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February, 2012

Acu... What!?

by Larry

Acupuncture. If I do not understand how it works, it must be fake or quackery, right? I do not "get" electricity either. Yet I let it light my house and power my computer. Should I boycott its practical applications since I cannot figure out what a charge is, why it builds up, or how it flows in certain ways?

Acupuncture, evidently founded in ancient China, has been around for 2000 years or more and involves the placing of tiny needles at specific places on the body to achieve certain ends for one's health. The analogy to electricity is apt since the hypothesis behind acupuncture's efficacy includes that our bodies have energy currents which can become partially or fully blocked, leading to illness. The blockages are said to be released through the stimuli of an acupuncturist's needles. These are just my interpretations of acupuncture, though, and may not be a sufficient explanation of what acupuncture is really all about.

Nonetheless, in many cases it does work, sometimes even when our regular healthcare does not. I was myself quite skeptical of this oriental type of healing practice. However, a few years ago I developed a problem with my right thumb and wrist severe enough that I became unable to use that arm for a number of common activities. Months of physical therapy, combined with a thumb and wrist splint plus home exercises, had helped some but only modestly. My level of improvement seemed to have reached a plateau. It appeared nothing more could be done to heal the condition by conservative means. I began using steroids from my orthopedist. At best they provided temporary relief. She recommended surgery.

At this point, a friend suggested acupuncture. The practitioner was in fact an orthopedic physician in his own right, but his credentials were achieved in China and have not been accepted in this country, so he teaches and practices acupuncture here instead.

I went to him and had a consultation. He asked what had been done already by the orthopedist I was seeing. On the next visit, he looked at the x-ray report, examined me, and gave me an initial acupuncture treatment. To my surprise, the needles hardly hurt at all when inserted but would seem to catalyze a mild pain, hard to describe, as if there were a resistance, when at the correct position.

I was left in semi-darkness for about half an hour and got so relaxed that I briefly fell asleep. The acupuncture doctor examined me a few moments once the needles had been removed and diagnosed a small cyst or tumor at the base of my thumb. He showed me by touch exactly where it was, and I could then feel it myself. This was of concern, of course, but it was also a little disturbing that it had not yet been noted by my regular orthopedist.

In my next visit with my own physician I pointed out the abnormality. She acknowledged it but did not take it seriously, saying again that she thought all could be quickly resolved surgically. Yet I prefer not to have unnecessary procedures and so continued to go to the acupuncturist a couple times a week at first, then later once a week.

In only about a month of such care, my strength had returned in the thumb and wrist, the cyst was barely noticeable, and I was no longer hyper-sensitive to pain or pressure around the hand and forearm. When I returned to my physical therapist for our next session after this, she was amazed at the progress and thought I did not need to keep seeing her.

I went a few days later to my orthopedist. She checked me out and said there had been some kind of "miracle," that I was essentially healed. I explained about the results apparently being from my acupuncture treatments. She agreed that had to be it. She related to me an incident with another patient she had seen two or three years previously, whom she said had also gotten what seemed to be a "miracle cure," in this case after having gone to an acupuncturist who was actually an orthopedist from China, but whose credentials were not accepted in this country. I said this must also be my acupuncturist. She had pronounced his name differently, but the spelling turned out to be the same, Dr. Ziyang Zhou.

I now do a few wrist exercises from time to time and take a little ginger with tea or coffee, but have had no further serious problems from that thumb and wrist. I do not say acupuncture is for everyone or will cure everything western medicine can. However, as a complement to the kind of traditional care we are more used to in this country, it is from my experience certainly worth considering and might just do one a great deal of good.

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