It's a very common question: "Does acupuncture treat …?" The short answer is YES!, no matter the condition, because acupuncture is a complete medical system.
While it’s tempting to hear that as equivalent to a specific drug being touted as a panacea, it’s really like saying all of medicine can address a wide variety of ailments. We’re much more comfortable with that concept. Western or allopathic medicine can help with lots of things to varying degrees. It’s much the same with acupuncture. That’s one of the reasons it’s more accurately referred to as a complementary medicine, rather than alternative medicine.
Acupuncture and herbal medicine are toolkits based upon a complex theoretical model of the human body as a reflection of the natural world. Primary importance is placed on your symptoms and experience so this is truly a patient-centered approach. For example, it doesn't matter if the thermometer says you don't have a temperature. If you feel too hot, we might call that a fever (and one of a variety of fevers depending on the rest of what’s going on). The practice of this medicine includes asking lots of questions so I can understand as best as possible what's going on for you since I can't feel what you feel for you.
I then also "read" your body through palpation (gently touching your body - usually your legs, arms, and abdomen), taking your pulses, looking at your tongue (the only visible muscle in the body), and other diagnostic methods. This helps to clarify the pattern because lots of things can cause cramps, for example, or headaches. What's causing yours?
The goal is to get a complete picture of the pattern at play, as opposed to treating each symptom individually. Something's not in balance, so there are a variety of expressions of that imbalance. Address the issue at the root and multiple signals can fade back or disappear.
This is why it sometimes looks like I'm doing mental calculus while I'm working. There’s a lot to think about! This is also why becoming an acupuncturist takes 3.5 years of graduate school (that’s the shortest estimate at full time with no summer breaks), clinical hours (our version of a residency), and rigorous study for a comprehensive licensing exam that includes traditional medicine theory, knowledge of hundreds of acupuncture point locations and functions, medical safety measures along with medical ethics and local laws, plus Western terminology, anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and standards of care for every major condition from depression to mastitis to stomach cancer, etc. plus mandatory continuing education. I confess I had no idea how qualified my acupuncturist was when I first started as an acupuncture patient!
Because everything is placed within a pattern, we can get into all the stuff that you've lived with but never known how to describe or where to go to deal with it. I've heard everything from “I’m phlegmy, but only right after I eat” to "my legs feel like they're going to float away" to "I feel completely exhausted after my period" to "I have this reoccurring dream about a boat on fire and it makes me anxious about getting ready for bed."
This theory helps direct us in our selection of channels and points and methods for stimulating them to change and action, including a variety of ways of needling, some involving insertion. There are also a host of other treatment modalities such as internal herbal medicine, topical herbal medicine, moxibustion, cupping, a variety of forms of massage, and beyond.
Under the umbrellas of women’s health and emotional health, my patients come to me with a wide variety of chief complaints – the big need that brings you in the door. We focus our attention on that main thing, but because acupuncture is a holistic medicine, from there we also keep in mind the whole picture of your health. We discuss how you sleep, your diet and digestion, any aches and pains, etc.
I always smile when I've just seen a patient with anxiety and a fertility patient comes in next and asks hesitantly if I think acupuncture might help for their anxious thoughts. And vice versa! Same thing happens when they mention a family member has shingles (I've seen acupuncture reduce the severity of the immediate flare and any post-herpetic neuralgia). The vast coverage of this medicine is one of the things that allows you to rely on me as a resource as your situation shifts and changes. Because changing is part of life!
So while there are some conditions that we'll definitely want you to either seek Western care for first or create an integrative approach, many health concerns could potentially be handled primarily with acupuncture and/or herbal medicine. Please talk to a licensed acupuncturist like myself to figure out the best way forward for you.
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Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California state licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist whose areas of specialty include promoting women’s health and fertility and interrupting the cycles of stress, anxiety, and depression. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients both in her private practice in San Francisco and in a collaborative practice in Temescal, Oakland. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, read her blog A Cuppa Qi and make your appointments online or email firstname.lastname@example.org.