Acupuncture: Sticking With It

About two months ago, I started regularly getting acupuncture treatments. My physical therapist suggested it to me. We’ve been working on a few chronic injuries – left elbow, wrist, and knee – that have improved, but aren’t at the level either of us would like.

It’s something I’ve wanted to try for a long time, but was unsure of how to start and where to find a practitioner. Lucky for me, the space my PT works out of also has a fantastic acupuncturist. Easy peasy.

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a practice from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that involves placing very thin needles at specific points in the body. In TCM, blockages in the flow of the body’s energy (“qi“) can cause illnesses. Placing needles at specific acupuncture points in the body can help restore the flow of energy throughout the body, healing and preventing illness.

In Western practice, of course, there are some variations. In my case, my acupuncturist focuses specifically on sports medicine, so some practices are a bit more like dry needling. Nevertheless, in a holistic modality like acupuncture, it’s hard to separate one from the other.

Does it hurt?

It can seem strange, asking someone to place needles in you – and leave them there. But it doesn’t hurt, not usually. Every now and then one of the needles will pinch, but otherwise, I hardly notice it. The needles are so thin, that it’s a relatively subtle sensation. Once they’re in, it’s rare for me to feel much at all except for a few that might be in particularly sensitive spots.

Since we also work on muscle tenseness in my sessions, my experience is a little bit different. For me, we specifically try to trigger twitches in the muscle to help break the pattern of, essentially, remaining in a permanently contracted state. That feels weird. It doesn’t hurt, but it isn’t pleasant either. It’s a little bit like when you stretch your feet funny and your foot cramps up. It’s a sensation that’s strong and that you don’t have control over, but it’s not painful.

Once the needles are in, they stay in for about fifteen minutes or so. During that time. my acupuncturist usually brings over a small heat lamp to keep me warm, leaves some calming music on, and heads out for another patient. I usually try to focus on breathing during that time, but usually I end up just lightly napping.

The effects

Once the needles come out, I feel a little bit of muscle soreness for the next day or so. In particular, the areas where we’re working on muscle tightness and related injuries, I tend to feel the after effects pretty strongly. It’s a lot like DOMS after a hard workout.

It’s helped quite a lot with my muscle pain. For me, my muscles tend to get – and stay – really tight, no matter how much foam rolling or stretching I do. Being able to use the needles to trigger a muscle release has helped me considerably, especially with the pain in my wrist and elbow, which comes from some extremely tight muscles (essentially anything related to hook gripping the barbell).

Outside of my physical health, I’ve noticed a huge shift in my mental and emotional health. I’ve specifically asked for us to work on stress in our sessions in the past, which usually involves placing needles in some additional places in the ears and feet. At the time, I don’t feel a difference. Afterwards, the biggest impact I’ve seen is in my sleep, which, of course, has improved my overall well-being remarkably.

In fact, I think lack of sleep has been one of my biggest inhibitors to proper recovery. (That, and the fact that I don’t slow down when I know I haven’t recovered well enough.) In the past, I typically got about 30-45 minutes of deep sleep per night. Since starting acupuncture, that’s changed to anywhere from 12-18% of my entire sleep (so about an hour to an hour and a half).

From that, I find I’ve been better able to handle the day and stay focused. It’s helped my mood, a lot. And it’s helped my diet in that I’m not constantly reaching towards food to help keep me awake.

***

There’s a whole lot more to acupuncture that my small experience. But in my two tiny months of practice, I’ve seen a huge shift in my health. Frankly, anything that helps me sleep is practically magic. (I’m just no good at it.)

Hopefully we can completely eradicate the pain in my injuries, whether directly from the acupuncture treatment or from actually being able to recover. It’s something that I look forward to every time I go. Now that I’ve been away for a few weeks, feel a huge difference when I do get my tune up.

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