Does that mean I should do sit-ups?
NO! There is a distinct difference between strengthening your core and doing sit-ups. Dr. Stu McGill has done quite a bit of research on this topic. Certain positions of the spine significantly increase pressure on the discs. Repetitive forward bending (flexion) combined with twisting (rotation) has been shown to have the most detrimental effects on the discs. If you have back pain, it is important to maintain a NEUTRAL spine during movements throughout your day.
If sit-ups may be bad for my low back and discs, what can I do instead to improve core stability?
Take a breath. Seriously. Proper breathing (referred to as diaphragmatic breathing) will expand the belly, not puff out the chest. Breathing into your stomach and back is one of the body’s best built-in stabilizing systems for the core and back muscles. A lot of people don’t allow their bodies to breathe naturally. By keeping their abdomens braced tight and overusing their low back muscles, they end up keeping their breath shallow and in their chest. So, embrace that dad-bod and take some deep belly breaths for lower back health.
What can I do during the day to prevent aggravation of my pain and help support the healing process?
Find the movement that can centralize your pain. Most commonly, extending such as a back bend will achieve this, but not always.
A simple exercise you can try is a back bend posture, similar to a Cobra Pose in the practice of Yoga for those familiar. Lying face down on the ground, press up through your hands to lift your chest and abdomen off the ground while your legs are completely relaxed. Try this for 3 sets of 10-15. Even if it gets a little worse in your spine, as long as the furthest point of pain away from your spine is alleviated, this is the right movement for you.
If this does not work, you can try side bends. A simple way to do a standing side bend is to stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Touch your left hand to the left side of your head and slowly bend towards the right until you feel a stretch through the left side of your body. Repeat the same movement with your right hand on the right side of your head and bending towards the left. This exercise may be effective if you are experiencing one-sided pain.
If bending forward towards your toes causes pain down your legs, the most important thing to do is avoid flexion during your day until the pain is relieved. This includes simple things like tying your shoes, picking something up from the ground, and sitting. If you have to pick something up from the ground, try going into a lunge so that you are moving from your hips instead of your spine. If you have to sit all day, try sitting at the edge of your seat with your feet flat on the ground. This should help you relax into a neutral spine.
There are plenty of different causes of low back pain, and not everyone is the same. These are things that commonly help, but they are not solutions for everyone. It is important to get assessed for treatment and get the right advice on how to modify your exercise routines to best suit your case.
This year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has revised its guidelines for prescribing opioid pain relief. In the US, opioid addiction has resulted in hundreds of thousands of people overdosing on prescription medication. The CDC has reported that deaths from prescription opioids quadrupled since 1999, resulting in 78 American deaths due to opioid overdose a day. The new guidelines from CDC seek to improve patient safety and address opioid misuse, which all too frequently leads to addiction and overdose-related deaths.
Responsibly reducing the distribution and administration of these potent and highly addictive medicines is one way to address the opioid addiction epidemic in our society. The problem, however, is that people who are most vulnerable to developing an addiction to prescription pain killers end up on that road because they are in pain. Revisions made to prescription guidelines may limit the potential for abuse or misuse, but the need for a different method of pain relief is absolutely necessary.
Acupuncture has been shown to be enormously effective for natural pain relief. This makes acupuncture an attractive alternative to opiate-based drug prescriptions, with no risk of addiction and other major adverse side effects such as those from opioids. The integration of acupuncture into treatment plans of those suffering from chronic or acute pain can significantly diminish the need for addictive medications, and ultimately promote a better quality of life.
A research study that was published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine looked at nearly 18,000 people who were treated with acupuncture for chronic pain. The results of 29 different Randomized Control Trials were analyzed, and the researchers concluded that acupuncture is in fact an effective treatment for chronic pain and is a viable treatment option across different pain conditions.
Acupuncture for natural pain relief is so effective that the US military has explored the use of acupuncture in the battlefield. Based upon the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating acute pain in soldiers and veterans, a $5.4 million dollar project was started in 2013 by the Department of Defense and Department of Veteran Affairs. The joint incentive fund, “Acupuncture Training Across Clinical Settings (ATACS)” was implemented to examine acupuncture’s impact on pain and reduction in opioid abuse.
Besides natural pain relief, acupuncture has been shown to effectively treat many different medical conditions. A comprehensive review published by the World Health Organization lists dozens of indications in which acupuncture is an effective method of treatment. Because acupuncture and Chinese medicine is a holistic system of medicine, the treatment of pain would include treating the whole body and the whole person. It is common for people under care with acupuncture and Chinese medicine to experience relief of symptoms related to other health concerns besides pain.
What about alternatives for those who may already be reliant on pain medication? In 2011, researchers conducted a study showing that acupuncture is effective in the treatment of opioid addiction. While they concluded that the lack of Randomized Control Trial studies means that work still needs to be done in order to concretize acupuncture’s efficacy for treating opiate addiction, the studies did prove that acupuncture is helpful in symptoms of withdrawal and caused relaxation in the patients.
The opioid addiction epidemic is widespread and devastating in its impact on communities across the United States. The Centers for Disease Control has recognized the need for raising awareness of the problem on all levels of healthcare and has responded with guidelines for injury prevention, encouraging providers to recommend nonpharmacologic therapies for pain. Acupuncture is an effective treatment method with little to no side effects that can provide natural pain relief, as well as helping to improve quality of life by reducing need for medication and increase relaxation.
If you have any questions about how acupuncture can help you or someone you love, please don’t hesitate to contact us at Evolve Health + Wellness, Chinese medicine and acupuncture clinic in NYC.
Flashback to forty years ago and acupuncture was a truly foreign concept. It was little known and even less used in the Western world. It used to be that one could only find highly trained and qualified practitioners in places such as Acupuncture NYC, LA, and SF. However, current day use of acupuncture has become mainstream and the growing awareness of its effectiveness has ensured that acupuncture clinics and services can be found in most major American cities.
Acupuncture was developed and has been used by the Chinese for at least 3000 years as a reliable medical treatment, long before modern medicine as it is practiced in the West was even a concept. The basis for acupuncture is the belief that the body, through injury or illness, becomes unbalanced. Qi (pronounced “chee”) – thought of as the natural energy that flows through the body – is blocked and causes further problems. By gently inserting very thin, sterile needles at key points on the body, also referred to as meridians, the blocked energy is released and the Qi is allowed to move freely. With regular application the body is brought back into a healthy balance.
While many may still be skeptical of acupuncture’s efficacy, the support of acupuncture quickly grows with every new scientific study published. In 2003, the World Health Organization had published a Review and Analysis of Controlled Clinical Trials using Acupuncture up to 1998, and it lists dozens of conditions in which acupuncture was proven in scientific studies to be a suitable treatment method. Since that time, there have been many, many more studies conducted both in the US and abroad. It is no wonder more and more people are using acupuncture with all the ailments it can ease.
One of the most popular uses for acupuncture is to treat pain and for long term pain management. Conditions such as back pain, neck pain, osteoarthritis, headaches, and migraines are all effectively treated with acupuncture.
Besides pain relief, acupuncture is also beneficial at aiding in the treatment of multiple maladies. Illnesses such as neurological disorders, allergies, high blood pressure, skin disorders, reproductive and fertility issues, and even digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome can be improved through the use of acupuncture with a high degree of success.
It may seem overly simple to place thin needles on select parts of the body and expect drastic change, but that is exactly what happens. The results of acupuncture can give much needed relief to people suffering from various complaints. When there is someone who has been suffering for too long, and acupuncture delivers the help they’ve been seeking, those thin needles don’t seem so simple after all.