Exploring Acupuncture

A calm lake with mountains and blue sky

At the suggestion of a friend, I recently tried acupuncture for the first time.  My friend is a long-time acupuncture patient and enthusiast.  She’s used acupuncture to treat various injuries and ailments and has seen results from it.  I’m undergoing treatment for a medical condition, and she suggested that acupuncture could help.  After doing a little research, I decided it was worth a try.

I tend to be skeptical of alternative medicine.  The world is full of snake-oil salesmen who want to sell us pseudoscientific treatments that seem too good to be true.  Though Western medicine has its flaws, I generally trust doctors and research scientists.  When someone starts talking about things like adjusting the energy flowing through the body, I raise an eyebrow.

Nevertheless, I try to approach things with an open mind.  As a lawyer, I’m all about what the evidence shows.  It turns out that there is some scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of acupuncture.  Experts viewing acupuncture through a Western medicine lens aren’t sure exactly how it works, but they suspect that it stimulates the central nervous system, triggering a release of chemicals into the brain and body.  Studies have shown that acupuncture can be effective in treating a variety of conditions, including headaches, nausea, osteoarthritis, infertility, and asthma, among others.  (It should be noted that these studies have their critics.)  In his book on the placebo effect and mind-body connection, Suggestible You, Erik Vance discusses some research indicating that acupuncture performs better than a placebo when it comes to treating certain conditions.

I’ve undergone three acupuncture sessions now.  I lay on my back on an examining table, and the acupuncturist inserts very thin needles into my feet, knees/shins, hands, forehead, ears, and sometimes my abdomen.  I don’t have to get undressed for this; I just roll up my pant legs and shirt as needed to allow him to access these spots.  Though it’s hard for me to see exactly what’s happening, it doesn’t seem like the needles are inserted very deeply; they seem to just barely pierce the skin.  I would guess that he inserts about two dozen needles per session.

For the most part, the needles don’t hurt.  I might feel a little sting at first, but it’s mild and temporary.  Once the needles are inserted, I can’t really feel them.  The needles in my ears are an exception.  I find that those do hurt a bit, and the sensation doesn’t always go away immediately after the needles are inserted.  It isn’t terribly painful, though.

After the acupuncturist inserts the needles, he leaves the room and I lay there for anywhere from 20-40 minutes.  A lot of people say that acupuncture is very relaxing.  I haven’t experienced anything especially relaxing about the sensation of the acupuncture itself, but what is relaxing for me is lying still in a dimly lit room while I listen to spa-like music.  I meditate and sometimes doze off for a few minutes.  It’s certainly not a bad break in my day.

When my time is up, the acupuncturist returns and removes the needles.  Occasionally, I bleed a tiny bit.  This tends to happen when he removes the needles from my ears and forehead.  There is no lingering pain.  I go about my day feeling perfectly normal.

So is it working?  Well, that’s hard to say.  I haven’t noticed any dramatic changes in how I feel.  I’m also undergoing Western medical treatment, so it will be impossible to know whether any improvement in my condition is thanks to traditional medicine or acupuncture.  This isn’t a controlled experiment.  That said, I’m persuaded enough by the literature to undergo a few more sessions.  Is it possible that any change in my condition will result from the placebo effect?  Sure — but I’m ok with that.  If it helps, it helps, regardless of the mechanism or reason.

Have you tried acupuncture?  What was your experience like?  Did it help you?

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