Acupuncture: It’s just needles right?

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Education of the general public about what Chinese Medicine can offer is something I’m very passionate about. I truly believe that if more people understand what our profession is really about – the relationships we have with our patients will blossom. Patients will know what kind of questions to ask, and what kind of ailments we can address. I’ve spoken in previous posts about what Acupuncture can offer outside of the treatment of pain. Today I want to broaden the scope even further and explain some of the things that Acupuncturists can offer outside of just needling. I will likely delve into each of these categories in more detail with future posts.

Other Modalities

Let’s start with the most straightforward thing that Acupuncturists do in addition to needling: other modalities! We have plenty of tools in our arsenal besides just Acupuncture needles. Cupping is probably the most well-known treatment method, as it has gotten a lot of attention from Olympic athletes over the past few years. It involves lighting an alcohol soaked cotton ball, and placing it inside of a glass cup to create a vacuum. The cup is then placed on the patient’s skin (the back is most common). The vacuum causes the tissue to be pulled up inside the cup, improving circulation and relaxing tense muscles. Contrary to what the Amazing Race might have you believe — it isn’t painful, and feels almost like a massage. The red marks it leaves usually fade within a week.

Gua Sha is a tool that has a similar end result to cupping – increased circulation, decreased inflammation, relaxation of sore muscles etc. Instead of a cup however, a flat tool is used to “scrape” at the skin (usually made of jade, stone – or my favorite: a ceramic soup spoon). This is another technique that people are generally nervous about – but it is also not painful. Rather than circular marks, Gua Sha leaves red streaks which also fade in a week.

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Some Jade Gua Sha tools I use in the clinic

Both of these tools can also be used to do something unique to Chinese Medicine, which is “release the exterior” – the theory is that when we get sick, external pathogens begin at the most superficial layer of the body and work their way inward. If a disease is still sitting at the exterior of the body, Gua Sha and Cupping can both help to kick that pathogen out.

Some Acupuncturists will even offer sessions dedicated to solely just Gua Sha or Cupping, if needles aren’t your thing!

Lifestyle and Nutritional Advice

Lifestyle and Nutritional advice are another huge component of Chinese Medicine. Chinese Medicine is all about living in harmony with the world around you. While we are interested in the Western concept of “nutrition” – the proper vitamins, minerals, and nutrients – Acupuncturists also look at the energetic qualities of the food you eat. Chinese Medicine places all foods (and herbs) into certain categories based on whether they are hot or cold in nature, and what their predominant flavor is (sour, sweet, pungent, bitter, salty). As with anything, balance is key – certain foods can be used therapeutically, while other foods should be avoided. Just as foods are categorized, people are categorized based on their constitution. For example, if you are someone who is prone to anger, is often hot and flustered, has headaches and high blood pressure – you have a “hotter” constitution. Therefore, energetically hot foods such as alcohol, spicy dishes, and deep fried food should be avoided, as they can exacerbate the ailments you are prone to. On the flip side, if you’re someone who is often cold, has weak digestion and low energy – warming foods are something you should be incorporating into your diet.

Eating seasonally is another aspect of TCM nutrition. If you’re eating the same meals all year round without any alterations as the seasons change – you might have a problem. While it is true that salads and smoothies are healthy – they can be detrimental to your health if they are consumed in the winter time. Cold foods paired with cold weather can tax the digestive system, and cause excess cold to build up – leading to symptoms like abdominal pain, loose stools, and cramping. Winter time is better suited to food like soups and stews, which are warm and easier for the body to digest.

Your Acupuncturist can help you decide which foods are best suited to your constitution, and best suited to the current time of year.

A Holistic Approach to the Health of Your Mind and Body

Lastly, but most importantly – Acupuncturists are one of the few healthcare providers that take into account your mind, body and spirit. Acupuncture is great for treating physical symptoms, but a balanced mental state is just as important. It is important to note that we are not licensed psychologists or counselors, but we can still help to bridge the gap between the physical body, and the mind. Rather than giving advice in the sense that a therapist might, we target the body with Acupuncture and Herbs in order to achieve changes in a person’s psycho-emotional state. Targeting the mind can have marked effects on the body, and vice versa. Some examples of how Acupuncture can help the mind are more straight forward – like the treatment of Depression and Anxiety. However there are certain areas that may be less obvious like lack of drive, difficulty letting go, timidity etc. This is because in Chinese Medicine each organ in the body is assigned a mental function in addition to its physical functions. For example, pathology of the liver is often associated with Anger, the Kidney’s with fear, the Lungs with grief etc. We target the psycho-emotional aspect of each organ in order to achieve our results.

Western Medical Clinics are busy, and doctors don’t always have the time to discuss your emotional state and how it relates to your overall health. They are focused on keeping you well enough to stay out of the hospital. This isn’t a bad thing, it just means Chinese Medicine fits a different role when it comes to your health. Acupuncturists are more interested in promoting healthy lifestyle habits, and prevention of disease before it starts. Western Medicine is there for more acute, emergent care. When we better understand the strengths and weaknesses of each system –  it’s easy to see that these two systems complement each other perfectly.

I hope this short introduction has helped you understand that Acupuncture is more than just needles!


If you are currently living in Edmonton, Alberta #YEG and would like to book an appointment with me (Jon McDonell) please visit the Meridian Health Centre website, call (780)-428-8897, or email me at jon@meridianhealthcentre.ca !


 

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Supplement of the Month (May 2017): Bioclinic Naturals CalmPro™

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Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine are extremely powerful, but they aren’t the only tools in our arsenal. Sometimes supplements are more suited to treatment of a particular pathology.  This series will outline one new supplement each month in stock here at Meridian Health Centre.


Today I’ll be discussing CalmPro™, a delicious chewable tablet containing 100mg of Suntheanine® (L-Theanine). As the name suggests, CalmPro™ can be used during times of stress, or in those who suffer from anxiety related disorders. L-Theanine, the active ingredient, has been shown to induce a state of “wakeful relaxation,” which is perfect for those who want to relax without being sedated. CalmPro™ is a great supplement that can be used daily, or as needed to ‘take the edge off’ and quickly go about your business.

L-Theanine is found mostly in tea, but you would need to drink a lot of tea to get the same effect as a dose of this supplement. Bioclinic’s product specifications state: “It works by influencing the central nervous system through a number of mechanisms: It crosses the blood-brain barrier in a dose-dependent manner within 30 minutes, and influences levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), serotonin, norepinephrine, and glutamate. These effects cause a significant increase in alpha brain wave activity, indicative of a state of wakeful relaxation, increased performance under stress, improved learning and concentration, as well as decreased anxiety.” The supplement has also been shown to increase memory and attention in subjects with mild cognitive impairment (Henson, 2011).

Other clinical trials show that L-theanine is capable of significantly improving nitric oxide production in endothelial (artery-lining) cell which may decrease the risk of stroke, as well as reduce the harmful effects of a stroke if it does occur (Siamwala, 2013). In terms of areas where more research is needed, L-Theanine may help combat the development of disorders like Alzheimers, and may even be useful in the treatment of cancer (specifically decrease in tumor size) (Alternative Medicine Review, 2005).

No specific contraindications exist for L-Theanine, but research is lacking on it’s use during pregnancy. CalmPro™ can also induce a mild hypotensive effect so it should be used with caution in those with low blood pressure, or those taking antihypertensives (as it may potentiate the effects of these medications).

So whether you’re getting it through the tea you drink, or you decide to supplement – L-Theanine is a perfect addition to help you decrease the negative effects of stress, while still staying alert and able to take on the day! Ask a practitioner here at Meridian Health Centre if CalmPro™ is right for you!

 

References:

Henson, Shari. “Research Review. Green Tea/L-Theanine Combination Increases Memory and Attention in Subjects with Mild Cognitive Impairment.” Herbalgram no. 91 (August 2011): 32-33. Alt HealthWatch, EBSCOhost (accessed May 13, 2017).

L-Theanine. (2005). Alternative Medicine Review, 10(2), 136-138.

Siamwala JH, Dias PM, Majumder S, et al. L-theanine promotes nitric oxide production in endothelial cells through eNOS phosphorylation. J Nutr Biochem. 2013;24(3):595-605.

 


If you are currently living in Edmonton, Alberta #YEG and would like to book an appointment with me (Jon McDonell) please visit the Meridian Health Centre website, call (780)-428-8897, or email me at jon@meridianhealthcentre.ca !


 

Acupuncture and TMJ Dysfunction

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Note: As a new practitioner I thought it would be fun to incorporate the things I am currently learning about into educational content that can be of benefit to other practitioners and their patients. I am by no means an expert on these topics, so if you encounter any information you disagree with, please don’t hesitate to contact me and I’ll edit it.


Introduction to the Temporomandibular Joint

Whether you’re chewing a piece of gum, or gabbing on the phone with a friend – your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is one of the most frequently used joints in your body. With that much use, wear and tear is common. Today we’ll be explaining what the joint is, common pathologies of the TMJ as well as ways Acupuncture can help in the treatment of TMJ disorders.

“The temporomandibular joint is a combined hinge and plane joint formed by the condylar process of the mandible and the mandibular fossa and articular process of the temporal bone. The temporomandibular joint is the only freely movable joint between skull bones” (Tortora, 2012). The joint is separated into an upper and lower cavity, each filled with synovial fluid. Between the condylar process of the mandible, and the mandibular fossa sits an articular disc.  This articular disc is what divides the joint into an upper and lower cavity. It ensures that the condylar process moves smoothly out of the mandibular fossa, and along the articular tubercle as the jaw opens.

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Apart from the mandible, and the articular disc, there are the muscles of mastication (literally, your ‘chewing muscles’). These are the main muscles involved in moving the mandible (jaw) around. These include the:

Masseter: this muscle elevates the mandible (jaw) and closes the mouth

Lateral Pterygoid: this muscle primarily pulls the head of the condyle out of the mandibular fossa along the articular tubercle (to protrude the jaw), also assists in depressing the mandible (along with the digastric, mylohyoid, and geniohyoid)

Medial Pterygoid: Assists in elevation of the mandible, minor contribution to protrusion of the jaw, as well as excursion of the mandible.

Temporalis: this muscle elevates and retracts the mandible, pulling it posteriorly.

Now that we’ve been introduced to the main components of a healthy, properly functioning temporomandibular joint, we can move onto looking at disorders of the joint.

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Temporomandibular Joint Disorders

There are a wide array of things that can lead to disorders, and pain of the jaw. Disorders of the joint itself, tension in the surrounding muscles, even arthritis, can all lead to pain and abnormal functioning of the temporomandibular joint. While Acupuncture can help to manage pain in most of these cases, it is better suited to the treatment of some pathologies more than others – and depending on the severity of the disorder, surgery is sometimes the only option. TMJ disorders can be narrowed down to four main causes:

  1. Myofascial pain syndrome – This pathology is due to dysfunction, or tension of the muscles that control jaw movement. Symptoms often include highly sensitive trigger points on the muscles of mastication that, when pressed, will refer pain to the jaw, or other areas of the head/neck. Clenching or grinding of the teeth, headaches and abnormalities in jaw mobility (Porter, 2011). Acupuncture is most effective in cases of myofascial related TMJ pain, due to it’s ability to release trigger points, and relax tense muscles.
  2. Internal derangement of the joint – this can be congenital, or due to overuse, external trauma etc. If internal derangement of the joint affects the articular disc (displacing it either anteriorly, or posteriorly) then pain, clicking, popping, or even locking of the jaw may result. Facial asymmetry may be visible in severe cases. Pain due to internal derangement tends to be more localized to the temporomandibular joint. Depending on the severity, Acupuncture can be of help in pain management, but surgery may be required.
  3. Osteoarthritis of the joint – Osteoarthritis of the temporomandibular joint is a degenerative disease that can have an effect on the articular cartilage, bones, or synovial tissue of the joint. Acupuncture can assist in reducing inflammation, and pain – but obviously won’t have much effect on structural changes in the jaw. Acupuncture is best employed when OA of the jaw is detected early.
  4. Temporal arteritis – This generally doesn’t occur in patients under the age of 50. It is a more serious condition leading to inflammation or irritation of the temporal arteries, which supply blood to the head. It is often accompanied by symptoms that the other causes are not – like double vision, weakness, weight loss, throbbing in the temples etc. Temporal arteritis is serious, and can lead to stroke or blindness – therefore I do not advise using Acupuncture as a stand alone treatment. Only receive acupuncture treatment for Temporal arteritis if you’ve been cleared by a physician.

These are some of the most common causes, but the causes of TMJ related pain often aren’t clear. Regardless of the cause, common symptoms of TMJ disorders are:

  • Pain or tenderness around the jaw
  • Clicking or popping of the joint
  • Difficulty or pain while chewing, yawning etc.
  • Pain around the ear
  • Stiffness of the neck, temples, or shoulders
  • Locking of the jaw
  • Grinding or clenching of the teeth (often while asleep)

If you are suffering from any of these symptoms it is best to consult with your doctor, or dentist, in addition to your Acupuncturist.

What can Acupuncture do to help?

Acupuncture can be used to reduce inflammation in the joint, relax tense muscles, ease pain of the affected area, as well as help modulate any abnormal activity of the nerves in the face/neck. In terms of Chinese Medical Theory, most of the Yang Meridians have some effect on the jaw.

While Acupuncture is an effective modality on its own, the best results occur when needling is combined with manual manipulation / release of the temporomandibular joint, and surrounding masticatory musculature. In my own practice, I generally encourage patients to seek treatment from a massage therapist, or physiotherapist who has experience in intraoral massage, in addition to their acupuncturist.

Below are a list of points commonly used to treat TMJ dysfunction, as well their function and location.

Common Points Used:

Stomach 7 At the lower border of the zygomatic arch, in the depression anterior to the condyloid process of the mandible. Needling this point goes directly into the lateral pterygoid muscle. One of the most frequently used points in the treatment of TMJ pain.
San Jiao 21, Small Intestine 19, Gall Bladder 2 These three points are located in a vertical line, anterior to the tragus of the ear, and posterior to the condyloid process of the mandible. Given their close proximity to the ear, these points are useful if pain radiates from the jaw into the ear area.
Extra Point: Taiyang At a point midway, and slightly posterior to the lateral eyebrow, and the outer canthus of the eye. This point targets the anterior fibres of the temporalis muscle. Especially useful if headaches or trigger points in the temple region accompany the TMJ dysfunction.
Large Intestine 18 On the lateral side of the neck, between the two heads of the SCM muscle, in line with the laryngeal prominence. Given it’s location overtop of the SCM muscle, this point can be used if neck tension is leading to jaw pain.
Large Intestine 4 Between the thumb and forefinger, at the midpoint of the second metacarpal bone, and close to its radial border.
If you squeeze the thumb and index finger together, this point sits at the highest point on the bulge of muscle.
This is the command point of the face. It is a commonly used distal point in the treatment of jaw pain, headache, or toothache. It is generally needled on the side opposite to the pain.
Stomach 6 Approximately 1 fingerbreadth anterior and superior to the angle of the jaw at the prominence of the masseter muscle. This point sits directly over the belly of the masseter muscle. Especially useful if grinding/clenching of the teeth is a symptom.


I hope you enjoyed this overview of Acupuncture’s role in the treatment of TMJ dysfunction. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact me.


If you are currently living in Edmonton, Alberta #YEG and would like to book an appointment with me (Jon McDonell) please visit the Meridian Health Centre website, call (780)-428-8897, or email me at jon@meridianhealthcentre.ca !


References:

Deadman, P., Khafaji, M. A., & Baker, K. (2011). A manual of acupuncture. Hove: Journal of Chinese Medicine Publications.

Magee, D. J. (2014). Orthopedic Physical Assessment. Saint Louis: Elsevier Health Sciences.

Porter, R. S., Kaplan, J. L., & Merck Sharp & Dohme. (2011). The Merck manual of diagnosis and therapy. Whitehouse Station, N.J: Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp.

Tortora, G. J., & Nielsen, M. T. (2012). Principles of human anatomy. New York: Wiley.

Acupuncture 101 (#2): What does it Treat?

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Here in the West, Acupuncture is known mainly for it’s analgesic (pain relieving) power. It’s often advertised as a low-risk, side effect free alternative to medication. While this is 100% true, there is so much more to Acupuncture and Chinese medicine than just pain relief. Due to it’s holistic nature, Acupuncture can be used to treat, or to assist in the treatment of almost any illness. Note that there is a difference between a TREATMENT, and a CURE. It would be irresponsible of me to use these words interchangeably. Acupuncture is not magic, it is not a miracle modality that can rid you of your ailments overnight. We can do a lot of good, and facilitate a lot of healing, but it has it’s limits. An example I like to use is Cancer treatment. Acupuncture and Herbal medicine cannot cure cancer on their own. Many practitioners will make irresponsible, and dangerous claims otherwise – but it can’t. Acupuncture can however be used to mitigate some of the side effects of Western Cancer treatment. For example, Chinese Medicine has been shown to have marked results in the treatment of chemotherapy related nausea, vomiting, and dry mouth, as well as cancer related pain and fatigue. This shows that Acupuncture can be a powerful tool in the TREATMENT of cancer, but it cannot cure cancer. Now that we understand the difference between a treatment and a cure, let’s move on to some Acupuncture Theory.

In an Acupuncture Treatment needles are inserted into Acupuncture points which fall along meridians. These needles help to facilitate the flow of Qi in the body, by breaking up stagnation (blockages in Qi flow). When Qi is able to flow uninhibited, we are in good health. (You may remember from my previous post that I’m not a big fan of referring to Qi as simply “energy” or lifeforce” and opt for the more modern term: bioelectricity.) Now, these meridians don’t simply run along the surface of the body, they travel inward to connect to our internal organs, sense organs, muscles etc. It’s a vast network that connects the entire human body. Qi is what allows these different areas of the body to communicate, and interact with each other. Needling an Acupuncture point which falls on a meridian that connects with the eyes, can have a positive effect on vision. As can needling a point which falls on a meridian that connects to the liver, low back, or anywhere else in the body. Because of this, Acupuncture can essentially be used to treat any ailment that falls along the trajectory of a meridian.

Chinese Medicine, unlike it’s Western reductionist counterpart, is a holistic system of healing which takes into account a person’s entire being. There is no marked separation between a patient’s body, mind and spirit. Therefore, changes made to one of these aspects can have effects on the others. Treat the body, and you can affect the mind. Treat the mind and you can affect the body. Treatment of disease is also unique, person to person. While Western medicine may take 10 patients with back pain and treat them all the same way, Chinese Medicine takes into account each person’s symptoms in addition to their individual constitution, lifestyle habits, and emotional state. Acupuncturists don’t simply treat symptoms, they get to the root of a person’s disharmony and treat from there. This is a vital component to healing that is missing from Western Medicine.

If Chinese Medical theory doesn’t jive with you, and you need peer reviewed research in order to truly have faith in our medicine – I’ll link you HERE to an article outlining the World Health Organizations official stance on Acupuncture. They list 28 diseases which Acupuncture been proven through controlled trials to be an effective form of treatment. There are many more diseases further down the list which say Acupuncture is likely effective, but more research is needed. There is solid research out there that proves, scientifically, that Acupuncture is a legitimate form of treatment.

Western and Eastern Medicine are very different, but they both have their strengths. In general, Chinese Medicine is beneficial for chronic disorders, whereas Western Medicine has better results with more acute, and emergency medical care. Western Medicine is all about getting you well enough to function outside of a hospital. Some of their treatments may be rougher on the body, but they keep patients ALIVE. Chinese Medicine is about prevention of disease, the fostering of a healthy lifestyle – so you can avoid a trip to the hospital! If you have a tumor, or a gunshot wound – obviously go to a doctor! But there is so much more to health than the treatment of life threatening disorders. Things like pain, anxiety, even chronic heart burn – can all take a toll a person’s quality of life. If you want a gentle modality that really gets to the root of your issues, consider Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine.


If you’re living in Edmonton, Alberta and would like to book an appointment with me (Jon McDonell), click HERE!

Acupuncture 101: What is it, and does it hurt?

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Hello and welcome to “Acupuncture 101,” a series of blogs targeted towards people who are considering Acupuncture, but not sure of what to expect. This first entry is about the typical sensations you’ll encounter when being needled by an Acupuncturist.


So, What IS Acupuncture?

So you’re considering Acupuncture, or maybe you’ve even gone ahead and booked your first appointment. What should you expect? What on Earth have you signed up for? You’re gonna pay to willingly have some guy poke you with needles for an hour? You must be crazy!

Or – maybe you’ve just taken your first steps toward taking charge of your health! Chinese Medicine is an extremely powerful form of treatment, one that has helped millions of people heal from within, and lead more balanced lives (I promise, it’s not as hokey as it sounds). However, I understand why many people hesitate at first. Traditional Chinese Medicine (which I’ll refer to as TCM) isn’t something we’re used to in the West. Many people have a very limited understanding of what Acupuncture is, or what it is used for.

In it’s most basic sense, Acupuncture is all about promoting the flow of Qi, (often [poorly] translated to “life force” or “vital energy”),  along the body’s meridians. But that’s a very jargon heavy, ambiguous explanation. I recently discovered an amazing article written by John Amaro that translates those vague concepts of “Qi” and “Meridians” into language that the average North American will understand. He likens Qi to electricity, and meridians to the circuit that electricity flows on. I won’t try to out do him, so I’ll post a link to his explanation here. Whether you want to discuss these ideas in TCM terms, or in more modern terms – the treatment stays the same. Needles are inserted into specific points along these pathways to break up any blockages, and promote healthy flow of energy. Treatment gets to the root of your ailments by bringing the body back to balance. Acupuncture is most commonly known here in the West for pain relief, but due to it’s ability to correct disharmony in the body, Acupuncture can be applied to wide array of disorders. It is particularly effective for psycho-emotional disorders like anxiety, sleep disorders, gastrointestinal health, headaches, and even infertility.

Needles can also be used off of meridian pathways on muscular motor points. To either relax muscles that are hyperactive, or activate muscles which are weak.

What does it feel like? Does it hurt? I’M AFRAID OF NEEDLES!

There is something of a myth here in the West that Acupuncture is supposed to be this relaxing, spa-like experience where the patient forgets about the needles and floats away on a cloud. I regret to inform you this isn’t exactly true. Don’t get me wrong, Acupuncture can be an extremely calming experience, (especially if you’re being treated for anxiety or irritability), but we must remember that Acupuncture is first and foremost a MEDICAL practice. Our focus is on healing you – and just like Western Medicine it can sometimes be a little uncomfortable. BUT – there is a difference between slight discomfort, and pain. Acupuncture should never be a painful experience. Many patients worry that the use of needles inevitably means pain, they think Acupuncture is akin to torture. This is also a myth. The truth lies somewhere in between the myths I’ve dispelled above.

So if Acupuncture isn’t painful, what kind of feelings can you expect? There are a surprising number of sensations you may experience when being needled for the first time: soreness (often a dull ache), fullness/distention, heaviness, heat or cold, itching, a muscular twitch, numbness etc. Also common is the sensation of an electric shock or jolt travelling down your arm or leg. These are all normal sensations characteristic of something called the “de qi sensation.”  In Chinese, “de qi” means to “obtain qi” – it means that Qi has arrived at the acupuncture point being needled, facilitating a healing reaction. In more modern terms I simply think of this as the body “paying attention” to the area being needled. Treatment without the “de qi” sensation is generally less effective, in other words – feeling something (even a little discomfort) is better in the long run than feeling nothing.

Abnormal sensations are a sharp, burning or stabbing pain. If you ever feel any of these the acupuncturist will remove the needle immediately and use a new one at a slightly different angle. Sensations like this usually occur when a needle isn’t inserted far enough. The reason we often use guide tubes with needles is because the superficial layers of your skin are highly innervated and sensitive to pain, by using a guide tube we’re able to tap the needle right through that sensitive area so you feel the minimum amount of discomfort.

If any pain or discomfort lasts longer than a couple minutes, it’s always good practice to let your Acupuncturist know, so we can assure nothing is wrong. Rest assured though, Acupuncture when practiced by a Licensed Acupuncturist is near risk free. We know what we’re doing 🙂

I hope this post helped you to gain a better understanding of what to expect in your first treatment!


If you’re living in Edmonton, Alberta and would like to book an appointment with me (Jon McDonell), click HERE!

Up and Running

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Hello and Welcome to Pondstones: an Acupuncture and Wellness blog!

For those of you who are following me from years previous, this is the same blog that I was running before – only revamped! I’ve erased my previous entries on writing, and my personal life in order to change the focus of this blog. I’m now a licensed acupuncturist and want to create a place online to help educate my patients, fellow practitioners, and the world – about just how wonderful Traditional Chinese Medicine is.

You can look forward to many more posts here in the near future! Stay tuned!