Frequently Asked Questions
Does acupuncture hurt?
The majority of points that I needle do not cause any pain. There are, however, certain point locations that are momentarily “spicy,” as I like to call them. They produce a sensation that might not be comfortable but is very short-lived. There are also clinical reasons why a needle might need to be manipulated to induce a sensation. Once again, while this can be momentarily uncomfortable, it is a gentle process and the patient is always in control of whether or not needle manipulation takes place at all, and if it does, when it ends.
Is your PhD in Chinese Medicine?
My PhD is in medical anthropology, which is a blend of biological and cultural anthropology. For my doctoral work I studied the transgenerational epigenetic inheritance of extreme stress in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where I lived on and off for six years during the Congo Wars. In my last year of study, I worked out of a genetic anthropology lab, where I teamed with other scientists. We measured epigenetic changes in maternal and umbilical (proxy for fetal) blood, as well as placental tissue. We did find epigenetic changes associated with exposure to extreme stress. Until today, I continue to consult on research in the DRC.
My mom / My doctor / My friend / Sites on the internet / I think(s) that acupuncture very well might be a pseudoscience. And if it actually does work, my mom / my doctor / my friend / sites on the internet / I think(s) it has to be because of the placebo effect. Are you aware of the skepticism surrounding acupuncture?
My very favorite question! Why is this my favorite question, you ask? Because I myself was an acupuncture skeptic way back when. Anyone who lives in a society where there is one dominant medical paradigm ought to question an alternative model, I take that as a good sign. If we agree that a “pseudoscience” is a practice that is mistakenly regarded as being based on the scientific method, well then no, acupuncture isn’t a pseudoscience at all. There are tons of high quality studies on acupuncture published in peer reviewed journals all the time. The reviewers of the journals are often western-trained medical doctors. In fact, western-trained medical doctors themselves do a lot of research on acupuncture! In clinical practice, most acupuncturists rely on data, either anecdotal data accrued during 2,000 years of global acupuncture practice, or on empirical data that is tested rigorously in an experimental setting.
Now onto the placebo question. First, I’ll say there is a tremendous amount of data on the efficacy of acupuncture on horses and dogs, so we know acupuncture doesn’t work solely off of a placebo effect. Because acupuncture needles do not have medicine on or in them, it is really easy to question how in the world they actually work. We think of medical treatment as introducing something new into the body, like a pill or a stent. So it’s natural to wonder why a filiform needle inserted subcutaneously would have any effect at all. What we know from laboratory science is that acupuncture needles trigger the body itself to create its own medicine. There are studies showing that acupuncture increases a key anti-inflammatory enzyme (Kwong et al. 2009), decreases stress hormones and blocks the impact of stress on the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis and sympathetic nervous system (Eshkevari et al. 2015), increases the degranulation of mast cells, impacting analgesia, body temperature regulation, nerve activity and endocrine function (Zhang et al. 2008), and stem cell production (Salazar et al. 2017) as well producing other physical changes. Other direct molecular effects hypothesized include the purinergic signaling hypothesis (Burnstock 2009), suggesting that ATP is released from keratinocytes during acupuncture, which then activate ion channel receptors on sensory nerves in the skin, sending messages to the brain stem and hypothalamus, areas of the brain that regulate systems throughout the body, including pain, inflammation, and sleep. Another hypothesis is that electric stimulation of an acupuncture point located near a major nerve plexus inhibits cytokine production, and thus reduces inflammation (Torres-Rosas et al. 2014). These are actually just a few references to what is happening at the molecular level when an acupuncture needle is inserted into the body. If you would like to learn more, please message me! There’s no need to hide your skepticism—my first acupuncturist still remembers that I didn’t hide mine from her!
I don’t see a list of conditions that you treat. Do you have one?
While I am happy to provide you with anonymous details of clinical cases I’ve successfully treated, I don’t publish a list of conditions that I treat. Even though the simplicity of a list is appealing, I don’t provide one because I don’t think a list will give you the information you need. In my clinical experience, I can say that there are many variables that affect the healing process. Because of that, it is my preference to speak with you in a very individualized way about what treatment would look like for you, instead of simply indicating that I treat condition X, from which you are suffering.
I am new to acupuncture and I’m scared! What do you say to fearful patients?
Well, you should know that long before I studied acupuncture I too was a fearful new patient! If a patient is new to acupuncture, there are many steps I take to ensure his or her comfort. During your first appointment, I will show you an acupuncture needle and you’ll get to see just how thin it is. I will needle myself in front of you if you would like to see a demonstration. We won’t use very many needles at first, and if you still have fear after learning more, we can start treatment on a very safe space—your back. I will also work with you to practice breathing methods that help alleviate the symptoms of your fear. In other words, trust me on this, you will be OK!