Everybody Is Into Acupuncture Right Now

Here's why.

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In 2016, health is wealth. For years now, our social media feeds have been inundated with kale smoothies and perfectly proportioned acai bowls. Active women with toned physiques, like Hannah Bronfman, are the epitome of cool, and smokers have been all but forced into a life of secrecy.

So it comes as no surprise that people are searching for healthier, alternative ways to look and feel their best—enter (OK, re-enter) acupuncture and a new crop of Dr. Feelgoods. I've personally used acupuncture numerous times for everything from an overworked rotator cuff to seasonal allergies, and every time I'm reminded of how well it works, and in my experience, how swiftly. But lately, people seem to be talking about seeing their acupuncturist as casually as they might mention their morning yoga. Here, TCM (or Traditional Chinese Medicine) acupuncturist, Moonching Wu, and orthopedic and sport medicine acupuncturist, Richard Hazel, share the basics of the next wave in wellness.

Acupuncture needles. Photograph courtesy of Julie Toy.
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HELP! I'm terrified of needles.

Fret not. These are some seriously tiny (sterile and disposable) needles. Hazel compares them to a "cat's whisker," while Wu stresses that "more than 10 of her needles could fit in a hypodermic one that's used to draw blood." Personally, I've never felt any pain when a needle is inserted, instead almost a relief and a whoooosh-like effect, as if any tension in that part of my body is being unblocked.

Am I a candidate for acupuncture?

"Acupuncture is for anyone whose health could benefit from stress reduction, pain relief, better sleep and digestion, or anyone who wants to feel rejuvenated and re-energized," says Hazel. (So, everyone then.) Wu agrees but "takes extra precautions when treating patients who are pregnant, those who are taking blood-thinning medication, and those who are very frail."

What should I expect immediately after?

"Good news here," says Wu. "Patients who come in with pain can expect relief immediately after, if not while they're still on the treatment bed." Hazel concurs: "If you're coming for pain, I expect you to feel at least 50 percent better when you are leaving the office, and many forms of pain can even be diminished 90 to 100 percent with distal acupuncture (using points usually in the arms and legs)." Wu reminds me that patients may initially feel pretty exhausted after their first treatment or two, noting that "their internal energy just got a big workout!"

Acupuncture training mannequin. Photograph courtesy of MyLoup/UIG.

Can you break down how it actually works?

This isn't as cut and dry as, for instance, how antibiotics work—but it's one of the oldest forms of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and when something's been used for more than 2,500 years it gives some backbone to the phrase "tried and true." Hazel says that. "the debate on how acupuncture works is ongoing. What we do know is that acupuncture has a powerful effect on brain chemistry and the nervous system. It can cause the brain to create its own opioids to kill pain." Wu credits its ability to "help the patient's own body to block energetic obstructions so that Qi—our internal energy—can flow properly again." (That would be the whoooosh I mentioned earlier.)

If that's not enough, Mariah Carey and Iman are into it. Just saying.

For more info, see the websites of our exeprts at moonchingwu.com and richhazel.com.

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