I’m frequently asked how I chose to become an acupuncturist. The truth is that there were a number of events in my life that brought me to the practice of this medicine. Depending on the day, and who is doing the asking, I will tell about one event or another.
My first and most important encounter with acupuncture happened about twenty years ago, while I was planning to go backpacking in the Grand Canyon. This was not a day trip with a backpack, a Clif Bar, and a bottle of water. It was to be a week long trek in which all my gear, food, and water was strapped to my back, much like mule in hiking boots. I had been to the Canyon before, and I knew how hard the hiking was, so I began preparing months in advance. Unfortunately, I pulled a groin muscle early in the summer (the trip was planned for September). I rested it, iced it, and finally went to my Western doc. He pretty much shrugged his shoulders and prescribed massive doses of Ibuprofen. (Note: He is no longer my doctor.)
I took the Ibuprofen for a couple of months without any improvement. Looking back, I can’t believe I took the dose I did for as long as I did without any major damage. September was looming, and I still had that lightning bolt in my groin every time I tried to run or do anything that resembled hiking.
Finally, about three weeks before the trip, I knew I needed some serious help or I was going to have to cancel the trip. I got it into my head that maybe acupuncture was the answer. I’d heard about it, but had never tried it–and I was desperate at this point. I asked a co-worker for a recommendation, and went to a practitioner for about three treatments before I had to decide whether or not to go on this trip.
Ultimately, I went on the trip; did a punishing week-long hike, had a great time–and didn’t feel the groin pull once.
The point of this story is that I see many patients like myself. They have a symptoms or a condition that Western medicine just isn’t helping. Some eventually find their way to acupuncture and relief, but many don’t. I can remember feeling intimidated by the feeling of foreignness surrounding acupuncture and not knowing who to call once I had decided that acupuncture might be the answer. However, I was motivated enough that I was willing to try a therapy that was slightly out of my comfort zone, which ultimately changed my life.
If you’re struggling with your health and wondering whether acupuncture and Chinese medicine can help, my advice is this:
-Don’t be put off by the idea that acupuncture is “out there”. It’s not. It’s been around for thousands of years, effectively treating people with a variety of conditions in many countries around the world, including the United States.
-If you’re unsure how to find an acupuncturist, ask a friend, family member, co-worker, or maybe even your doctor for the name of a practitioner they know and trust. If you’re coming up empty, check online, but spend some time looking at clinic websites, so you have a good idea of who they are, what they treat and whether or not they can help you.
-Ask for a consultation. Most practitioners are more than happy to do a consultation, either by phone or in person. Ask a lot of questions and get a sense of whether or not they’re a good fit and if they can help you.
-Ask about training. There are a lot of health care providers who are performing acupuncture without adequate training. Look for a licensed acupuncturist, because they have 2,500 to 3,000 hours of training with 650 of those hours actually performing acupuncture in a clinic setting. Chiropractors only need about 105 hours to perform acupuncture; physical therapists need even less to perform what they call “dry needling”; and even doctors only need 50 to 100 hours of training to perform acupuncture.
-Give it a fair try. Like any therapy, acupuncture can take a few treatments to have an effect. If you go once and think you’re done, you’re wasting your money.
The bottom line is that my desperation drove me to acupuncture, which effectively took care of my muscle pull. My only regret is that I spent two plus months gobbling Ibuprofen 800’s three times a day in the hope that Western medicine had the answer, which in this case it did not. If I had it to do over again, I would have gone for acupuncture first–not out of desperation.