Moving the Needle, a Modern Take on Acupuncture | Features
How northern Michigan is embracing the ancient practice
By Kierstin Gunsberg | Nov 12, 2022
One term you’ve probably heard a thousand times in the last couple of years is “self-care.” From normalizing teletherapy visits and athleisure as acceptable workwear to getting comfortable with home fitness apps and grocery delivery subscriptions, the pandemic has encouraged the streamlining of routines and a serious look inward at how we navigate the everyday, especially when it comes to our health.
How we pursue wellness, how we access it, and how we manage it has taken on new importance, and as northern Michiganders seek their best selves, many are no longer separating Western and Eastern health practices, opting instead to add holistic, integrative treatments alongside their daily vitamin regimen and annual checkup.
Helpful Pins and Needles
Acupuncture, an ancient practice that uses very fine needles inserted into the skin, is one of those treatments, and acupuncturists in the region are seeing an increase in prospective patients since the pandemic began. “People were more ready than ever, I would say, to really take their health into their own hands and feel their best even if they didn’t necessarily have any ailments,” says acupuncturist Kara Schaub, owner of Northern Michigan Acupuncture.
Schaub, who practices traditional Chinese medicine out of her office on the outskirts of downtown Traverse City and in a chiropractic clinic in Leelanau, also lauds acupuncture for relief from common post-viral symptoms like vertigo, fatigue, and headaches.
While the idea of seeking acupuncture as a valid treatment for the same stuff that clogs up urgent care waiting rooms might seem trendy, alternative, or even wacky, the truth is, it’s older than Western medicine itself. (Which is, after all, termed “modern” medicine for a reason—it doesn’t hold the 3,000 year history that traditional Chinese medicine does.)
Unbeknownst to many skeptics, we’ve already accepted traditional Chinese medicine and bodywork as a credible therapy in the form of massage. If getting a massage is a great way to come down from the stress of relearning how to attend in-person meetings, or as a bounceback from illness, acupuncture is seen by those who practice it as a leveling-up of those benefits.
As Sarah Searles, owner and clinical director of Live Well Acupuncture in Traverse City explains, “Acupuncture works great because it works on many, many different systems in the body all at once. So we’re working with the nervous system, the circulatory system, the lymphatic system, [and] soft tissue.”
And, like massage, which both Searles and Schaub sometimes recommend integrating into their patient’s treatment plans, acupuncture relieves pain by loosening stressed and tight connective tissue, called fascia.
“It’s like the web that’s holding everything together. It surrounds your muscles, it surrounds your organs. It’s ubiquitous throughout the body,” says Searles, whose patients come to her for issues beyond pain, ranging from general anxiety and IBS to neurological and fertility concerns.
Not Poked and Prodded
But how, exactly, does acupuncture promote healing on a therapeutic level?
In the simplest of (Western) terms, acupuncture is thought to work by essentially tricking the body into believing it’s been harmed by placing needles into dedicated acupuncture points. This then triggers the body to send healing resources around itself, which in turn aids in relief from physical and mental ails.
And, as recently touted by celebs on social media, these same mechanisms can also stimulate anti-aging effects, including a boost in collagen production, making facial rejuvenation through acupuncture an interesting and decidedly less invasive alternative to injections and cosmetic surgery.
Schaub, who offers cosmetic services to her clients, notes that in addition to smoothing fine lines and “overall lifting” of the face, the process of acupuncture promotes better sleep, which positively impacts the outer appearance of patients who come to her for a series of treatments which take place, she says, over a five-week span.
That is, of course, if they can overcome the trepidation of being voluntarily poked with needles. Both Searles and Schaub stress the not-so-scary reality of acupuncture needles, with Searles asserting that those who wince at the pain associated with needles can take comfort.
“The needles are nothing like what most people are used to in a Western medical doctor’s office,” she says. “They’re teeny tiny. They’re not even bigger than a cat’s whisker on their face.” And, much like a whisker, Searles adds, the needles are so thin they’re actually flexible, which should minimize their effect to a subtle sensation.
Schaub agrees that pain shouldn’t be a factor when considering acupuncture. “If I was in conflicting pain upon people, I think I would have a hard time building a business,” she says. “Pain is definitely not what we’re going for.”
What to Expect
So what should someone looking to give acupuncture a try keep in mind? Just like other healthcare providers, qualified acupuncturists must complete a formal education—in this case, an accredited acupuncture and Chinese herbology program. That’s to say, this isn’t a field captained by hobbyists.
As for how to prepare for treatment, Searles urges acupuncture patients to hydrate well before treatments and to plan to spend the rest of the day doing light, easy stuff (read: no HIIT workouts). Schaub adds to curb caffeine before and after treatments, and both agree that having a balanced, healthy meal beforehand will keep patients comfortable while they enjoy a leisurely post-treatment chillout before leaving the office.
Though the idea of relaxing is one that’s hard to associate with the act of seeking a health treatment, Searles says that’s one side effect to expect. “Often times, when someone gets more comfortable with acupuncture through a series of treatments, they will just fall asleep on the table.”