There was a recent TV equivalent of a blurb on NBC News promoting acupuncture as one of the many “new,” “alternative options” for alleviating back pain, and the frustration of hearing such late-to-the-party ignorance practically induced my own back pain in the process. Don’t get me wrong. All publicity is surely good publicity - especially good publicity. However I spent the wake of the media’s afterthought determining which word was more offensively stupid: “new” or “alternative.”
Over 2000 years ago Acupuncture was not considered “alternative medicine,” but simply part of (Chinese) medicine that could treat anything under the sun, as it is holistic medicine, which just means it heals by improving the body as opposed to targeting only said condition. This is part of the reason it makes me laugh (and cry) when people hear I do acupuncture and their affirmation is: “Oh, I hear that’s great for back pain.”
Ugh. “Sure, it is, but…” and depending on who I’m speaking to I become mindful of not spending too much time atop my soapbox. That’s what blogs are for.
We are not back pain specialists, with all due respect. We don’t go to school for 11 semesters and four years to learn how to insert a needle into the strained muscle or site of pain and exist as one of the many approaches to orthopedic discomfort. Such a takeaway would make my student loan debt the worst investment since Yankees’ pitcher, Carl Pavano.
On the other hand acupuncture is wonderful for back pain. The important question to ask is, how and why is it good for back pain? Is it because inserting the thinnest of needles into a site of pain can break up of our stagnation and accumulation and offer relief in the process?
Sure, some of the time it can act as a sister modality to deep tissue or medical massage, the latter of which being something all acupuncturists are educated in. But when properly practiced the reason acupuncture is able to offer pain relief is its ability to determine which are a patient’s more affected or vulnerable “organ channels” and then restore either strength, circulation or both by choosing the most indicated “points” on said channels to stimulate. It is the identical mechanism to how we treat digestive or gynecological issues, infertility, migraines, paralysis, the common cold and everything else.
From a Chinese Medical perspective four different people could have back pain for four different reasons. For one person it could be because their kidney channel (lying beneath the lower back) has weakened. For another it’s a more arthritic matter of fluid accumulation. Someone else may be a result of a lack of blood circulation, and finally and probably most often it is a combination of a subjective presence of all three. Determining how to treat each individual is worlds more complex than: Insert needle at location of discomfort.
This is just one of the many reasons why you should always see a Licensed acupuncturist, never a Certified acupuncturist. While the latter takes a 100-hour course on channels and trigger points that might offer some pain relief, Licensed Acupuncturists go to school for over 3000 hours to actually learn the infinite patterns of the medicinal perspective that acupuncture is one part of. Seeing a certified acupuncturist would be the approximate equivalent of getting your physical assessment and prescription given by a pharmacist, as opposed to an MD. Sexual partners aside, would you ever choose someone with 100 hours of experience over someone with 3000? I digress.
Society tends to assign contemporary values and connotations to things that have nothing to do with their original inception. We hear “holistic medicine” and assume the person promoting it must also be a raw food vegetarian with a yoga membership who goes to weekly astrology meetings draped in spiritual beads and a dashiki. And some of the time this might be the case (although Chinese Medicine actually condemns vegetarianism). But holistic medicine should also be given the opportunity to be received for what it is by itself: A paradigm of physiology that just happens to view the body as an interrelated system and treats accordingly. This is an important concept that is only just starting to be understood by the savviest of patients. And this is why it is good for back pain.
I am asked literally almost every day: “Can acupuncture cure _______?” Fill in the blank with any human symptom that NBC is yet to tell the world that acupuncture can help with.
Aside from most critical stages of Cancer, AIDS or innate disabilities, the answer is invariably yes. As long as you are a human being… scratch that, we do it on dogs and cats and other animals all the time too. As long as your condition exists within a living organism on planet Earth (can’t be sure how physiology manifests within aliens) acupuncture has the potential to greatly improve, if not fully cure it. This doesn’t mean there aren’t infinite variables within that assertion. Conditions of greater severity and duration are more difficult to address and may require more treatments, a more experienced practitioner and particular modifications in patient diet and lifestyle. However, the point is there is a very logic-induced optimism from holistic medicine that you can probably (eventually) be cured of whatever it is that ails you. Namaste.
I have a yoga membership.