Thursday, January 30, 2014

When West Meets East: A Nurse Gets Acupuncture

If you're a frequent reader of this blog then you know I'm a western medicine girl. I've worked in nursing for over twenty years. I believe in vaccinations and almost all things that our medical care has to offer.

About six months ago, I suffered an upper back injury. I, of course, was a bad patient and continued to work-out even though I had significant pain. When I couldn't take it anymore, I went to my PCP for a script for physical therapy and headed back to the therapist who rehabbed my shoulder when I dislocated it two years ago.

I'm a big believer in physical therapy. One of the things I'm not so keen on is surgery and so I'll do just about everything prior to going under the scalpel. Physical therapy has healed both my knees, both my shoulders and a hip injury. I had high hopes it would do the same for my back.

After a couple of months in rehab, I'd only made moderate progress and was still having limited range of motion and pain. The physical therapist, who I do respect a lot because he's a medical nerd like me, suggested I go for acupuncture.

Full. Stop.

I mean, just because I am a nurse doesn't mean I like needles. I've not been a big believer in eastern medicine but since my insurance covered it and my medical nerd friend who I trusted thought it might work I decided it was worth a try. Even though I didn't find out until AFTER that he'd never done it himself.

So-- off I go. The doctor I met with had been trained in China. She said they use acupuncture for "95% of what ails you". I don't know if this is actually true-- just her statement.

From what I gathered-- chi (good blood and lymph flow) keeps you healthy. Bad chi gives you "broken branches and bad leaves".

What was the treatment? Hickies to my back-- or cupping-- where small glass suction cups that are shaped like fish bowls are applied to the skin. Sometimes they put needles inside the suction cups. It does cause bruising. I've also had electricity applied to the needles as well.

I was skeptical but I have to say I did have less muscle soreness and improved range of motion to my neck after one treatment. Even my physical therapist measured improved range of motion and felt like my muscles were less tight.

What I've gathered is that these treatments do improve blood flow by causing trauma. We know that whenever something is injured-- blood flow increases to the area. This is why your sprained ankle swells like a balloon. So, I think this minor tissue trauma does improve blood flow and good blood flow does provide healing.

I don't think acupuncture will cure appendicitis but I do think it has value for some conditions/scenarios.

I survived and something that has been around so long seems to be helping a lot of people.

I may be a convert of its use in some limited medical situations.

What about you-- have you ever tried acupuncture? Did it work? Would you ever use it in a novel?


  1. Interesting post! I never had the suction cups or electricity but I started my first acupuncture session in Dec. I no longer can go as I have to meet my deductible but I miss it. It's actually relaxing to lay there on the table and be engulfed in the quietness.

    Very interesting about trauma and blood flow etc. I can see now why acupuncture can help :-)

  2. Loved this post, Jordyn! I've had many sessions of acupuncture with and without electrical stimulation for various problems but typically I use it for back pain and migraine headaches. I think it's wonderful. And I did use acupressure in my historical novel, Mystery of the Heart, since my heroine didn't have any needles available. And I'm not certain but I doubt those needles would have been as thin as those used today. But since I love writing things about medicine in my novels I will use different aspects of acupuncture and other alternative medicines in the future. Too much fun not to! I almost gasped when I saw the cupping marks in the picture. It looked much like the cups they used to burn King George III in the movie, The Madness of King George. Glad to know it was suction.

    1. Wow, Jillian. That is so interesting. Thanks for sharing about its historical aspects.

  3. I got acupuncture as I said over on Twitter. The woman who did it only put in four or five needles and then hooked them up to electrical stimulation that was applied for twenty minutes. Then after she did a deep rubdown, where I thought she was going to rip out the muscles of my back. During the rubdown she used raw eucalyptus oil which really made my skin and muscles tingly (And I think helped more than anything else). I'd try it again, and I'd look into the cupping thing too. I think there are many benefits to Eastern Medicine, as they said when I got the presentation during a tour group in China, it's been around for nearly 5,000 years so they've picked up a few things along the way. I wouldn't completely replace Western Medicine, but it never hurts to experiment with a few things. Just the benefits of Green Tea, Ginger Tea, and Rosemary Tea alone are pretty great and worth looking into.

    1. I had the electrical stimulation, too. It was interesting until she turned it up a little too high and I tensed up which then makes the electrical signal go through ALL the muscles. It was a little like getting tased in the calves. Other than that-- a good experience.

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    1. Thanks, Lana for sharing. Glad you found the post interesting.

  5. I’m glad that your muscle pain improved. While Western medicine isn’t sure yet as to how acupuncture works, several studies have shown that it has therapeutic benefits and is actually effective in treating pain. What’s more is that it has little side effects, so it can be a good alternative for patients who don’t want to take medications or, like you, want to avoid surgery. However, you should always consult your doctor first before undergoing acupuncture, and make sure that the practitioner really knows the procedure and is using sterilized needles.

    Anita Hines