Acupuncture 101

Guys I’m so so so excited about today’s post! As you know I’m a diehard acupuncture fan and attribute me getting pregnant (ok Anel helped too, here’s our story) to acupuncture as well as my easy labor. I also could not have survived my pregnancy without it. I see her now on a regular basis for everything from anxiety to pain relief for my mom wrist to digestive issues. My acupuncturist, Sarah, has become a close friend, and I’m so excited to be interviewing her for this post.

She’s an amazing woman, mother, and healer, and I feel lucky to call her my friend. Whenever Anel or I have any problem (a cold? a sore back? a pimple?) I go to her first for advice. The amount of knowledge that she has is incredible. Amalia even went to her for pressure point therapy when she was spitting up a lot. I swear it was the only thing that helped.

So without further ado, here is Acupuncture 101. If you guys have questions for Sarah, comment below and she’ll answer them as soon as she can!

So what is acupuncture exactly?
Acupuncture is a modality of Chinese Medicine in which hair-thin needles are inserted in precise locations on the body in order to help the body restore or maintain proper energy flow along pathways called meridians. According to Chinese Medicine theory, imbalances of this energy, called “qi” ( pronounced “chee”) are the root of all illnesses. Scientific research has shown that these acupuncture points are located at areas of concentrated nerve bundles which is thought to be one of the reasons that acupuncture has such a regulating effect on the endocrine and nervous systems. There are many theories on HOW acupuncture works, but thanks to advances in technology, there is no longer any question that it does work.

What we know for sure is that acupuncture helps to restore homeostasis- the balanced state of the body- by increasing blood flow to the organs, reducing inflammation, and increasing production of neurotransmitters and endorphins, our body’s natural pain and stress relievers.

Wait so how does sticking a needle in my foot help my stomach ache?
Great question! Imagine you are stuck in stand still traffic on the highway. It might be a total (and literal) headache to be stuck where you are, but it wouldn’t be very helpful to call a tow truck to your location. The tow truck needs to find and clear the accident way up ahead of you. And maybe a traffic cop at the next exit could help direct cars off the highway. Specific points on the meridians help to move stagnation like the tow truck, and “redirect” energy like the traffic cops. If you have heartburn or nausea, we often think of that as energy moving in the wrong direction, so we will use points on the feet to help move the energy back down in the right direction. Depending on the issue, I may use only distal (far away) points, or a combination of local and distal points.

What can I see an acupuncturist for?
Anything that your body can heal from, acupuncture will help. The most common issues I see are stress & anxiety, insomnia, pain, fertility and hormonal issues, and digestion. These things respond really well to acupuncture. I use Chinese herbal formulas for many of my patients, and also use other modalities like cupping and electrical stimulation when I think it will be useful. I also do a lot of other health coaching in my treatments, because the root of a lot of issues can often be tied back to nutrition and lifestyle.

In Chinese Medicine, we are always trying to look for the root causes of issues, not just treating the symptom itself. My intake form is long and thorough, and in my first visit with someone we go over their entire health history in depth. All the systems of the body have to work together, so if one of them is off, you will often see symptoms in other areas. Headaches and digestion? Often connected. Fatigue, congestion, and a tough time losing weight? Probably connected, too. This is what I love so much about Chinese Medicine— symptoms that might seem totally unrelated to you often end up making total sense to me! But I am pretty well versed in conventional medicine too, so if I think there’s something “bigger” going on, I never hesitate to send someone back to their MD for testing or further investigation. Conventional medicine isn’t great at seeing the body as a whole, but sometimes medications and treatments ARE totally necessary. (Side note- I have type 1 diabetes, and wear an insulin pump and continuous glucose sensor on my body every day. I am so grateful for the advances in medicine and technology that keep me kicking!)

Does it hurt?
These needles are TEENY TINY. You can fit about 30 of them in the tip of a flu shot needle. So yeah, you might feel the insertion just slightly, but it doesn’t hurt. The word needle is definitely the scariest part. If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard “wait, really? That was it?” from an Acu-newbie…. I’d probably be on vacation 😉 Because acupuncture helps to promote neurotransmitter and endorphin production, most people feel seriously blissed out after acupuncture.

Can acupuncture be used for infertility?
Acupuncture is amazingly helpful for fertility and hormonal issues! It’s seriously one of the most gratifying parts of my job. Fertility is really just an extension of overall health and balance, so often we start by addressing other issues going on- like stress and sleep and digestion, as well as hormonal balance, and then pregnancy just happens. Other times we are working to support an IUI or IVF cycle by increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs. There is such great research supporting fertility acupuncture these days, and many OBGYNs refer patients to acupuncture before sending them to fertility clinics.

How do I find a great acupuncturist?
Well, there are a lot of factors here, so let me walk you through the different types of acupuncture out there. A Chinese Medicine trained Licensed Acupuncturist (L.Ac.) (like me) will have attended a 3-4 year (2000+ hour) masters program in either acupuncture or Chinese medicine (which includes herbs). We are licensed by a state board, and certified by the NCCAOM. You can search the NCCAOM website for someone near you. If you’re looking for wholistic Chinese medicine diagnosis and treatment, I would def go this route.
In most states, MDs can become certified in acupuncture after 200 hours of training. This certification includes point location and needling technique, but doesn’t dive deep into meridian theory and diagnosis, so this is typically best suited for pain and basic ailments.

In some states, physical therapists and chiropractors can become certified in “dry needling” which is the use of acupuncture needles to release trigger points in muscles and is typically used for pain. Many states are passing legislation against dry needling because the programs don’t offer adequate training in safety. If you go this route, make sure that the therapist you work with has a very thorough understanding of anatomy.

But it’s also important to find an acupuncturist that you have a great rapport with, because you are probably going to be working closely with them and spending a lot of time talking at each session. So if you find an acupuncturist who just isn’t the right fit for you, keep looking!

Any other fun facts about acupuncture?
Yes! A lot of health insurance plans cover acupuncture these days, so if you’re curious definitely look into that (I take out-of-network insurance only, but many acupuncturists are in-netowrk). I also think its cool to share that the US military trains some of their medics in acupuncture, and employ acupuncturists in VA hospitals, because of the effectiveness for pain relief. My favorite fact about acupuncture is that in ancient China, acupuncture was used primarily as preventative medicine, and acupuncturists would only be paid for “well visits”. If their patient became ill, it was assumed that the acupuncturist hadn’t done their job correctly, and he would treat the ill patient for free.

Check out more from Sarah on her website, indigoacu.com. If you don’t live locally you can still work with her on herbal consulting from wherever you are!

Have you guys tried acupuncture? How did you like it?

What is Acupuncture