Acupuncture is an ancient medical modality and in Eastern cultures it is normal to turn to acupuncture as a first choice of treating an ailment, but for most Westerners it is still relatively new. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine were introduced to North America in 1888 when Ing Hay immigrated to the U.S. in search of a new opportunity. Hay and his friend and colleague, Lung On, opened a Herb shop and became well known for taking the pulse to diagnose and treat patients. However, it wasn’t until the early 70’s when President Nixon returned from China that acupuncture began to gain traction, and several years later, the profession began to be legalized.
Despite being in existence for so long, acupuncture is still clouded in mystery and myths. I have put together some of the most common questions, and amusing myths (and misconceptions) that I have personally come across in my practice.
How is acupuncture taught and regulated? Don’t you have to go to China?
Acupuncture is now practiced in all of the U.S. states as well as all the Provinces of Canada. 98% of the States require that acupuncturists be registered with their National Certification Board (NCCAOM). In Canada, five of our Provinces require registration and have their own Provincial registration boards: Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland. In each of these States and Provinces you are required to write a very long written exam covering all topics of Traditional Chinese Medicine, diagnosing, and treatments, as well as practical examinations demonstrating knowledge in safety and accuracy.
There are schools for Acupuncture and TCM all across Canada and the U.S. (there are three schools here in Calgary). Schooling for acupuncturists in most schools is 3 years and 4 years to become a Traditional Chinese Medicine Doctor. Through these years there is extensive studies in both Western and Eastern topics. Western studies include, but are not limited to: Anatomy, Physiology, Microbiology, Western Medical Terminology, Diagnosis, and Medicines, Imaging, and Nutrition. The Eastern studies include, but are not limited to: Fundamentals and History of TCM, Herbology, Acupuncture, Diagnosis, Pulse, Tongue, and hundreds of clinical hours (between 900 – 1500 hours depending on the school/program).
Many Acupuncture schools are affiliated with schools in China and offer credits for those students that wish to study abroad for some of their training. This is a wonderful opportunity, but not required in order to become a registered acupuncturist.
It’s a placebo (it doesn’t do anything)
Let’s start with the meat of the myths – it’s a placebo. There have been thousands of studies over the years to try to prove and disprove this theory. From these studies there are those people that believe in acupuncture, and then there are the skeptics. I love the believers, but it’s so fun to treat a skeptic because they are the ones that eventually turn into the biggest proponents of acupuncture and TCM afterwards!
My advice is to ask around and read testimonials. More than likely you have at least one friend or family member that has visited an acupuncturist before, so ask them about their experience. Visit your acupuncturists’ website or social media page and read their testimonials. Some of the best sources of research are from the people you know and trust that have already had the pleasure of working with a registered acupuncturist.
When we think of acupuncture, we think of needles, and then cringe because most North American people reference needles to drawing blood or getting a flu shot, which can be uncomfortable. Acupuncture needles are a fraction of the size of a hypodermic needle and most often are not felt at all upon insertion. That being said, there are some areas on the body that are a tiny bit more sensitive than others so you may feel a slight pinch for a moment (I like to refer to those as the spicy spots), but that sensation goes away quickly and is either replaced with no feeling at all or you could feel a dull ache around the point. This is a good strong Qi sensation and is nothing to worry about.
Acupuncture made me Bleed, It Must be Bad.
It’s true; some of the spots where the acupuncture needles are placed will bleed. This doesn’t happen all the time and shouldn’t be considered bad or harmful. In general, practitioners try to avoid veins and capillaries but because every person has a vast web of them all over their bodies, it is sometimes unavoidable.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine we hear about clearing heat and releasing toxins from the body; a very quick and safe way to do this is through bleeding. Some practitioners will bleed certain spots on the body to bring down a high fever quickly, relieve spasms, or release toxins that may be poisoning the body.
I won’t be able to take my meds if I do acupuncture.
Acupuncture works well as an adjunct treatment with Western Medicine and Western Medication. Be sure to disclose with your practitioner the different medications that you are taking and conditions that you are experiencing, as there are precautions that must be taken in some cases.
Why would I need it, I don’t have any pain?
Although the World Health Organization lists many pain symptoms that acupuncture treats with great success, these are just the tip of the iceberg! One of the reasons I became so interested in acupuncture treatments many years ago was that they have a way of diagnosing and treating anything! If you don’t have pain, maybe you experience high stress, insomnia, menstrual irregularity, digestive issues, high blood pressure, weight loss or gain, or anything in between; acupuncture is the bees’ knees for treating and regulating all of these.
My favorite reason to get acupuncture is to maintain my wellness routine; so maybe you don’t necessarily feel out of balance in any way, but you want to keep it like that!
I got an acupuncture treatment once and it didn’t help.
Acupuncture is accumulative, so the more acupuncture treatments you get, the more it builds up in your system and the better you feel. If you think about an issue that you might consider going to see an acupuncturist for treatment of, that problem didn’t just occur in the blink of an eye. (In all fairness, some things do occur that quickly, but all the more reason to come to acupuncture right after – to nip it in the bud.) Most times people come in with “a hip that’s been giving me grief for years” or “my digestion has always been all over the map”, so if it didn’t start overnight, it likely won’t be fixed in one treatment.
Some things that you will be able to feel after your first treatment though: relief from your chief concern (no matter how large or small of an increment), a sense of ease and peace, a more sound sleep that night, and an increase of energy. Not bad for just one treatment.
This made my list because I honestly get asked this all the time. It is an interesting one because although acupuncture is nothing like voodoo, there is a fairly significant similarity – both modalities’ primary goal is to heal.
The differences are a great many, for example, acupuncture treatments put needles into humans (or animals), while voodoo puts pins in dolls. We are called acupuncturists or Traditional Chinese Medicine doctors, and they are called priests or priestesses. In voodoo they deal with spirits, while in acupuncture we deal with Yin and Yang, and Qi.
Where is the Death Point/Paralysis Point?
Again, this question comes up all the time with new clients and people that have seen a lot of Kung Fu movies. Although Jet Li portrays a very skilled Kung Fu Acupuncturist in Kiss of the Dragon, there is no such style and no such points to be concerned with.
However, there is a reason that acupuncturists go to school for so many years; you must have extensive knowledge of the body, and where and when to use the acupuncture points. Some points must never be used in certain situations and care is always taken in selecting the proper combination of acupuncture points for each case.
Is there a Poop Your Pants Point?
I thought my husband was the only one that ever was concerned with this point until the other day when a lady asked me if there was a “poop your pants point”. The answer is no. There are lots of combinations of points that help digestion and can help to bring on a poop if you’ve been constipated. Abdominal cupping is another very effective way of gently moving along a sluggish bowel movement. So there is no need to worry about bringing a change of pants to your next acupuncture treatment.
Now that you know acupuncture is a trusted and regulated modality for treating a very wide range of issues, that it won’t interfere with your meds, and won’t make you poop your pants, you are safe to book in with your favorite acupuncturist today and feel relieved that you have such an amazing tool in your wellness toolbox.