As someone who's an acupuncturist, who runs a website about acupuncture and talks to other acupuncturists on a daily basis, it's easy to become convinced that everyone is an educated acupuncture junkie. But lately, I've been reminded that this is not the case.
In recent months, I've found myself having more frequent conversations with people who have never had acupuncture. It's been a great reminder of how foreign acupuncture -- the experience of getting a treatment as well as the underlying theory -- still is to the majority of Westerners.
Myths and misconceptions about acupuncture are rampant in a society whose medical culture is dominated by pharmaceuticals, surgeries, and other quick-fix interventions. In my recent encounters with the uninitiated, three themes come up again and again.
Here are the top three things that surprise people about acupuncture.
Acupuncture is not just for pain
Ask most people why other people get acupuncture and the majority will say pain. It's true that acupuncture can work wonders on pain conditions -- for everything from low back pain and shoulder pain to migraines and TMJ, acupuncture is on it.
However, acupuncture can alleviate a wide variety of ailments that have nothing to do with physical pain. Whether you have digestive issues, gynecological conditions, emotional concerns such as anxiety and depression, asthma, seasonal allergies, you name it, acupuncture can help address your symptoms.
Check out these 14 things you probably didn't realize acupuncture can help with.
Acupuncturists go to school for a long time
People tend to be unaware of the extent to which acupuncturists train to become licensed in their profession. Many assume becoming an acupuncturist is similar to becoming a massage therapist or Reiki practitioner or yoga instructor. Not so much.
At minimum, a licensed acupuncturist in the United States has been to three years of graduate school. Four years is more common. They hold master's degrees. Some acupuncturists with doctorates have studied at the graduate level for five-plus years. Upon graduating from an accredited school, all acupuncturists must pass multiple board exams to become licensed in their state.
In addition to the academic and state requirements for practicing acupuncture, many acupuncturists seek hands-on training and mentorship in the form of apprenticeships and continuing education seminars.
Acupuncture is relaxing
"So you lie still while someone sticks multiple needles into your body?"
"And this not only doesn't hurt but also relaxes you?"
Weird, I know. But true.
Acupuncture needles are surprisingly thin. They do not bear any resemblance to needles that are used for injections or to draw blood. (See one up close here.) In most cases, the insertion of acupuncture needles does not hurt. It can produce a variety of sensations, but frequent acupuncture goers will tell you it doesn't hurt.
Once the needles are in, they start working their magic, which is where the relaxation part comes in. Acupuncture helps shift your body out of sympathetic mode (fight or flight) and into parasympathetic mode (rest and digest). It mellows out the nervous system, decreases muscular tension, and helps quiet internal chatter.
People who get acupuncture on a regular basis are familiar with the term "acu-land," a magical place where many find themselves during and after acupuncture treatments. It's a state of blissful relaxation in which you feel lighter, calmer, and better equipped to manage stress. You ought to check it out some time.