It does hurt a bit at times, but the pain from needles entering the skin is well worth it, many acupuncture patients say.
Acupuncture, an ancient Chinese medicine practiced as far back to 300 B.C., can relieve common ailments such as chronic pain, anxiety, carpal tunnel syndrome, addiction, infertility, premenstrual syndrome, the common cold and other problems.
Jeffrey Medina, a Federal Way acupuncturist, discussed some of the benefits of acupuncture at the Federal Way Regional Library last week. For the ailments that acupuncture is known to treat, about 80 percent to 90 percent of patients feel relief, Medina said.
One of the most common complaints that Medina treats is chronic pain. Acupuncturists believe that many ailments are caused by an imbalance of the yin and yang energies. They also believe that organs are connected to pathways of energy called meridians. Acupuncture restores balance to the yin and yang by accessing and unblocking the meridians with needles inserted through the skin.
“It’s kind of weird thinking about sticking needles in the body and people get better,” Medina said.
But it works, he said.
The needles used by acupuncturists are thin, flexible and made of stainless steel. They vary in size depending on the area of the body where they will be used as well as the size of the patient. Most often, needles are inserted one to one-and-a-half inches into the body, although it could be more or less depending on location. A needle inserted into the hand wouldn’t go as deep as one inserted into the buttocks, Medina said as an example.
Patients respond differently to the sensation.
“Some people, they’re very very deathly afraid of needles,” Medina said, adding that those patients might imagine they are in more pain than they really are. “That’s more of a psychological fear of needles than it is the actual sensation,” he said.
Most often, patients try acupuncture as a last resort after other treatments have failed. They are often ready to face the potential pain. Most don’t complain of pain at all.
Michelle Gonzaga, a 23-year-old acupuncture patient, said she initially feared the needles, but now has no problem with them.
“I avoided it for the longest time just because I thought it would hurt, but not at all,” said Gonzaga, who receives treatments for stress, back pain, anxiety, headaches and any other ailment that arises.
“It feels kind of tingly,” she said. “Your head gets kind of cloudy and you feel really, really relaxed.”
Generally, acupuncture is not as painful as people fear, Medina said.
“Most of the time what people experience on insertion is a pinch or a prick,” he said.
After the initial prick, a patient being treated for pain might experience a sensation similar to a deep tissue massage.
“A lot of times it’s a dull achy sensation. A lot of times people report heaviness as well of the limbs,” Medina said.
After treatment, patients are often very relaxed.
“Many people actually fall asleep on the table,” Medina said. “People can feel quite happy… It can cause a euphoric feeling in some cases.”
For the day or so following treatment, patients may suffer slight bruising and worsened pain in the treated area. When it fades, the patient will experience relief, Medina said.
“Usually a slight aggravation after treatment is an indication of healing to the body,” he said.
Western medicine explains the way acupuncture works by suggesting that the slight pain caused by the needles releases pain-fighting endorphins, Medina said.
However, acupuncturists believe relief comes because it restores balance to the yin and yang energies.
It generally takes several treatments for acupuncture to be effective, Medina said. The older a person is, the more likely they will be asked to return for maintenance treatments. Some insurance companies cover the cost of acupuncture treatment.
Gonzaga said she experiences immediate relief after a treatment. She always prefers to visit an acupuncturist rather than a physician.
“It’s kind of like all-around healing,” she said.
Contact Margo Hoffman: email@example.com or (253) 925-5565.