Ask the Acupuncturist

If you have a question that you’d like to see answered in this section, send it to Amy

Please note that names are changed to protect the confidentiality of those submitting questions.
Question:
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I have trouble sleeping when I’m nervous — like before a performance or audition. The lack of sleep often detracts from my singing. Can acupuncture help me reduce anxiety and sleep better before performances?
— Genevieve in Berkeley, California

Answer:
Acupuncture and Chinese herbs are frequently used to treat insomnia and emotional imbalances.

In Chinese medicine the mind, body and spirit are inter-related, so conditions that originate in the mind or spirit can be treated via the body. Treatments can be longer-term (1 to 3 months) for chronic problems, or on an “as needed” basis for pre-performance jitters.

Many first-time acupuncture clients are amazed by the deep state of relaxation they slip into during treatments. Since anxiety before performing is so common among artists, many may benefit from a calming, centering acupuncture treatment a day or two before a performance.

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I have repetitive strain injury (RSI) to my hands. Can acupuncture help?
— Arthur in San Francisco, California

Answer:
Acupuncture is recognized as a wonderful treatment for many kinds of soft-tissue injuries, including RSI.

RSI refers to a variety of conditions including carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, tenosynovitis, bursitis, epicondylitis and trigger finger/thumb. These injuries are usually caused by excessive repetition of a single movement. Over time, repeated motion can reduce circulation to an area such as the hand, leading to tiny tears in the muscles and tendons. These tears then become inflamed or irritated. Examples of movements that frequently cause RSI are clicking the mouse on a computer and playing musical instruments.

Acupuncture is especially well suited to treating RSI because it improves circulation of qi (energy) and blood to an injury site. This speeds up the healing process. There’s a Chinese saying that explains how acupuncture works:
“When the channels are obstructed qi cannot flow freely; this causes pain. When the channels are open the qi flows freely, so there is no pain.”

Chinese medicine views the body as having many channels (pathways) along which qi and blood travel. Qi in the channels is like traffic in a tunnel. If the tunnel is blocked by an accident, cars can’t get through, and congestion results. If an injury to soft tissue blocks the flow of qi and blood, they accumulate in the channels causing congestion and discomfort.

Acupuncture needles placed near an injury reduce inflammation so that qi and blood can flow more smoothly through an injured area. This is like emergency personnel clearing a path through a tunnel so that healers (qi and blood) can reach the site. As the injury begins to heal, more qi and blood can move through the area. Congestion is further reduced, healing is speeded up and pain is eased.

For any condition, it’s best to get a concise diagnosis from a medical doctor. Then you can explore which Western and “alternative” treatments are best for you.

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A friend of mine is a singer and has vocal nodules. Can Chinese medicine help her?
— Iris in San Francisco, California

Answer:
Vocal nodules affect many professional and aspiring singers. Though little has been translated into English on Chinese medical treatments for this problem, I have unearthed some herbal formulas for vocal nodules buried deep in specialized Chinese texts on throat problems.

I have also heard anecdotally of 2 people in the U.S. with vocal nodules being treated successfully with acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy. So, even though acupuncturists treat conditions for which information is sparse, they often have very positive results. This is because the unique system of Chinese diagnosis allows the acupuncturist to “deconstruct” a disease into logical, yet deceptively simple, categories to deduce the cause(s) of the illness. Once the essence of the disease is understood, the practitioner can devise appropriate acupuncture and herbal treatments to address the condition from its root.

As I find more information on Chinese medicine’s treatment of vocal nodules I’ll post it on this site, so please stay tuned.