For newcomers to acupuncture, Eastern medicine can be like "speaking another language," said Kelley McDaneld, of Yampa Valley Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs.

Photo by John F. Russell

For newcomers to acupuncture, Eastern medicine can be like "speaking another language," said Kelley McDaneld, of Yampa Valley Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs.

Needling away stress with acupuncture

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Acupuncture basics

For newcomers to acupuncture, Eastern medicine can be like "speaking another language," said Kelley McDaneld, of Yampa Valley Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs.

An Eastern medicine diagnosis can start out much like a visit with a doctor, with questions about medical history and symptoms, taking a client's pulse and examining his or her tongue. However, the course of treatment may be a little different than what people are used to.

In addition to acupuncture, a course of treatment can include education about nutrition, a form of Chinese massage called tuina, exercise such as Qi Gong and Tai Chi, and herbs, which can be taken in pills or in a bulk form and used to make teas. Herbal formulas are tailored to an individual and their specific diagnosis, as opposed to Western medicine's "one pill fits all" philosophy, McDaneld said.

"Sometimes the Western medicine works great for people, but sometimes it doesn't. : This can fill in the gaps," McDaneld said.

Kate Higgins, who practices the Chinese and Japanese forms at Sleeping Giant Acupuncture, said the milder Japanese form may be better for first-timers who are "needle-phobic." Chinese acupuncture uses deeper needling with thicker instruments, she said.

"Some people feel the needles a lot more than others. Most feel a small sensation going in, and the sensation dies down," Higgins said. "Then the relaxation sets in."

The human body has 360 acupuncture points on the body, on 12 main meridians through which the body's energy is said to flow, McDaneld said.

"By putting an acupuncture needle in these points, you're affecting blood flow in the area and have a neural response," McDaneld said.

The stimulation can cause endorphins, neurotransmitters and other hormones to be released, McDaneld said. For treatment of pain, the needling unblocks obstructions and gets your blood flowing again, McDaneld said.

Most people do not find needles a stress-decreasing experience, but many others turn to acupuncture and Chinese medicine to help relieve the symptoms of stress.

Acupuncture can be used to treat many things, including stress, depression, allergies, asthma and pain from a variety of injuries, said Kelley McDaneld, of Yampa Valley Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs.

"I have been treating people a little more for (stress) lately," said Kate Higgins, of Sleeping Giant Acupuncture. "People also come in for something else and end up adding that on."

Chinese medicine began to take off in the United States in the 1970s, and the acupuncture side of it, in particular, has gained popularity and respect even in Western medicine circles, and it is now frequently covered by insurance, McDaneld said.

"This is the oldest medicine in the world, and it's still considered alternative," she said.

Acupuncture points are located on channels called meridians where the body's energy flows, and Chinese medicine views stress conditions as connected to the liver and gallbladder, McDaneld said. General emotion stress typically is diagnosed as "liver chi stagnation," she said.

People experiencing stress often feel tightness and knots in their shoulders and neck, areas through which the body's gallbladder channel runs, McDaneld said. Another key point in acupuncture for stress relief is on the outside of the leg, near the head of the fibula. The ears are a target zone, as well.

Ears are very sensitive, and needling them produces a relaxing effect also seen in animals, McDaneld said.

During acupuncture, needles are typically left in for 10 to 20 minutes at a time, Higgins said.

Although the needling can be felt, it is not painful, and first-timers who are fearful of the needles tend to report that the positive effects outweigh their initial anxiety, McDaneld said.

"You want to feel a little something - it's not like getting a shot," McDaneld said.

In addition to addressing what Eastern medicine considers the sources of stress, acupuncture also can be used to help alleviate some of its common symptoms, including headaches, sleep issues, head and shoulder tension, and anxiety, Higgins said.

"You try to treat the root problem and some symptom points," Higgins said.

Another benefit to acupuncture, that will help provide stress relief even to those who may not believe in the philosophies of Eastern medicine, is the half-hour people set aside for the treatment, McDaneld said.

"Rarely do you just take a break, lay down, rest and stop," McDaneld said.

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