A Song of Pins and Needles


As the trite phrase "People ask me all the time..." goes, people do ask me all the time, even twice just this week, "Does Acupuncture Work?"
Yes, I say. Then, transforming into a majestic phoenix, I soar into the setting sun. Fade to black. The end.

I suppose, if you yearn to be persuaded, I will provide more detail. when I sat down to write about my latest round however, I thought it would be more helpful to review my first experience:

Acupuncture started thousands of years ago, and yet for the uninitiated the question remains: How do skinny needles stabbing you produce any medical benefits? Admittedly, I was one of these skeptics, five years ago. Stretching, massage, Japanese, Icy-Hot-like, sticky patches called "Salonpas" (perhaps more similar to Tiger Balm), and ibuprofen, all failed to relieve a pain in my knees and legs I sustained, rushing down the side of Mt. Fuji. That story could be a post of its own, but the resulting injury continued to hurt, and after two months, I decided to try acupuncture, and if that failed, Kabbalah.
BTW, Climbing Fuji in the middle of the night to watch the sun rise: WORTH IT!

I struggle to recall my outlook back then, but I truly was a skeptic. My first, hesitant attempt only came about when I was offered at my local sekkotsu-in, a Japanese "bone-setter" I already saw for massages. Normally specializing in massage therapy for sports injuries, fatigue, and keeping the elderly mobile, to this American, I was most astounded that they accepted health insurance. That meant I paid roughly $5 for each half-hour massage. Sadly, even after three trips in one week, my muscles and tendons still ached, so I asked about the cost of acupuncture. To my surprise, the physical therapist told me acupuncture could also be covered by insurance, and the cost would be the same as just getting a massage. Now, it did require a doctor's note, which itself actually cost $40, but that one-time cost was not enough to dissuade my desperation for results.

The fateful day arrived and there I lay, mentally preparing myself to be stabbed. "Can I take pictures?" I asked. "Sure", replied the smiling, young therapist. He then offered to take them for me, once he inserted the needles. “Great”, I thought as he got started, "Here we go." 
Pardon my white, white, legs. ...So white...
First though, he showed me that the needles he would use were the same thickness as my wispy, leg hairs. That helped relax me a bit. He also explained that these would relieve the pressure on the tendons behind my knee caps. The talking over, he started on my lower back, then my calves, and lastly my thighs. Over a dozen needles were slowly inserted into me. Although there was no piercing pain like a needle or a cut, there was a dull, deep ache, as the needle reached whatever nerve, muscle, or tendon the man targeted. 

Once he finished placing the needles, I was in for a shock... Literally! Attaching tiny, alligator-clamp leads (pictured above) to each of the thicker heads on each needle, the therapist turned up the juice until I felt the tingling, pins-and-needles sensation pulsing on and off in a pattern dictated by the machine he set on a timer. I imagined the scene from the Matrix when Neo is covered from head to foot in hundreds of similar needles to revive his atrophied muscles, but the reference was lost on the young man, who saw nothing about my experience as strange or new. He put a towel over my upper body, closed the curtain and left me to relax for about twenty minutes.

Shhhh! Sad Keanu is sleeping.
As the pulsating currents wound down, the machine dispensing my shocks played a typically-Japanese, cute jingle and my therapist returned to unhook me. With a cotton swab of alcohol, he removed each needle, quickly and painlessly. He wiped each spot with rubbing alcohol, although I never bled. Afterward, I noticed a few of areas where the needles had been were pink, like tiny mosquito bites, but there was no itching or pain either. He then massaged the same spots for another 20 minutes, helped me stretch out, and recommended I soak in in a long, hot bath. I went home and did just that, and the next morning I felt like a completely new man. I walked to work, walked home, and packed for a trip to a touch rugby tournament the next day. There, I ran around on a grass pitch all day and my legs never bothered me. 
But the whiteness... there was no curing that.
So, did it work? YES. Was it worth the money? YES. Did it hurt? NO! Why doesn't everyone use acupuncture? Other than skepticism or an irrational fear of needles, I have no idea. It helped me immensely. Obviously, I had been doing a lot of other things to aid in my recovery, including stretching daily, resting, and massages at the same sekkotsu-in, but I have no doubt the acupuncture was the final stab that I needed to complete my recovery. 

Here's where I went, if you're curious. It's called "Cat's Paw"!
https://goo.gl/maps/Bsbhm

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