Have you ever gone through something traumatic, like enduring abuse or losing a loved one, and felt physical pain in your body afterward? Maybe you had daily headaches or back pain that seemingly appeared out of nowhere.
Naturopathic doctors believe trauma can manifest itself in physical ways because our bodies hold on to trauma indefinitely until we release it. Acupuncture is one alternative medicine technique thought to unlock this pain and suffering, rebalancing our energy so we can begin to heal.
The Chinese technique of acupuncture has been in use for thousands of years. How it works is that acupuncture is thought to access the energy, or qi (pronounced “chee”) in the body, which supposedly flows along 12 channels, known as meridians. Each meridian represents a major organ or function of the body, and disease and discomfort are caused when there is a disruption to this flow. By stimulating certain acupuncture points under the skin, the qi can be released and allowed to flow harmoniously along these meridians.
Western medicine has its own take on acupuncture: One theory is that it works by stimulating nerves that send signals to the brain, which then releases neural hormones. This can cause a patient to feel euphoric and lessen whatever pain they may be experiencing.
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Who Is Acupuncture For?
There is growing research that acupuncture can help alleviate symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. While usually PTSD is associated with soldiers returning from war, it’s also prevalent in survivors of abuse and other traumas.
It’s estimated that 70 percent of U.S. adults will experience a traumatic event at least once in their lives and 20 percent of those individuals will go on to develop PTSD. Studies show that at any given time, approximately 13 million people are living with PTSD. Acupuncture has been shown to reduce the symptoms of PTSD-related symptoms including depression, pain, insomnia, anxiety and stress levels.
Acupuncture has also been shown to benefit those with chronic pain, including headaches, neck and back pain, post-operative pain and arthritis, as well as cancer patients dealing with the side-effects of chemotherapy. It can also help expectant mothers suffering from morning sickness.
Does It Hurt?
You may shy away from acupuncture because you have a fear of needles. But rest assured that acupuncture needs are so thin there is often no sensation of them even going into the skin. If anything, patients report feeling something closer to a tingling sensation that indicates the particular point is working, also called de qi. Others say there is a heaviness that occurs at the insertion point, though the feeling is calming.
What Can You Expect?
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Lisa Metzger, licensed acupuncturist with the New York-based Garden Acupuncture says a typical first-time acupuncture session lasts about an hour and a half.
“We have them fill out an intake form so we can get a general idea of what’s going on. We get a full-body history. We take the first 20 minutes to talk about this and what their main complaint is, what the cause might be. We don’t just look at one symptom, we look at everything.”
After that, she says the needles are inserted and the patient rests for a half-hour with the needles in. As for how quickly a patient can expect to feel the results, Metzger says it depends on the severity of the issue.
“Generally, people will feel different, better, lighter and more balanced after the first treatment. And they’ll feel better for a while, but the symptoms might come back.” She recommends two treatments a week for four weeks to start with.
“Some people need a lot more, some need less,” Metzger says. “With something really severe and chronic, it generally takes a few months and then they can come in for ‘tune-ups’ once a month to make sure symptoms don’t return.”
How Much Does It Cost?
Unfortunately, alternative medicine is rarely covered by insurance. Acupuncture fees often range from $50 to $95 per session. Sometimes you may find a free or sliding-scale acupuncture clinic near you—it’s worth it to do a Google search, or reach out to a domestic violence organization near you and ask if they’re aware of any free or low-cost services for survivors.
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