Pins n Needles (AKA, the Awesomeness of Acupuncture)

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I hate needles, OK?

Give me a shot and I must avert my eyes or close them, or I’ll get nauseated and possibly faint.  I was the little kid who had to be chased around the doctor’s office to be given her vaccinations.

But here’s the deal – that’s not what acupuncture is like.  Not even close.

Seven years ago, shortly after moving back to Portland, I realized I’d hurt my foot in some way.  I had overexerted it and the pain in my heels was mindnumbing.  I could barely walk.  So of course I got referred to a podiatrist, who did the usual – gave me stretches to do and some pills and said “stay off your feet”.  Oy.  A girl’s still got to get to her job and mailbox and walk to and from the bus stop.

Their treatment plan of course did not work, as it turns out I had plantar fasciitis.

Their next step?  A cortisone shot.  Not only did it hurt like a mofo, it again.did.nothing.  It’s also been shown that cortisone shots can worsen your condition (you feel better so you walk on it, but it’s just being totally masked by a drug, not actually cured). I bought expensive orthotic inserts for my shoes and while they improved my gait, they did not eliminate the pain.

With the pain I was in, I was open to anything, and researched a bit deeper into my limited health insurance at the time, found a wonderful little old Chinese lady listed as a provider who had a clinic downtown near my office, and scheduled an appointment.

Well, the rest was history.  Five weekly visits and my plantar fasciitis was gone.  Gone. I walked the Helvetia Half Marathon that summer, that’s how gone it was.

Here’s the scoop – it’s been proven that acupuncture treats plantar fasciitis. In fact, it treats a number of conditions. It’s finally getting credit where credit is due, being used by the Air Force to help alleviate pain, a la “battlefield acupuncture“, and more and more health insurance plans are offering it as part of naturopathic care riders.

But there are still so many people who doubt it, who mock it, who – without ever trying it – assume that because there is no “MD” to the provider’s name and no prescription pad for pharmaceuticals that it’s bunk. Hey, even the National Institute of Health published the benefits AND cost effectiveness of acupuncture. Which is why I’m talking about my own experience today.

I went back to An Liu for a strained shoulder and it fixed it right up.  She placed another needle on my forehead and I was in relaxation heaven after a considerable amount of stress. Acupuncture forces muscles to relax where pills and stretching often don’t.  There are reasons why Eastern medicine has lasted for so long – if it didn’t work, people wouldn’t be spending their hard-earned money and experiencing such awesome relief.

Leaving the acupuncturist’s office is similar to how you feel after a massage – nice and soft and mushy and relaxed. You’re lying on a massage table, and once they put in the needles, you’re given peace and quiet, where you can focus on your breath and let the needles work their magic

It is not painful!  I compare it to the feeling of plucking one’s eyebrows.  While there are spots on the body that are a bit more tender, it’s so quick and the relief is so fast that me, the kid who ran from needles, has no problem having her acupuncturist ply various parts with the micro-thin needles.

Just like any treatment provider, make sure it’s a fit. Not every acupuncturist, or gynecologist, or therapist, or pediatrician, is the same, so no matter what kind of treatment or provider you’re scoping out, it’s important to do your homework.  The article, How to Choose an Acupuncturist, is really good.  The only thing I’d add is this – I don’t have health insurance, and the cost is actually less than it would be to go to a primary care doctor, Zoomcare, or even a massage therapist.  And with “community acupuncture“, prices go down even more, making it even more accessible to those on a budget.

These days, I go to a NE Portland acupuncturist, who I just finished up three appointments to deal with a self-inflicted flare up of my plantar fasciitis for the first time since it occurred seven years ago.  (Let’s just say walking 8 miles on pavement in DC insisting you can “hit all the monuments in a day” is kind of foolish).  Beth also incorporates foot acupressure at the end of each session. Oh yeah, and my feet are ticklish as hell…yet she’s got the magic touch. And yes, it is gone from my left foot and about 50% gone from the right. Not bad for something that had me feeling trapped because just weeks ago my arches were so riddled with pain I was limping if I had to walk more than a block.


So before judging, before saying “I could never do that”, give acupuncture a try.  Open your mind to integrative health instead of keeping it narrowly focused on one form of treatment that may or may not work for you.  Think about what’s most important – your health and well being – and then breathe it in.


“The best way out is always through.” ~ Robert Frost

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