Ask An... Acupuncturist with Dr. Kathryn Pedrick

Does acupuncture hurt?

Absolutely not!  Acupuncture needles are very thin, about the diameter of a human hair, and are not hollow like a hypodermic needle. They’re inserted very quickly, and most patients find it to be completely painless. I have actually had patients fall asleep and start snoring while I am still inserting the needles! After the needle is inserted it’s normal to feel a pressure sensation or even a feeling of movement - like water flowing in the area.  We call this a “Qi sensation.”

Does it work?  What conditions can it treat?

Acupuncture has been used effectively for thousands of years on almost every continent in the world.  It works amazingly well for a huge variety of conditions by harnessing your body’s own ability to heal.  Acupuncture works primarily through a network of connective tissue called fascia which runs throughout your body encasing every organ and muscle. Where fascial “planes” overlap we find acupuncture points.  Placing needles into these points cause changes in the fascia which signal your brain to alter hormone production, change blood flow, or decrease pain.

What is one thing you wish women knew about acupuncture?

I wish women knew how effectively acupuncture can treat and prevent PMS symptoms and menstrual irregularities.  Many women suffer every month with terrible cramping, migraines, and mood swings.  These things are common, but they don’t need to be!  Acupuncture can give immediate relief, and prevent these things from happening in future cycles. If you’re reaching for Midol every month, call an acupuncturist instead!

What can someone expect at their first appointment?

Chinese medicine takes a big picture view of health, so I need to know how every system in your body is functioning. In a first appointment, we typically spend about 20 minutes talking about everything from digestion to how well you sleep. Once I have a good idea of how your body is functioning as a whole, we’ll talk about any patterns I see, and what you and I can do to correct them. After the consultation, I’ll insert needles (typically 10-12) at points I think are appropriate for your body, and you’ll relax for a bit to let the needles do their magic.  Often I will recommend a series of treatments to fully treat a condition, but most people feel extremely relaxed following their first appointment and see positive changes in 12-24 hours.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about acupuncture?

People like to tell me whether they “believe” in acupuncture or not.  The truth is, it really doesn’t matter whether you believe in it, just as you don’t need to believe in Tylenol to reap its benefits!  There is this huge misconception that acupuncture is unscientific or rooted in the placebo effect, but there are mountains of research documenting its scientific basis. As I talked about very briefly above, acupuncture points can be located in the fascia that runs between muscles and organs, or near nerves.  In both cases, they have measurable electrical differences from the tissue that surrounds them. If you’re interested in learning more about the science behind acupuncture, The Spark in the Machine by Dr. Daniel Keown is a fantastic book and does a great job summing up and referencing most of the current research. 

Katie Pedrick is a licensed acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist. She co-owns and operates a wellness clinic, Meridian Wellness, in Boston, Ma.