Cultural Center Presents Family Exhibits
Shelly Dockins Kocan, L. Ac.
I have always found it interesting that acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are one of the only Native medicines that survived the collision with western medicine and grew stronger as a result, being brought to all continents in time and even now to this remote corner of the world.
When western hospitals were first constructed in China and Taiwan, the indigenous medicine was incorporated right along with the western model. While studying in Taiwan I saw that a patient would be receiving western medical care in the form of surgery and pharmaceuticals and simultaneously be administered herbal medicines, to strengthen the body and normalize function so that it could heal more quickly. For the Chinese it wasn’t an “either or” situation but rather a strategic approach of choosing the options that would lead to the best outcome for the patient.
In Taiwan and China there are entire floors of hospitals still devoted solely to acupuncture where patients are treated for paralysis, stroke, pain and numbness amongst other conditions.
How does Acupuncture work? This is the most frequent question that I hear, second only to “Does it work?”and “Does it hurt” I’ll get to those in a minute.
Acupuncture works through multiple physiological pathways, primarily through the nervous system, vascular system and the endocrine system. I am going to just explain how it works through the neurovascular system in relation to pain management and musculoskeletal injury at this time in an attempt to keep things simple. But please remember it is equally effective in treating depression, anxiety, stress, sinus congestion, insomnia and other internal conditions as it is in treating pain.
Acupuncture works to increase blood flow to an identified area of the body where it has been reduced; i.e. somewhere with pain, numbness or limited range of motion. Let’s use the example of knee pain but remember this can work for any pain from headaches, to neck pain, to back pain or even restless leg syndrome.
But let’s go back to the knee, when the knee is injured the brain reduces blood flow to the knee as a protective measure, in an effort to isolate the area in case of infection. This is helpful if there has been a nasty cut but if your knee hurts from working in bent crouched spaces or from overuse than this protective measure actually inhibits healing in the long run. If pain persists after the initial injury then blood flow continues to be reduced and thus the healing capacity for that area is also decreased.
The entire healing prowess of the body lies in the blood; it is there that we find our body’s own pain relievers and anti-inflammatories. It is also there that we find the cells responsible for removing damaged tissue from an injured area. Increased blood flow equals increased healing and function. Maximizing circulation is the key to a healthy body and there are few tools we have to do this in the western medical approach.
With acupuncture we stimulate areas on the surface of the skin, interfacing with the neurovascular system, to stimulate the brain’s release of pain relieving substances that our own bodies produce (these are an endogenous opiate called an enkephalin similar to the endorphins we hear about in the “runner’s high”.) Once pain is relieved then the brain signals the blood vessels in that area to stop constricting thus allowing fresh healing blood to flow into the damaged area.
So our goals with acupuncture, in terms of dealing with pain, numbness or reduced mobility is to stop the pain so that blood flow to the affected area is increased and long lasting healing can begin.
Does it work? Yes, acupuncture is used daily by more people worldwide than any other form of medicine. Acupuncture may be new and unfamiliar to us in the West but it is an old medicine, tried and true that has thrived and spread for more than 2,000 years. That being said you are welcome to be skeptical and still come in and give it a try, I understand that seeing is believing and in this case your experience of relief is the best evidence I can give you.
Does it hurt? Yes and no. We call them acupuncture needles but they are more akin to a small pin than a needle. They are slightly thicker than a human hair and you often don’t even feel them when they are placed. Sometimes you feel a slight twinge but it subsides almost immediately. If it’s any indication of how painless it can be just know that most people fall asleep while they are on the table. Acupuncture has the wonderful side effect of deep relaxation and if you are nervous it’s okay I will be very gentle with you.
You will experience relief within your first several visits, often even on your first visit, but for the results to be long lasting and for the symptoms to be eradicated it takes a course of treatments. We get the best results with regular visits starting with 1-2 times per week and eventually decreasing to 1 per month as the condition improves, similar to a course of treatment with physical therapy.
Many insurance companies offer coverage for acupuncture but it may not cover your whole course of treatments; we will be offering some discounted packaging to help address this gap. Acupuncture, herbal medicine and massage are also covered through flexible spending accounts and health savings accounts. Just think of it as an investment in yourself, not only a way of healing chronic health issues and emerging concerns but also as a way to help support optimal health and well-being. As the old adage says, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.