How exactly does acupuncture work – and why can it be so effective? Local TCM doctors Elyse Rohrer Budiash and Adam Miramon weigh in.
Elyse Rohrer Budiash was seriously sick. Distressingly, nothing seemed to alleviate the then-college senior’s symptoms, which included fever and vomiting.
Nothing, that is, until she tried acupuncture.
Lo and behold, acupuncture treatments finally brought some much-needed relief from her sickness.
The rest, as they say, is history: Budiash decided against paths she was considering in law or social work and instead pursued a career in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which included acupuncture. She is now founder and clinic director of Cherry Blossom Healing Arts in Woodley Park.
A Shifting Medicinal Landscape
When she moved to D.C. more than a decade ago, the local acupuncture landscape looked quite different than it does today.
“I was looking for a job in acupuncture and wasn’t finding any,” she says. “There weren’t [many] hospital or associate jobs. Then the clinic I started got really big – there are four of us now at Cherry Blossom.”
The past decade has seen a surge in acupuncture availability and popularity around town. Expansion of insurance coverage for acupuncture and other TCM modalities has significantly expanded access to acupuncture, as has growing synergy between TCM practitioners and Western medical doctors.
Adam Miramon, chief director and president of Transformational Acupuncture clinic, agrees.
“When I opened my clinic 10 years ago, there were two insurance companies that covered acupuncture [to some degree]. Now my clinic is in network with all the major insurance companies.”
What Is Acupuncture?
What is acupuncture, exactly? It’s a complete system of medicine, notes Dr. Miramon, that has more than 3,000 of history in China as well as throughout Asia.
“This system of medicine views each patient as a whole being and observes how each of the body’s systems interact with each other,” they explain.
Dr. Leanne Ekstrom, president of the Acupuncture Society of DC (ASDC), adds, “It helps your body adjust so it can function at its optimal level. Acupuncture reminds your body how to function properly.”
Since acupuncture can be a little tough for a newbie to understand, we spoke with a few local experts to de-mystify the process and learn more about the world of acupuncture in the D.C. area.
District Fray: First things first – Do the needles hurt?
Adam Miramon: This is the $100,000 question, and every patient will report a different sensation. That said, acupuncture needles measure approximately .2 millimeters wide – about the size of three human hairs, or about half the width of the kind of hypodermic needles typically used for medical shots.
Elyse Rohrer Budiash: You can feel a quick pinch at first, but it should go away quickly. If not, we’ll adjust. We don’t want you to be tense if a point is bothering you.
What conditions does acupuncture help?
Miramon: Acupuncture can help with just about anything causing physical and/or mental pain and discomfort. Experts cited acute pain such as “tech neck” (neck discomfort caused by hunching over computers and other devices), headaches and migraine, anxiety and insomnia as common conditions treated in their D.C. clinics. Acupuncture also treats a variety of women’s health matters ranging from infertility to managing symptoms caused by pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause.
Rohrer Budiash: But, if you have [a bacterial infection like] strep, we want you to go get your antibiotics.
If I come in with something like a backache, will I walk out without pain?
Miramon: I tell patients not to expect immediate results. Acupuncture is not a magic pill, [but they can] expect results anywhere from 3 to 6 treatments that happen pretty close together. After those first few sessions, your practitioner will assess how often you should come in for more treatments over time.
So this person sticking needles in me – what kind of training did they do?
Miramon: In the District of Columbia, acupuncture is regulated* by the DC Board of Medicine which requires acupuncturists to be nationally certified through the National Certification Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).
*A licensed acupuncturist has at least a Master’s degree, which likely includes both classroom and hands-on training (which is also why you may meet acupuncture apprentices at a local clinic). Licensing is regulated on a local basis.
What can I expect from my first visit to an acupuncture clinic?
Miramon: Most patients can expect to complete forms that include a medical history, informed consent, office policies, insurance forms, etc. They can expect a full medical intake that focuses on their main complaint, a physical assessment and diagnostic testing which includes viewing their tongue and feeling their pulse.
Record scratch: their tongue?
Rohrer Budiash: The tongue is like a map of the body. A trained acupuncturist can “read” it for things like discoloration to glean insights about issues like poor quality of sleep.
Generally, plan on about an hour for your first visit – longer than most standard acupuncture appointments – to allow time for both the initial intake and then your first actual needle treatment.
Patients are encouraged to wear loose, comfortable clothing to make it as easy as possible for acupuncturists to insert the needles (some clinics like Cherry Blossom Healing Arts also provide gowns for patients to change into). Once the needles are inserted, practitioners typically check on patients while they rest on a table for anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. After the practitioner removes the needles, they’ll follow up with a few questions before scheduling the next appointment.
To find an acupuncturist in the D.C. area, visit the Acupuncture Society of DC.
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