Whether you are new to acupuncture or an experienced patient, make the most of your sessions by keeping track of changes in your health and habits.
1. Your acupuncturist isn't there with you outside your treatment session.
When you're having car trouble, you may take your car into the shop and find it refuses to make that irritating noise on request, even though it bothers you every time you leave home in the morning. The same often happens with symptoms. If you aren't feeling the symptom at the moment of discussion it can be hard to describe exactly where the pain is, whether it's sharp or dull, or whether you had a headache at the same time that you felt dizzy. Make it easier for yourself by jotting down your symptoms so you don't have to rely on experiencing them in the moment.
2. Being an acupuncture patient is an opportunity to pay more attention to your body.
This is your chance to be a detective for your own health. Note any combinations you might not have paid attention to before. Do you tend to get a cold right before your period? At a particular time of month? Annually? Are you susceptible to allergies only around a particular season? Even though you know they're worst a particular time, when do your symptoms start? Is it possible that a particular food is exacerbating some of your symptoms? Is there a particular pair of shoes or way of getting out of bed that changes your pain level (for better or worse)? Sometimes these little pieces of information are the keys that unlock a new approach for us and an entirely new level of health and comfort for you.
3. It is vitally important that you alert your practitioner if you change any medications, start taking a new nutritional supplement or vitamin, or adjust drug dosage or frequency with your other medical providers.
While it's not your job to determine how serious that change might be or how or whether it affects your treatment, it is important that you relay that information. Herbs can interact with your other medications and supplements causing serious side effects. In addition we want to be able to track the efficacy of our efforts. Knowing what other changes you are making helps us make decisions on when and how to try new approaches. We can also more accurately attribute benefits or setbacks to specific methods.
4. You MUST tell your practitioner if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
Acupuncture has very few side effects, but there are points, body areas, and needling/ other treatment methods that are contraindicated for pregnancy. Herbs are often mistaken for being gentler than Western medication because they are less concentrated and are often customized on an individual basis. Though you may drink them as delicious teas, herbs are medicinal, not just relaxation aids, and some have strong actions that aren't compatible with pregnancy. We want to help you with your family planning goals, not inadvertently hinder them!
How to Track
If you are a person who has periods and don't already use a period tracker of some form, I highly recommend adding an app to your repertoire. These often prompt you with the types of things you should be paying attention to such as flow level, associated symptoms (headaches, cramps, mood changes, etc) and allows you to add notes and rank amounts or levels of these symptoms. This will also be a handy reminder in your hand when we (or your gynecologist) ask when your last menstrual period was, how long it lasted, and how long your cycle tends to be. There are tons of options out there from ones that come pre-loaded on your device to free options in major app stores to paid versions that don't have advertisements and offer more features (including information back-up). Choose what's best for you.
Keep a notebook by your bedside and bring it to treatments with you. This could also be an electronic note app, but the idea is to take time daily to think about your symptoms, note any changes you're making like what new methods you're trying to relieve them, and whether a change is having an effect (good, bad, or neutral).
All this is to say that we need this information because while we're the expert on the medicine, you're the expert on your body. And sometimes real harm can be done. Of course the side effects are often not as serious as Western Medicine counterparts, but our methods do still have real effects (which is why we bother with them at all).
What kinds of changes should you start to track? As you come to treatments you'll get a sense of what makes the most sense to focus on. Some major categories are: dietary (what do you eat and how do you feel afterward), exercise habits, sleep schedule, menstrual cycle, and new treatment types (started seeing a physical therapist the day after acupuncture sessions). If you're not sure what's best for you to focus on, have that conversation at your next acupuncture session.
Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California state licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist focused on promoting women’s health, especially surrounding menstrual health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients in her private practice on Sutter Street in San Francisco. Make your appointments online or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, follow her blog A Cuppa Qi.
Photo: Death to the Stock Photo