Treating more than physical pain with acupuncture

I get asked many times a day about the uses of acupuncture. The most common known use is for pain relief like from arthritis or migraines or body aches and pains perhaps from an injury. People usually do not know that acupuncture treats the person as a whole. So if someone is coming to see me for neck pain and they also have other things going on like stress, and poor sleep; their treatment will encompass healing for all of that.

Acupuncture is not like physical therapy or chiropractic therapy. People expect needles to go in, around, or near the pain. Some times that does happen. Many times it does not. Most people understand that pain may be disrupting their sleep and causing an increase in pain and yet are surprised when the treatment for pain resolves their sleeplessness and alleviates their stress.

Acupuncture is not treating the symptom. It is treating the person. Each treatment is specific to that person and what is happening in their life at that moment. It is a personal medicine. And each combination of acupuncturist and patient is different. A patient may be seeing an acupuncturist for several months with pleasing results and go to someone else when their usual practitioner is on vacation and find the treatment hits closer to bringing about healing or vice versa. The practitioner-patient relationship becomes more than what the patient may be used to with Western medicine practitioners. Often we are sounding boards for emotional issues. Those issues are tied to what the person is experiencing physically.

For me, my physical issues are tied to what I am experiencing emotionally. A piece of acupuncture theory is that we have three levels; the physical, the mental, and the spiritual; sometimes considered the body, mind, and the emotional life of the person. Each person acts from a certain “home base” level. Mine is emotional/spiritual. My emotional state is reflected in my physical state. I use acupuncture to help me balance all three levels and is most often aimed at imbalances on the emotional level. Which is why I often recommend acupuncture for depression.

This gets really strange looks. People understand pain and pain relief but often don’t understand why “pain” on an emotional level can be helped with acupuncture. Physical pain in the world of acupuncture is an imbalance or block in a meridian or number of meridians. Therefore on the emotional level; stress, fear, worry, and depression are imbalances or blocks still in a meridian or number of meridians in the emotional energy of the person. These are the same meridians. Each meridian has a physical, mental, and emotional function. Thus disruptions can happen on any and sometimes multiple levels.

One of the most common examples I use is of the physical problem of heart burn. My patient is often rubbing their chest and feeling a heaviness or pain in the area physically near their heart. Despite the physical heart not being involved, the reflux of acid through the esophagus came to be known as heart burn. Then the patient begins talking about worry regarding their partner, about an unpleasant incident and how they worry that it has damaged their relationship. They are experiencing pain in their emotional heart. Now this is meant as a colorful picture and not a specific incident. I want to show how there is overlap between the levels and how injury on one can manifest on others.

Symptoms often manifest on more than one level. Patients will often come in expressing interest in resolving a physical symptom and then begin telling me about their over thinking brain; how they can not turn it off and ask if acupuncture can help. Yes, acupuncture can help because it works on all levels of our being. It works on our bodies, our minds, and our spirits.