Know something I really like? Needles. Teeny, tiny, finely applied needles pressed into all the most stressed out parts of my body. Now I’ve got that trying too hard to be punk rock intro out the way allow me to tell you about the great alternative medicinal love of my life, acupuncture.
The physical symptoms of stress can, as we all know, be total bastards. In my case they usually manifest themselves in the forms of migraines, insomnia and a long-running shoulder pain that at one point was so severe that the burning sensation would keep me awake at night. The rest of the time it was so tense that it felt rock hard and I couldn’t move it properly.
Also, around the same time I realised my shoulder might be well and truly fucked, one of my eyebrows started to do this really weird thing where it independently pushed itself up into a very pronounced arch, making one half of my face resemble Vampira before she’d finished putting her make-up on. Wasn’t cute.
Anyway, I can’t remember what made me decide acupuncture was the best plan of action. It wasn’t prescribed by my doctor (although in the case of lumbar pain it can be). Instead, I arranged a not-too-expensive private course of treatment with a woman acupuncturist who trained in the ancient treatment, which has been used as part of Chinese medicine for thousands of years, after giving up her career in conventional medicine where she’d worked as a urologist, then a GP.
I cannot emphasise enough the importance of going to someone who’s properly qualified. Don’t and it’s potentially as risky and painful as pushing possibly unsterilised needles into your own body (ew). Applied properly, acupuncture needles do not hurt at all because the needles being used are so fine. There are about six different sensations you can experience as they’re tapped into place (including no sensation at all) but none of them should have you writhing around in pain. If they do, leave at once. I’d also recommend seeing an acupuncturist who’s trained in Swedish massage, which they should do before applying the needles to your body, as it makes the muscles considerable more responsive to treatment.
The physical symptoms I was suffering from were dramatically reduced by the end of my first session to the point where, for the first time in months, the shoulder of doom had almost full mobility again. For those of you who’ve never been through the physical horror of this kind of pain (especially lumbar pain, which is often enough to make an otherwise right-thinking leftie want to bear arms against their own soul), I can assure you it’s life-changing.
You want to weep salty tears of joy, then spend the rest of the day perfecting dance routines from West Side Story because, for the first time in aeons, you can. I’ve also never suffered from migraines anywhere near as frequently since starting treatment which judging by the amount of you who commented on Robyn’s migraine piece, I think we can agree is a godsend. My acupuncturist also reckoned she was treating my insomnia but, honestly, I didn’t see much of an abatement in it then and still haven’t. Can’t win ‘em all.
I’m concerned I might sound like a zealot. I go for regular acupuncture to keep the problems I’ve mentioned in check because I’ve found acupuncture to be hugely beneficial to my health, and consequentially my state of mind. Even so, I have got reservations about going on about a treatment that purports to work by redirecting Qi (that’s life force or energy flows to you and me) around the body, even if it is very ancient and much respected.
I’m not a spiritual enough person to really get into the idea of Star-Wars-style forces but I can say that when scientists state “that acupuncture may stimulate nerves and muscle tissue, and that this may be responsible for any beneficial effects” I think they’re probably onto something.
Acupuncture with needles (for, lo, I’ve still yet to try cupping) has consistently worked for me when painkillers for my migraines, facials for that weird eyebrow, and more conventional physiotherapy for my shoulder did not. The dodgy eyebrow actually sorted itself during that first session, too. I was so relaxed when the needles were applied that I fell asleep on the table and woke up magically normal-looking again. I don’t think I’d been that relaxed in years.
Once my physical pain was dealt with, I felt much less stressed out about everything else. Even now when I feel at my worst and yoga and my attempts at mindfulness don’t make much of an in-road into how my state of mind physically manifests itself, a forty minute acupuncture session can.
Are you an acupuncture aficionado? What’s cupping like? I wanna try it but am worried that it too will become massively addictive, such is its ability to relax a girl. What other alternative medicines are you into? I really want to know!