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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.


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 !