06 Nov Naysay the needles? The power of acupuncture
As part of my training in integrative medicine this month, I was tasked to read and lead a discussion on a series of articles on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Among many of the varied topics on things like herbal remedies, cupping, qi-gong, etc, many of the articles discussed the research on acupuncture. Prior to these readings, I had no previous knowledge or experience with acupuncture. I wanted to share a short story about my first exposure to this.
My classmate and I led a discussion highlighting what we interpreted as one of the main themes of our readings: Acupuncture reduces pain, but we don’t know how. There is research ongoing to uncover these mysteries, but the point is still that we don’t understand why acupuncture works and this might makes people uncomfortable.
A trained Acupuncturist from a local acupuncture clinic came to class to demonstrate how this worked. He asked for volunteers from our class. Since I didn’t have any urgent ailments, I sat back and watched. One of my classmates, Nick, volunteered that he had chronic knee problems and that his knee was actually sore that day. The acupuncturist touched his knee for a minute and then went to his elbow on the opposite side of his body. He then poked his tiny needles into his elbow quickly. Nick didn’t flinch and looked calm. In about one minute, Nick put his hand over his bad kneed and flexed it a bit. He said, “huh, I don’t feel much anymore.” “Sure,” I thought. He just giving this guy what he wants to hear.
One by one, the classmates went up to the front of the class. Two of my classmates (one a rheumatologist and another a cardiologist) reported knee and neck pain, respectively. A few pokes later, smiles came over their faces. The rheumatologist said, “this is quite remarkable.” The cardiologist was rocking his neck back and forth free of pain within minutes.
“No way!” I said in disbelief. Can this be real? They all swore to me that they were not just kissing up to the acupuncturist and that they were truly feeling pain relief.
While I didn’t have a chance to get stuck myself, I think I became a believer. It is truly remarkable. What’s more remarkable is that according to a recent article by Abbassi in the Journal of the American Medical Association, opioid medication overdoses killed 14, 000 people in 2014. What if acupuncture was more accepted and widely available? Many lives may be saved.