As soon as I say, "I'm studying
acupuncture," their eyes light up. Everyone likes the idea of
acupuncture. It sounds exotic, ancient, and trendy all at the same
time. What could be better? Yes, the interest is there, but so,
undoubtedly, is the follow-up question, "What can acupuncture help
Gee, let me think. My first instinct, based on clinical and
personal experience, is to excitedly shout "EVERYTHING" in
someone's face. We all know that's not helpful, not specific, and
usually not socially acceptable. Instead, I try to reign myself in
and itemize a few conditions that might be of concern to the
individual in question. My answer then comes out sounding like,
"Oh, several things...trouble with sleep, irritability, irregular
periods, pain, you know...basically everything." I just can't
resist throwing that all-inclusive ending on there.
Maybe I'm not way out of line in doing
so. In ancient China, obviously Chinese medicine was the entire
medical system, including preventive care, acute care, chronic
care, you name it. Your acupuncturist could needle your face, moxa
your feet, gua sha your shoulders, tui na your back, and even
perform certain surgeries. Back then, "What does acupuncture treat"
would have definitely received my favorite answer, "EVERYTHING!"
Although, that's probably too rude and aggressive for ancient
China. They probably would have responded with something much more
humble, and then surprised the pants off you with their amazingly
effective acupuncture treatment.
Let's look for a compromise. In America
today, you can't just walk around saying that something that's not
a drug can treat, prevent, or cure a disease. You can't say it. So,
what can we say? In these delicate cases, I defer to the World
Health Organization, which lists conditions that acupuncture has
proven to be an effective treatment through controlled trials.
Although the list we all seem to use is incredibly old -- from 1996
-- we continue to see additional conditions helped by acupuncture
in individual studies such as those found via www.pubmed.gov.
Here's our old starting list:
Plus, for our reading pleasure, the World Health Organization
also gives us some hopeful additional categories. They list over 60
additional conditions and diseases that acupuncture has been
demonstrated to be effective for, but for which additional research
is needed. There are about 15 other conditions for which
acupuncture has been shown effective for in individual cases, or
for which conventional treatment is difficult or ineffective.
So, next time someone asks
me what acupuncture can help them with, I'm going to give in and
shout, "EVERYTHING," at them. After all, odds are I'd be right.
Does it treat this? Check. Does it treat that? CHECK!
If you don't pray, put them together anyway. In the
age of anything goes, I've taken to the lazy practice of praying
silently in my head while lying in bed at night. I don't know where
my hands are exactly, but they sure aren't folded nicely in front
of my chest like the iconic prayer image of the olden days.
Who cares? Why bother pressing your hands together and holding
them in that fairly awkward position that drove me nuts as a
Catholic school kid? I'll be the first to admit that I let my
fingers fall and intertwine into the sloppy prayer paws pose as
soon as the priest looked the other direction.
Now I realize I was screwing myself out of some real benefits.
Sure, God was probably disappointed in my faulty direction
following, but I'm not focusing on the spiritual deficit here. I'm
focusing on the physical and even the psychological benefits I --
and many other lazy prayers -- had been missing out on all my young
This whole conversation hinges on one
important point -- an acupuncture point -- called Pericardium 6, or
"PC6" as we call it, because again we're all too lazy to stick to
the formalities in life. What does PC6 have to do with prayer paws
(as my kids call them)? This now famous spot, two inches proximal
to the inner wrist crease, has been dubbed the most researched
acupoints of the modern day. You know those "anti-nausea"
motion-sickness type bracelet bands, with the ball that presses
into the inner wrist? That thing's stimulating good ole PC6.
Why is PC6 such a beneficial acupoint? Our trusty
guide to acupuncture points and meridians and their energetic
functions is a beefy, rust-colored book usually referred to by its
author's last name, "Deadman." What does Deadman say about PC6? Oh,
nothing too exciting. Just that it treats all diseases of the
chest, particularly the heart, but also benefits the lungs, too. It
can be used for heart surgery analgesia. What? Yes! No anesthesia
necessary...just squeeze PC6 for me while I go under the knife!
In TCM terms, PC6 "unbinds the chest and regulates
qi," "regulates the heart and calms the spirit," "harmonizes the
stomach to relieve nausea," and "clears heat." It's indicated in
conditions such as heart pain, palpitations, cough, asthma,
insomnia, anxiety, abdominal masses, fevers, malaria, irregular
menstruation, and swellings in the armpits. Nothing important
there, right? Not! PC6 does just about everything you could want an
acupoint to do.
During a recent advanced seminar class with Dr. Robin Fan, we
discussed the benefit of stretching the Kidney meridian in cases of
heel pain. Suddenly, all I could picture was the traditional prayer
pose--hands out front, pressed gently together, stretching and
stimulating the bulk of the Pericardium meridian!
It makes sense. What is the function of prayer if
not to calm the mind and spirit? It's not just Catholics and other
Christians who have always used this prayer pose, either. As my
mind wandered -- sorry, Dr. Fan -- around the globe, I saw the
Chinese practicing qi gong poses, the Indians practicing
yoga poses, etc. Every tradition I could think of involved some use
of this position.
In anthropology, when we see similar customs or values amongst a
variety of cultural groups around the world, we call those core
elements "cultural universals." In other words, everybody's doing
it. Why? The answer is one that, despite my need to create an
evidence-based practice, I've always secretly promulgated;
sometimes, you don't need to sit around waiting for a formal
research study to prove a truth. It's lovely that western medicine
has put together some studies that do show the efficacy of PC6 in
some conditions, but I'm not waiting for them to prove the rest.
I'm going with Deadman and the ancient world traditions on this
Pray on, prayers!
With at least two distinct "appreciation" events in the next two
weeks, Acupuncture and oriental medicine seems to be powering its
way into the integrative healthcare arena. Currently at NUHS, an
acupuncture awareness campaign is giving AOM students, faculty,
clinicians, and interns of all kinds of an excuse to sport an
unmistakably fashionable bow tie. That's right, in addition to the
pristine business professional wear and white coats, always part of
our clinic attire, you can also catch us pinning on a snazzy white
and black yin-yang bow tie from now through November 1st. It goes
If gawking at odd bow ties isn't enough to grab your attention
and get you thinking more about acupuncture and oriental medicine,
then how about some free treatment? That's right. From October 27th
to November 1st, all new patients to the NUHS AOM Clinic can
receive a free treatment. This is a great opportunity for anyone
who's been considering giving acupuncture a try, but hasn't been
willing to shell out the usual $25. Just make sure to schedule
ahead of time -- free generally means "busy" around the clinic!
Why do we need to raise awareness about acupuncture (and all of
oriental medicine)? In a 2014 National Health Interview Survey
report, researchers revealed that 14 million Americans have tried
acupuncture. That sounds like a lot, but it's really not. That's
only 6% of Americans! What's holding back the other 94% of the
American population? My guess is needle phobia. Who wants to be
poked and pricked? Not even I like needles, and I use them every
Neporent, Liz "A Close-Up Look at Acupuncture for
ABCNews.go.com. ABC News. April 22 2014. Web. April 25
Thankfully, needlephobes like myself are not holding back the
growth of acupuncture in the United States today. Lately we've been
finding needles everywhere. The military is hiring acupuncturists,
veterans' clinics are treating PTSD, and pain management and cancer
treatment centers are flooded with requests for acupuncture
services. Even research studies, in English, showing the efficacy
and safety of acupuncture are appearing at a rapid clip. It seems
like the west is doing a good job proving the east already knew
what it was doing. Acupuncture can treat just about everything.
Ladies and gentlemen, the people have spoken. They want to be
To find out more about these awareness events at NUHS, and to
keep up with the happenings of our program on campus, check out the
NUHS AOM Club Facebook page.
With the start of a new trimester here at NUHS, and -- for many
-- the start of a new school year, it's the perfect time to break
it down. Just what is Traditional Chinese Medicine? How does
acupuncture fit into the picture? Do you have to use herbs, too?
What about tui na, qi gong, and tai chi?
Let's not forget about my personal favorite -- dietary therapy!
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has arguably five branches,
and I'm going to give it to you as I understand it. After two full
years in the Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Program, a first
professional master of science degree program, I think I'm finally
scratching the surface of what the ancient Chinese had to
This is the big guy, right? Acupuncture is the most
well-known branch of TCM today in the U.S., involving the insertion
of needles into specific points on the body. While some other
fields offer an abbreviated, "stick it where it hurts" method, we
TCM acupuncturists take the entire body, its functional organ
systems, and each person's general constitution into consideration
when deciding where to stick the needles. I know it's confusing
when you say your back hurts and I put needles in your legs, ears,
and hands, but just trust me. It's all connected through energy
meridians. This is also why we ask you about your poop when you
come in for knee pain.
Yes, it smells just like marijuana, but
it's actually a different herb called ai ye in Chinese
pinyin, artemesia argyi in Latin, or Mugwort in plain old
English. It does come in a tightly rolled stick form, we do light
the end, but instead of smoking it we hold it near an acupoint on
the body. After a few minutes of pecking the moxa stick close
enough to provide penetrating heat but never burning you -- I
promise -- you will reap the benefits of not only pain relief but
tonification of certain organ systems and the freecoursing of
energy through particular meridians. It feels great, but you will
have to explain to people for the rest of the day why you smell
Like many medical systems, from western
naturopathy to Indian Ayurveda, TCM has a unique Materia
Medica, or giant book of herbs, their properties, and their
medicinal uses. While you don't have to "do herbs," most students
at NUHS work towards the full MS of Oriental Medicine (which
includes the herbal coursework in addition to the acupuncture
work). Interesting fact: not all "Chinese herbs" are plant-derived.
Many are actually minerals, such as salt or arsenic, or
animal-derived, such as deer penis or flying squirrel feces. Just
seeing if you're paying attention (but yes, those are really all in
the Materia Medica).
dietary therapy, or food therapy, into the same branch as herbal
therapy above. Because I love the application of common foods and
nutritional principles so much, I'm awarding it half status as its
own category. Some items that we'd call "food," such as garlic or
onions, are also included in the Materia Medica as medicinal herbs.
They're working together -- that's the point. Who doesn't love the
ancient Greek saying, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy
food?" Thanks, Hippocrates, thy father of western medicine. The
Chinese happen to agree!
Can you pronounce it? Try this: twee nah.
Good job. This is most easily compared to the practice of massage.
Often called "Asian Body Work," these pushing and pulling movements
applied by the TCM provider to the patient's body accomplishes many
of the goals of general massage, such as relaxation and improved
circulation of blood and energy.
also where we are going to mention the practice ofcupping. Stick a
fire into a glass cup to create a vacuum that pulls toxins out of
the blood and releases the exterior in a "wind-cold invasion" and
you have a happy patient. In my admittedly limited clinical
experience, everyone loves cupping, but mind your manners. The
clinic is not an a la carte menu for your pleasure. Let the intern
and the clinician decide which modalities are best for your
condition each day.
Another new phrase for the day. Practice: chee
gong. Not so bad, is it? Qi gong offers the
practitioner a chance to step back, relax, and renew his or her own
energy and well being. Maybe you've seen images of elderly Chinese
individuals at the park, wondering why they are punching the air in
slow motion. That was a group of people cultivating their
qi. As Dr. Yurasek tells us interns, "You can't
give it if you don't have it!" Thus, practice your qi gong
postures and movements before you head in for your clinic
So, there it is--most of Traditional Chinese Medicine. We could
also tie in tai chi or talk about gua sha, but I
have to save something for next time! If you haven't tried TCM, now
is a great time. Interns are fresh off a nice two-week break, white
lab coats are pristine, and everybody's anxious to try out their
skills. See you in
I get this question all of the time: "Do you acupuncture
Yes, kind of, not really, I don't know what I'm supposed to say
exactly. Do I put needles in people? Yes, of course. Should I?
Well, that's where you've got me. Technically, I'm not a licensed
acupuncturist yet, so I take that to mean that I can't
charge people for acupuncture yet. Is it safe for me to
needle people? Well, I do have my Clean Needle Technique
certificate filed away somewhere....
Do I know what I'm doing?
Can I help someone feel better? I don't want to be a pretentious
jerk and assume the answers are "yes" here, but over the past year
I've certainly had some good feedback. As a sometimes full-time and
sometimes part-time student in the acupuncture program, I'm
somewhere around Tri 5. I've completed a large chunk of the
coursework, the whole observation phase in the clinic, and now I'm
actively practicing on everyone who schedules an appointment with
me in the AOM clinic on campus.
For the next year, I'll continue along in this internship,
enjoying the opportunity to test out treatment strategies, hone my
diagnosis skills, and figure out if "patient consents to treatment"
actually belongs in the "A" or the "P" portion of the SOAP note.
I'll do intakes; I'll form diagnostic impressions; I'll pow-wow
with Dr. Cai, Dr. Stretch, and any other clinician I can find. I'll
needle patients; I'll moxa their cold feet; and I'll do as much
moving cupping as my forearm strength permits. If you're really
special, I'll do tui na and I'll gua sha you
afterward. Want some herbs? Sure, we have raw, granules, or patent
pills. Right this way!
While the patient visits are the most important and most fun
parts of the clinic internship experience, the clinic lottery is
the part that causes the most anxiety among the interns. "Will I
get my same shifts next tri?" "Which clinician will I work under?"
"Which interns or observers will be on my shift?" All of these
panic-stricken questions and many more can be heard all over campus
right now -- the infamous Week 12 clinic sign-up and resulting
lottery has arrived!
interns get to sign up for their preferred shifts and locations for
clinic internships. We AOM students have the luxury of choosing the
on-campus Lombard Whole Health Center clinic or driving to Stroger
(Cook County Hospital) in Chicago for an off-site experience. My
45-minute commute is plenty, so I try to keep it simple and stick
to the main campus. There we all are, fluttering around the sign-up
sheet in the clinic lounge room, which is busting at the seams on a
regular day, elbowing the interns who are actually trying to sit
nicely and write SOAP notes that day.
If all goes well, there is a nice white empty slot shining and
waiting just for you on the day and time that you've decided would
be perfect for your upcoming trimester. In reality, someone else
probably agreed and already signed up for that one. In the end,
many interns are able to secure an acceptable shift and everyone
survives the sign-up week. Some lucky individuals end up in the
clinic lottery, where randomly drawn numbers allow devastated
interns to play a sort of game-show rendition of "This will be your
life next trimester."
In my two years at NUHS, we haven't lost anyone yet! The sign-up
process can be stressful for some, but by the time the next
trimester rolls around, we're all just excited to start treating
our patients and working with our clinicians to hone our skills. I
have one more year of this endearing learning process, and then
it's out into the real world for me (again). No more clinicians to
ask questions of, no more easily accessible chiropractors down the
hall to consult with on orthopedic issues (thanks, Dr. Anderson!),
and no more half-days of work! Maybe this whole clinic deal is
pretty great after all....
• So What Is Chinese Medicine?
• Jabbing Nerves with Needles
• Mission in Nicaragua
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