Don’t Fear the Needle

When people get acupuncture for the first time, they will often admit to being nervous about the needles.  Which isn’t surprising, they’re probably imagining a hypodermic or a sewing needle, when in actual fact, an acupuncture needle is about the thickness of a cat whisker.  It’s extremely flexible and when you look at one up close and maybe even flick it with your finger, its harmless nature is revealed.

Harmless but not powerless.  Those little needles, placed just so, all working together can accomplish amazing things.  They can ease pain, calm an anxious mind, increase circulation, decrease inflammation, stimulate a sluggish bowel or slow an overactive one, and on and on the list goes.  

sewingI’m hesitant to compare acupuncture and sewing for fear of fanning the flames of needle fear, but they have some beautiful similarities.  A row of tiny stitches can heal the hole in the toe of your favourite sock and make it stronger just as a few acupuncture needles correctly placed can mend your body’s pain.  In both, something tiny and precise can be used to strengthen a weak portion of the whole.



Similes are fun!  Here is another one: acupuncture is like DJ’ing.  Huh?  Well, both use needles to create cohesion.  A DJ will use the turntable needle to line up the next song and create a seamless transition (hopefully), melding the two together.  Similarly, an acupuncturist uses their needles to establish consistency; regular acupuncture treatments over time can nudge the body into a new, more balanced pattern, one that is free of pain.  Like two perfectly synced songs, pain dissolves into pain-free, almost without the patient even noticing.


And why would they notice?  Acupuncture needles are silicone coated for patient comfort and are extremely delicate.  Did you know that you can fit forty of these little guys inside the opening of a hypodermic needle?  Forty!  So that gives you some perspective on whether or not to be nervous about acupuncture.

needlesOur advice: don’t fear the needle.  And if you still do, even after reading this post, just sing that phrase to yourself a few times.  Here is some back-up musical inspiration to help out:

Beware the “Good Enough” Attitude

This isn't good enough.

This isn’t good enough.

This is a funny trait that I think we all have, to some degree or another.  The attitude that things are ‘good enough.’ That, while our health might not be perfect, it’s liveable and we aren’t apt to complain or do anything about it.  Yes, our shoulders and back hurts, our sleep is poor and we get headaches from time to time, but it’s too much hassle to do anything about it and as long as we can continue to show up for work, we’ll just deal with it.

I see this all the time in my practice – patients come in with a variety of ailments, get to a place of, say 70% improvement, and then discontinue their treatments, because they are now able to get back to work, or sleep four hours without pain, or stand at the kitchen sink long enough to do the dishes.  It’s good enough.

It’s important to stop for a moment and ask yourself why ‘good enough’ is good enough.  Don’t you deserve to be pain free, to be able to throw a ball around with your kid, to dig in your garden, to be able to sit comfortably and sleep peacefully?

Yes you do.

The question you need to be asking yourself is, “how much better can I be?”  After every treatment I ask my patients, “how are you feeling?” as a way to get them to check in with themselves.  I am now beginning to get them to think about this next question.  How much better can they feel, how much more can we improve their quality of life?  It should be an ongoing dialogue, one that continues through one’s life, and NEVER stopping at “good enough.”

Because “good enough” isn’t good enough. You deserve better.


Is Acupuncture Safe?

A recent A-Channel Segment (see below) talked about a study done in Hong Kong regarding the safety of acupuncture. The study claims that acupuncture is a vehicle for AIDS, Hepatitis, and as Arlo Guthrie would say, “all kinds of mean and nasty things.”

While it is true that anything that penetrates the skin could potentially be a carrier of disease, in actuality acupuncture as it is practiced in North America is extremely safe.

Past Tense

In the past it was not uncommon for practitioners to sterilize and re-use needles, as it was more cost effective to do this. However, these days when even the more expensive needles are less than $0.10/needle, there is no reason at all to re-use them.

Strongly Regulated

As well, in any state or province in North America that has a governing body for acupuncturists there is a requirement to adhere to strict clean needling protocols. This includes swabbing the acupoint with alcohol before insertion, and using disposable needles, among other common sense practices, such as washing one’s hands before handling needles.

Not In Our Backyard

Perhaps in parts of the world where regulations are not as tightly enforced, and in very rare occasions where a practitioner fails to follow the most basic of clean needle standards there is the potential for contamination. However, it is very safe to say that acupuncture in North America is very safe.

Speak Up!

If you are ever in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask questions! Any practitioner worth his or her salt would welcome a patient’s inquiries as to the safety and efficacy of the treatment they are about to receive.

A-Channel segment on “unsafe acupuncture”

Benefits of Acupuncture

Here is a quick run down of some of the syndromes and disorders acupuncture can  benefit.  Acupuncture is commonly known to treat pain and injury of all types: back injury, tennis elbow, migraines, sports injuries, knee pain and the like.  However, acupuncture does more than just relieve pain.  Acupuncture has been shown to also treat anxiety, women’s issues, weight loss/obesity, infertility and conception, as well as insomnia and digestive disorders.  Even after listing all these disorders above, we still have only touched the tip of what acupuncture can be good for.Because acupuncture works on the somato-energetic level predominantly, it is safe and side-effects free.  Acupuncture performed by a trained professional is also almost completely painless, though at times mildly uncomfortable.

As the ancient Chinese did not, as a rule, have a problem with obesity, acupuncture does not have any set method for treating weight control.  However, as there is a large psychological element to weight control (cravings, etc.), acupuncture is often found to be very helpful with weight management.  Acupuncture has been shown to relieve cravings, both for food and substances.  Acupuncture is also a great stress reducer, as it stimulates the release of the body’s natural pain management chemicals, dopamine and seratonin.  Although there is never a replacement for willpower, acupuncture can help the dedicated person manage their weight.

Acupuncture can also treat eye disorders, such as conjunctivitis (pink eye), nearsightedness, and cataracts.  Toothache and other forms of dental pain can be significantly reduced through acupuncture as well.  Other facial disorders such as Bell’s palsy and facial paralysis can, if treated quickly after onset, be well treated by acupuncture.   Studies have shown that getting acupuncture soon after a stroke can increase the rate and degree of recovery.

Acupuncture treats the whole person (not just the symptoms they are experiencing) on a physical, mental and emotional level. This means that treatment of physical problems also affects the way you feel about yourself.  Therefore, emotional disturbances such as anxiety, depression and mania may benefit from acupuncture.

Whatever your symptoms or disorder, it pays to educate yourself about different forms of effective therapy.  Studies have shown that educated patients often have a greater degree of recovery and a better outlook overall.

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Jack asked:

I have terrible allergies and environmental sensitivities. I have heard that acupuncture can help with this, and wonder if anyone has had any success in this area? I would to love to hear someone’s personal experience with it. Thanks!

Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine


Learn how acupuncture treats pain, depression and other health problems. Listen to testimonials from acupuncture patients at Minneapolis clinic Complete Oriental Medical Care. Licensed acupuncturist Steven Sonmore explains acupuncture and Chinese medicine.

Bill C-51

Here is an article I wrote that appeared in the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine’s online publication, Qi – Unity Report

Canadian Health Regulations Act Bill C-51 – is TCM at risk?

By Jean-Paul Thuot, RAc

Bill C-51, which received its first reading in the House of Commons in April this year, seeks to clarify terminology and grant greater enforcement powers to Health Canada regarding food, drugs and natural health products (NHPs). Or does it? Currently the debate rages on the Internet concerning just what Bill C-51 is and what it will mean for the future of NHPs, including Chinese herbal medicine (TCM).

The stated purpose of Bill C51 is:
“To protect and promote the health and safety of the public and encourage accurate and consistent product representation by prohibiting and regulating certain activities in relation to foods, therapeutic products and cosmetics.”

With recent product recalls on tainted toothpaste, bad spinach, and contaminated sandwich meats, it seems reasonable that Health Canada would seek to increase its ability to regulate, inspect, and enforce the laws that pertain to foods and drugs. Within the TCM community there have been a number of products produced in China with ingredients other than those stated on the packaging—some of which are toxic and/or pharmaceutical in nature. Thus this increase in vigilance on the part of Health Canada should come as a relief for those practicing in the field who rely on pre-compounded medicines.

Bill C-51 has been introduced to provide a legislative framework with which to regulate the various aspects of Canadians’ health management. The goal is to work within the framework to produce varying regulations for the different product categories covered in Bill C-51.

Currently, the Department cannot force companies to recall contaminated products, but instead they can negotiate recalls with the industry itself. Similarly, their limit for fines is $250,000 for a food-related offence and only $5,000 for all others. Bill C-51 seeks to increase fines for infractions as well as increase Health Canada’s abilities to monitor and enforce the legislation.

One of the changes contained in the act that has many people up in arms is the classification of NHPs as drugs. This definition is:
“Any substance or mixture of substances manufactured, sold or represented for use in:

1. the diagnosis, treatment, mitigation or prevention of a disease, disorder or abnormal physical state, or its symptoms, in human beings or animals,
2. restoring, correcting or modifying organic functions in human beings or animals, or
3. disinfection in premises in which food is manufactured, prepared or kept.”

However, the information missing from many arguments is that Health Canada clearly recognizes NHPs as being different from pharmaceuticals and therefore not subject to the same rigorous scientific studies. Indeed, TCM falls into an even more subjective classification since there is special dispensation for “traditional medicines,” defined thus:
“The sum total of knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures, used in the maintenance of health, as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness.”

For example, here are some TCM-based traditional use claims that have been approved by Health Canada for the ingredient astragalus:

* Used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to tonify the spleen and augment the Qi (vital energy): for spleen deficiency presenting with a lack of appetite, fatigue, and diarrhoea (PPRC 2000; Benksy and Gamble 1986).
* Used in TCM to tonify the lungs and for frequent colds (PRC 1998; Benksy and Gamble 1986).
* Used in TCM to augment the protective Qi and stabilize the exterior: for deficiency with spontaneous sweating (PPRC 2000; Benksy and Gamble 1986)

Claims of a therapy being traditional must show “a history of at least 50 consecutive years of traditional use of a medicinal ingredient within a cultural belief system or healing paradigm,” which obviously TCM is able to do quite easily. In fact, one of the proposed amendments to the bill seeks to strengthen the position of traditional NHPs:
“Obligation in respect of information in applications relating to natural health products:
1.3: In making regulations under paragraph (1)(y) relating to the information that is required in an application for a market authorization for natural health products, the Governor in Council shall specify that the information to be provided may include information based on:

1. traditional knowledge relating to the product; or
2. the history of use of the product or any of its ingredients.”

Thus, traditional medicine becomes represented not only at the regulatory level but within the legislation itself.

Another issue to keep in mind about this bill is that all forms of medicine, including TCM, are regulated provincially, not federally. In British Columbia acupuncture and Chinese medicine is governed by the CTCMA, thus it would be unlikely that Chinese herbal medicine would be banned or otherwise curtailed without huge debate not only by special interest groups but by provincial governments as well.

In conclusion, it seems that the opposition to Bill C-51 may be based in part on a misunderstanding of the language used in the bill and in part by unnecessary fear-mongering among NHP providers or their advocates.

More information can be found here:
Bill C-51
Bill C-51 FAQ
Bill C-51’s progress

Jean-Paul Thuot is a registered acupuncturist practicing in Victoria, BC.


I’m nervoussaid:
Tonight will be the first time I’ve ever gotten acupuncture. Does anyone have any success stories to tell me, so I can feel less nervous? We are trying to conceive, so can you tell me if it really does help with pregnancy?

Acupuncture Reduces Pain, Need for Opioids after Surgery

Using acupuncture before and during surgery significantly reduces the level of pain and the amount of potent painkillers needed by patients after the surgery is over, according to Duke University Medical Center anesthesiologists who combined data from 15 small randomized acupuncture clinical trials.

How many will I need?

Sue asked:
I’m considering getting acupuncture done for PMS and stress issues- how many sessions will be required for something like that?


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