Local acupuncturist Kathleen Keane demystifies an ancient Chinese practice.
Let’s answer a common question about acupuncture right now: Does it hurt? “The answer is generally no,” says Kathleen Keane, a licensed acupuncturist at Balance Integrative Health. “Generally, people are surprised by how relaxing it is.” Acupuncture, a form of alternative medicine that began in ancient China, stimulates certain points of the body through insertion of needles, application of heat and other stimuli; its goal is to treat a range of adverse conditions and promote overall health.
Keane, who earned her master’s degree in acupuncture and Oriental medicine in 2007, uses acupuncture to address pain, anxiety, insomnia and other conditions that can affect happiness and quality of life. She often combines the treatments with a form of traditional Chinese bodywork known as tuina, and suggests herbal remedies to support and soothe the body as it heals.
While some may recoil from the idea of treating pain with needles, acupuncture can work to lessen both chronic and acute pain. “It incorporates using needles along certain meridian points, and usually some bodywork,” Keane explains of a typical treatment. “From the more Western perspective, it helps with pain by reducing inflammation and rerouting the pain impulse from your brain.”
As the brain recognizes the presence of a foreign object, it can release feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin into the body. “Once you get the inflammation down naturally, things can start to heal,” Keane says. “The more Eastern view would be that we have specific energy pathways running through our bodies. We call this energy ‘chi’ — or ‘qi,’ in Japanese, or ‘prana’ in Sanskrit — and when those pathways become blocked, we use the pressure points to unblock the chi.”
In case you’re worrying about needle size, don’t. “The needles are very, very thin — about as thin as a human hair,” Keane says. “They vary in length from about half an inch to about 3 inches.” Needles on the longer end of the spectrum can be used for treatment in deeper muscle tissue.
Acupuncture can be an effective treatment for a huge range of conditions, from migraine headaches to menstrual cramps. “Arthritis, back sprains, chronic stress … a lot of us just carry stress in our necks and shoulders,” Keane says. “You name it, I’ve seen it.” She notes that clients usually seek help for a single issue — but because acupuncture treats bodies holistically, correction of that issue may end up being just one of the benefits.
Balance Integrative Health offers workshops and classes focusing on improving whole-body health. bihnola.com
Your acupuncture FAQs answered at a glance!
ABOUT THE NEEDLES Made of stainless steel, many acupuncture needles are no bigger in diameter than a human hair. Needles range in length; longer needles are used in fleshier areas.
CONDITIONS TREATED Acupuncture can address chronic physical conditions like arthritis, insomnia, digestive issues, fatigue and migraines, as well as acute pain caused by injury. It can also be used to address infertility, allergies, menstrual syndromes and menopause, and mental/emotional conditions like anxiety and depression.
WHEN YOU MAY FEEL RESULTS According to Keane, some people feel the benefits of acupuncture after their first treatment. Others start to see and feel changes in their bodies after four to six treatments.