What It Feels Like to Have Acupuncture

BlogHer Original Post

I am afflicted with the upper back and neck pain of the sedentary office worker, and I have been for about fifteen years now. In my quest to find relief, I've tried stretches, physical therapy, back strengthening exercises, deep tissue massage, electric stimulation, chiropractic therapy and the Theracane. After the pain swelled to an eight on a ten scale last week, I realized it was time to go back to the one thing that actually works for me: acupuncture.

herbal tea

Credit Image: cobbinaloic on Flickr

According to WebMD, this is how acupuncture works:

Acupuncture began in China more than 2,500 years ago. It involves inserting thin needles at certain points on the body. According to traditional Chinese medicine, the body has more than 2,000 of these points. They are connected by pathways or meridians, which create a flow of energy called Qi (pronounced “chee”). Stimulating these points is said to correct the imbalance of qi and improve the flow of energy. Practitioners believe that this helps relieve pain and improve health.

I've gone to two different acupuncturists in Kansas City. I always ask them how it works. The first told me that Western medicine didn't have an explanation. The second told me the Chinese philosophy and the Western theory that it had something to do with nerves or endorphins, but none of those explanations worked really for her because they didn't explain long-term effects. Somehow, I'm more satisfied when acupuncturists don't really pretend to know how it works. I don't really care how it works -- I'm just trying to see where they're coming from in asking the question. The bizarre thing for me is that for my upper back and neck pain -- it works like gangbusters.

The reason I wait so long in between sessions is not because it doesn't work, it's because it's expensive and usually not covered by insurance. My first acupuncturist costs something like $75/session. The woman I found recently is more affordable at $60 for the first session and $40 thereafter, but that's still not a throwaway amount for me.

Here's what happens. I go into a room and lie down on a massage table (the kind with the hole in the top for your face). The acupuncturist (who has already asked what hurts, what I've done to treat it, etc.) comes in and inserts disposable needles in various places on my back, neck, head, legs and feet. It feels like someone sticking a mechanical pencil against my skin and tapping it once. I definitely feel a point of pressure, but it doesn't really hurt when the needle goes in. Then she covers me up with a sheet, turns off the light, cranks the relaxing music and leaves for sixty minutes.

In all cases, once she leaves, my back starts to respond to the needles. Some places that were very very hurty start to throb a little. Sometimes there is a muscle spasm and a releasing feeling. Sometimes it feels a little like someone has grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and is pulling. Then, at the end of the hour, she comes back, pulls out the needles, rubs some essential oils on my neck, and I pay her and leave like I just had my teeth cleaned.

Have you ever tried acupuncture? Why or why not?

Rita Arens is the author of the young adult novel The Obvious Game & the deputy editor of BlogHer.com. Find more at www.ritaarens.com.


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