I’ve spent the past two weeks of my internship in the acupuncture department of SCU Health, and it was the first time I’ve actually witnessed a physician perform acupuncture on patients. Acupuncture is considered a modality of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and the doctor’s approach is quite different from ‘Western Medicine’ doctors. TCM looks at complete physical and psychological patterns of disharmony. For example, sometimes a headache isn’t from the head. It could be from poor digestion, poor nutrition or stress. And TCM has diagnosis codes based in these patterns: 001 = headache due dehydration, 001.1 = headache due to toxicity, and so on.

The first thing the doctor does in the exam room is ask the patient to show their tongue. The doctor is looking at the color, shape and coating on the tongue. If you so desire, you can read further details about it here.

After the tongue exam, the doctor positions the patient in a way that’s comfortable for them to receive the needle treatment. I’m still a little baffled by where some of the needles are placed on the body for back pain (in the ears, on top of the head, the bottom of the feet, etc). But that’s just a reflection of my ignorance about the 12 meridians.

This medical model shows the different acupuncture meridians that indicate where to place the needles.
Photo courtesy of Beka Schiller at Pixabay.

The doctor may also choose to enhance the acupuncture treatment by burning herbs, and placing them close to different points on the body that need healing (also known as moxibustion). The principle is that the body will ‘absorb the aroma’ and heal. And this aroma fills the office to the point that it feels like I might be getting some second hand healing. 😉

In my last blog, I wrote about the herb pharmacy, and today I got an opportunity to help fold some packets of herbs in their original form for a patient. Here’s my photo of what herbs we were using.

As you can see, a couple of these herbs are to treat ‘dampness’ in the body. The best way I understand it is that moisture builds up in the body which creates damp stagnation, or sluggishness. Taking a walk, or of course acupuncture, can get the Qi (Chi), flowing to ‘dry out’ the damp sluggishness when used in combination with these herbs.

This particular patient is familiar with how to brew these herbs and drink them as a tea, so we just wrapped them up as is. Otherwise, these herbs would have been ground up for her.

One other technique often used in TCM was cupping. You can give Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps some credit for raising awareness about cupping in this country. The doctor takes glass, orb shaped cups, waves a flame inside of them, and then strategically places them on the patients, usually the back.

Photo courtesy of Antoni Shkraba at Pexels.

The suction from the cups regenerates, or promote swelling and healing. The cups will also leave a mark, the darker the mark, the more severe the condition.

Besides the doctors, there were acupuncture students who were inserting needles under the guidance of the doctors. Listening to their conversations was a lot for me to take in, but all in all, very interesting. I can honestly say I now have a much greater appreciation for one of the worlds oldest medicinal practices.

Next week will be a change of pace when I work in the Tactical Sports Medicine Department. Here I’ll be meeting first responders who are receiving help for their physical and mental health. Stay tuned!