Attacking the tension: Acupuncture

Caroline Rabin, Lifestyle Editor

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Having multiple needles stuck into her body would be more stressful than a final exam, or so thought sophomore Leah Sternberg when her older sister first suggested that acupuncture would help strengthen her immune system.

Yet with some coaxing, she agreed to give acupuncture a try.

Having suffered from successive illnesses since the beginning of her freshman year, Sternberg decided to get acupuncture. Since then, she has theorized that the stress of school probably has a lot to do with her recurring illnesses. Which according to licensed acupuncturist Linda Hoch, is possible.

“Mental distress can manifest itself physically into sickness,” said Hoch. “It’s more common than you’d think. I’ve seen teenagers come in with colds and the flu right after and before their final exams or other big events.”

According to Hoch, acupuncture is the shifting of energy in the body, which is known as Qi in Chinese medicine. In Eastern medicine, the stagnation or rush of Qi is the cause of all ailments. Hoch’s job as an acupuncturist is to keep the body’s energy balanced.

“Stress is the stagnation of Qi at certain points in your body,” said Hoch. “Where that stagnation is depends on what is stressing you. …Before we begin [acupuncture], I do a check up on the patient. To determine where to put the needles, I ask the patient about [his or her] diet and how [he or she is] feeling about other aspects of [his or her] life.”

Hoch also said that stress increases the sympathetic nervous system, the ‘fight or flight’ instinct, instead of allowing relaxation. Acupuncture is adept at engaging the parasympathetic nervous system, enabling participants to relax.

But it is not just the physical treatment of acupuncture that promotes relaxation, both Sternberg and Hoch commented on the calming set-up of the acupuncture room.

“The lights are dimmed and there’s relaxing noise played in the background like ocean waves or rain,” said Sternberg. “I just lay there and fall asleep for a half hour or so. …It doesn’t really even hurt. It feels like getting your ears pierced only way, way less painful.”

Junior Shyun Jung, another student who received acupuncture for shoulder and back pain, has found acupuncture to be more painful.

“Sometimes, when the doctor sticks the needles in, I bleed and bruise,” said Jung. “It’s uncomfortable. Relaxing, painful but it works.”

Hoch said that bleeding and bruising are not common occurrences, but they can happen if the acupuncturist accidentally nicks a vein.

“I didn’t feel [acupuncture’s] effects right away,” said Sternberg. “It was maybe two or three months after beginning that my colds became less frequent. I began to feel better overall. Relaxed, healthy.”

Hoch admits that Eastern and Western medicine have a bounty of disagreements between them. However, she has found that they are beginning to coincide on the validity of acupuncture and its ability to alleviate anxiety and stress.

“The part I think [that’s] hard for us to accept about acupuncture is that we can’t explain it completely,” said Hoch. “People want proof of everything. We want to know how it works, scientifically. Well, we can’t explain acupuncture yet. … We are in the process of trying to explain it. But it works and it’s amazing.”