intake

Can Acupuncture Treat ...?

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.

Saying acupuncture can treat almost anything is more like saying all of medicine has a lot of answers than that one particular drug is a cure-all.
1.png

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.

Primary importance is placed on your symptoms and experience so this is truly a patient-centered approach.

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.

When I’m working to combine all your symptoms with your diagnostic readings to form the right acupuncture treatment in an efficient amount of time.

When I’m working to combine all your symptoms with your diagnostic readings to form the right acupuncture treatment in an efficient amount of time.

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!

Lots of things can cause cramps, for example, or headaches. What’s causing yours?

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.

that was Great! What’s Next?

About Shawna

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 contact@shawnaseth.com. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, follow her blog A Cuppa Qi.

Header image: Death to the Stock Photo
Icons: 
Freepik and Anatoly from Flaticon

Changes in Health and Habits

Death to the Stock Photo

Death to the Stock Photo

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).

In Closing

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.

ABOUT SHAWNA

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 contact@shawnaseth.com. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, follow her blog A Cuppa Qi.

Photo: Death to the Stock Photo