By Megan Clowers, OMD at Saint Mary’s Center for Family and Integrated Medicine.
Have you ever been curious or perhaps even skeptical about acupuncture? You’re not alone. In recent years, acupuncture has been gaining in popularity…we’ve seen it on the news, on the Instagram feeds of celebrities and yes, even major health systems are adopting integrative and alternative approaches to healing.
While the practice of acupuncture dates back to ancient times, it is becoming more commonly incorporated into today’s modern medicine techniques.
Here are some basic things to know if you are considering acupuncture for the first time:
First and foremost, it is important to find a licensed acupuncturist in your area if you are interested in scheduling an acupuncture appointment. Licensed acupuncturists are required to receive upwards of 3,500 hours of training and pass multiple national, and in some instances, state licensing exams before they can treat patients. As acupuncture has become more widely accepted in our healthcare system many practitioners are working closely with physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants to ensure patients get the best and most thorough care. At Family & Integrated Medicine, we take a team approach to patient care and are always available to each other as needed for consults, giving family medicine a holistic approach and our patients’ excellent care.
Before we dive into the nitty gritty of what acupuncture is and what it does I want to answer one of the most common questions patients ask me….Why did I decide to become an acupuncturist?
The answer is easy, experience. I have lived an adventurous life and am no stranger to injuries. I’ve torn ligaments, broken bones, and had many sprains that have kept me from enjoying my hobbies. To get back on my feet and continue to enjoy my many interests acupuncture has helped me tremendously! In addition, I have always known that I wanted a career in medicine. Being an acupuncturist allows me to help patients in a non-traditional way, yet still pursue my dreams of working in the medical field.
So, what exactly is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a treatment in which very small, fine needles are inserted through the skin at strategic points on the body, called acupuncture points. There are more than 300 of these acupuncture points in the body that are all connected by pathways called meridians. Due to a variety of factors like disease, illness or injury, these meridians can become blocked and lead to pain and discomfort. The purpose of acupuncture is to free meridians that are blocked. The needles work to stimulate muscles, nerves and connective tissue to release chemicals like endorphins to promote healing and provide relief.
The benefits of acupuncture:
In my experience, I’ve seen acupuncture help those who are suffering from acute and/or chronic pain throughout the body. I’ve also seen it alleviate stress and anxiety, menstrual irregularities and some digestive issues. Additionally, it’s been increasingly popular to consider acupuncture in connection with fertility treatments, and once pregnant, acupuncture can be a great tool to alleviate some of the side effects that come along with expecting a child. Note that it’s important to notify your acupuncturist if pregnant, so treatment can be modified if necessary.
What to expect during your first treatment:
While most acupuncturists have their own unique ways of assessing a first treatment, you can typically expect an initial evaluation to discuss any symptoms, your medical history, lifestyle and behavior. From there, we will determine which areas to treat and get started. Treatments involve lying on a massage table or sitting in a comfy chair and are typically comprised of the following steps:
Needle placement, where the thin needles are inserted.
Needle manipulations, which involves gently moving the needles after placement, or applying mild electric pulses or heat to the needles.
Needle removal, usually after 10 -20 minutes.
Asian body work, such as shiatsu or tuina, which is a type of massage, may also be used before, during, and/or after the treatment to enhance the acupuncture effect. I may also prescribe an herbal formula for the patient to take home with them in order to prolong any work done during the appointment.
What acupuncture feels like (a.k.a. does it hurt?!)
While I can’t speak for everyone, the general consensus is: no, acupuncture needles do not hurt. The needles used in acupuncture are so extremely thin, quite unlike needles used to draw blood or for injections. You can also request your acupuncturist to start with the thinnest needles possible to minimize any concerns. Most often, patients tell me the sensations they experience while receiving acupuncture feels like a warm, pulsing sensation or a mild, but pleasant ache. These sensations mean that your body is being correctly stimulated and is responding to the treatment.
What to expect after acupuncture treatment:
After acupuncture, I have had patients experience feelings of relaxation and calmness as well as energy and motivation. Everyone responds to treatment differently and results can come instantly, or it may take continued treatment to achieve what you’re looking for. The side effects are limited and the most common is minor tenderness at treatment sites. Considering the numerous benefits, acupuncture can be an effective and worthwhile treatment!
Have you tried acupuncture? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
As a Reno native and lover of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Megan Clowers, OMD is passionate about bringing Traditional Chinese Medicine, herbology, Asian bodywork and nutrition to those searching for alternative therapies and healing throughout northern Nevada. She received her Master’s in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine from the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine in 2014 and received her Bachelor’s Degree in Dietetics from the University of Nevada in 2009. Clowers’ work focuses on the collaboration between Chinese medicine and Western biomedicine which she practices at Saint Mary’s Family & Integrated Medicine in South Reno.
If you have any specific questions or would like to learn more about acupuncture services in Northern Nevada, contact Saint Mary’s Integrative Medicine at (775)829-2277 or visit www.SaintMarysMedicalGroup.com.