Acupuncture: Your Family’s Medicine

The history of Chinese medicine is long, rich in scholarly books and ever-evolving. Herbal therapy, acupuncture and Chinese nutritional and lifestyle advice work on the premise that the health of the mind and health of the body are connected.

Though Chinese medicine is rooted in a centuries’ old tradition, research continues to explore the most effective methods of treatment.

People who have never sought out Chinese medical treatment may be reluctant to start because they don’t know what to expect or they may be turned off by the idea of needles. Acupuncture needles are nothing like hypodermic needles. Needles are as thick as a human hair and their insertion is often not felt at all. The sensations felt on a needled point should be warmth, soft pressure or even a swirling feeling.

The talk of ‘Qi’ (pronounced ‘chi’) around Chinese medicine is another thing that can make people uneasy. While acupuncture is proven to work in double blind studies, explaining exactly how it works is difficult. The ancient metaphor of Qi flowing through our bodies enlivening our tissues and spirit sounds esoteric to most westerners.

When the body and mind are quiet we become sensitive to subtle sensation. In this state, one can learn how to ‘feel Qi’. Many acupuncturists practice QiGong to cultivate this ability. The physical perceptions when feeling Qi are electrical in nature and often are accompanied by warmth. It is similar to the tingle you feel on your fingers when you put your hand next to a statically-charged balloon.  Our bodies are swimming with electrical messages and temperature variations. Feeling them and gathering information from them is an art!

It is easier to grasp the gist of Chinese medicine if you first consider how the patient is initially observed.

If a Chinese medical doctor and a Western medical doctor both examine an apple, they will gather two very different sets of information.

The Western view will observe that the apple weighs 100 grams, the sugar content is 10 grams, and it contains 0.26 grams of protein.  A Chinese examination of the same apple will observe that the apple’s skin has a waxy feel and appearance, the flesh feels firm under the hand, the taste is sweet and a little sour, and it makes a cracking sound when bitten into.

The Western medical view is precise and numerical, reflecting the tools used to examine the subject. The Chinese medical view is reflective of the human experience.

An acupuncturist observes a patient in many ways. They will look at a patient’s tongue and feel the characteristics of a patient’s pulse in at least 3 positions on each wrist. The acupuncturist may notice a certain scent about the patient or sound of a patient’s voice that is diagnostic.  The color of the white of the eye, tones of the skin and the quality of the hair, nails and teeth may be noted.

Questions will be asked about sleep, bowel movements, locations of discomfort in the body, thirst, appetite, phlegm, sweating, body temperature experienced, reproductive health, quality of vision, hearing and of course history of illness. A Chinese medical practitioner uses these diagnostic tools to determine a person’s picture of health outside what may be clinically measurable to a Western medical professional.

Feelings of anxiety and digestive pain can be seen as one condition and treated accordingly.  Insomnia, palpitations and flashback to wartime events may be addressed in acupuncture treatments using only three needles.  Low back pain, impotence and thinning hair can be treated using topical techniques, needles and herbs.

A child’s psoriasis, a baby’s thrush, a pregnant woman’s failure to go into labor and a couple’s failure to conceive can all be effectively addressed in context. For each situation, the treatment takes into account many experiential details.

Chinese medicine and Western medicine make effective partners. These systems can even observe each other’s results. An acupuncturist can see that an antibiotic cleared an infection based on observation and the patient’s spoken experience. A western MD can see that a hypothyroid patient’s thyroid hormones have returned to normal after Chinese medical treatments.

Chinese medicine provides elegant ways to treat and prevent pain and disease without side effects or opiates. It makes an excellent addition to your family’s healthcare repertoire and works beautifully in conjunction with Western medical treatment.

To you and your family, I wish the best in health and a happy fall!

Kate Haber is an Oregon Medical Board certified acupuncturist, the owner of Laurelhurst Family Clinic. She be reached at laurelhurstfamilyclinic.com.