Posted by: corneliadavies | December 28, 2015

Do I have to do anything to “help” acupuncture treatment work?

blog lifestyle changes


Q. If I have acupuncture do I have to do anything different in my life?

A. No, you don’t have to do anything, except show up in relaxed, comfortable clothes. You don’t even have to believe in acupuncture, because it works on a physiological level, via microscopic neural pathways that send messages to your brain. Your brain, in turn, sends messages to your body in order to kick off positive chemical, and often anti-inflammatory reactions. This means that by just lying on a treatment couch and having tiny needles inserted your health should begin to improve.

Q. That sounds great, but are there things I could do to help treatment work even better?

A. Yes, there are, but first let me explain how we get to that self-help place. When I work I consider myself to be part of a team with each patient.

Many people come to acupuncture seriously unwell, and pretty desperate to be “fixed”. In that case, I would simply ask quite a few questions, examine the tongue and pulses, and start treatment.

Frequently, acupuncture “newbies” are not just unwell, but also unfit and quite possibly eating inadvisably, too. However, at that beginning stage I actually prefer not to ask them to adjust exercise or diet. For the first few treatments I want to see what differences acupuncture, alone, makes.

However, once someone’s firmly on the road to better health we might decide it’s time to make some lifestyle changes. Those changes will be discussed by them and me in partnership. I will never “make” someone make changes: they need to want to be part of that process.

When that time comes we’ll discuss their needs, and work out, together, what their initial goals might be. This means that no one feels bullied or coerced.

For instance, some people who are overweight or unfit may decide to stay that way, rather than make changes, particularly if they are unwell enough that they’re struggling to get through the day as it is. This will become clear when we’ve had one or two discussions about eating habits or exercise. They may say, “Acupuncture is helping me to feel better as time goes on, but I really don’t think I can cope with doing stretching exercises as well as everything else.” If that’s really how they feel I’ll respect that, though I may revisit the question a few weeks later, to see whether things have changed. Sometimes they have, sometimes not.

Other people are (sometimes surprisingly) ready to make changes after a few weeks of acupuncture treatment. This is because as acupuncture has been “rewiring” them they feel fitter and more able to tackle lifestyle changes that previously felt out of reach.

In that case it might be time to talk to them about their diet and how it might be adjusted to suit their body type. Chinese medicine is clear that slightly different types of food suit and nourish different people. Some people are fine with wheat: others aren’t. Some people can cope with and even benefit from eating a lot of salads, even in a cold, damp climate: most can’t, but women’s magazines have been very unhelpful on that one! There are all sorts of dietary issues we can discuss, individually.

Exercise needs to be addressed personally, too. When a tired person with depleted energy tells me that they’ve started training for a marathon my heart sinks. But if they tell me they’ve stated yoga, tai chi, walking or swimming I’ll ask them some questions to see how their chosen exercise is suiting them. For some people the marathon option might be perfect, but it’s important to understand that different sorts of bodies, in different stages of health need different levels and types of exercise. Sometimes I’ll teach people suitable stretches for their needs. Sometimes I’ll recommend them to an expert in a certain field, or to the local gym.

For some people the issue might be around drinking too much, or smoking. Once again, I don’t ask people to change this at the start of treatment. After all, if someone could easily change a smoking or drinking habit they’d have succeeded already, wouldn’t they? They need to be feeling a bit healthier first.

But when someone who is drinking, say, a bottle of wine a day feels that now is the time to address it we address it. If someone flags smoking as an issue at the first consultation it might be several weeks into treatment that I start using acupuncture points known to help with kicking an addiction. This is because once I start using those points I want the person’s co-operation to gain extra benefit. Sometimes people simply aren’t well enough to make those sorts of changes immediately, and they need treatment on other levels first. I’m not there to “make” people do stuff. I’m there to help support them in their decisions, using acupuncture points that have been shown, over centuries, to help change chemical messaging in the brain.

For some people lifestyle changes might include the introduction of meditation or relaxation techniques. Some might start taking supplements. Others might take up a new hobby. Some of this will happen spontaneously, i.e. the person will come in and say, “I’ve been to a mindfulness day,” or “I’ve joined a life drawing class. I’ve wanted to do that for years, but now I finally feel ready to do it”. Other times I will feel it’s time to ask questions, and maybe suggest something new.

Once we’ve progressed to this self-help phase, part of my consultation will include questions about how someone is getting on with whatever it is that they’re working on. Are they happy with their diet or exercise? Are they following up? Have they given up? (In which case we need to work out why and revisit/adjust what it is they need to be doing.)

This means that some people will get the “How much coffee are you drinking?” question, or “What time are you managing to get to bed?” Or “How’s your exercise going?”

If the answer is something like, “Mumble, mumble” we need to talk! Bullying a patient to do something is not an option. Walking beside someone and encouraging them with one’s words as well as carefully-chosen acupuncture points most definitely is an option and a jolly good idea.

In acupuncture every single patient is an individual, so everyone has a personally worked out treatment “package”. This might be just those clever acupuncture points, or it might be acupuncture points along with some good work from the patient him/herself.

Whichever is right for you, your acupuncturist will support you in that choice.

© Cornelia Davies December 2015



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