There are numerous reasons why acupuncture works wonders for some, and others feel no improvement. There’s a very small percentage of the population who have a genetic deficiency in Glutamate and Gaba. These people are deemed “nonresponders.” Truly, acupuncture will not have an effect on them, ever. But these people are estimated to be less than one percent of the population. Everyone else can discover that some of the following factors could have prevented them from seeing results with acupuncture.
The primary problem I see is that the treatment wasn’t strong enough. I was taught in school to “challenge yourself” and use as few needles as possible. No particular reason was given other than it was just more challenging to pick one spot to needle as opposed to throwing in the kitchen sink and doing it all. I actually believed this as it was taught to me in school!
Luckily, I worked in a very successful acupuncture clinic in Cherry Creek. We used 50-80 needles per patient. This completely changed my perspective. Then, I went to China. We were using up to 80 needles per patient with incredible results. I see that in my clinical experience here as well. Yes, there is such a thing as overdoing it or too strong of a treatment. But wouldn’t you prefer feeling better in a few treatments as opposed to enduring 2-3 times per week for several months? I always try to see how someone’s body responds. I give each patient a treatment as strong as they can handle so they get better faster.
The next major issue I see is when another acupuncturist missed the core problem; they only treated the symptoms. Take digestive issues, for example. We treat the bloating and stomach pain over and over with acupuncture. The patient gets temporary relief, but the issue persists. Instead of repeating this, I look at blood tests. I often find a high number of thyroid anti-bodies (TPO) which shows the patient’s thyroid is slowing down because it thinks all the gluten being eaten is actually thyroid tissue. The thyroid no longer needs to make thyroid stimulating hormone. The buildup of gluten in the system causes the digestive symptoms of bloating due to a lack of diverse microbiotics in the colon. All these symptoms could be moderated by simply removing gluten from the diet, adding diverse plants to the diet and using acupuncture to decrease inflammation. Furthermore, we can detox and methylate nutrients properly to get rid of symptoms permanently. Acupuncture is amazing, but if you have an allergy to something you’re putting in your body, acupuncture alone can't be the answer.
You’re not going to like what I say next! Coffee, caffeinated tea, cocoa and the medication Theolair/Theophylline (medication for bronchitis/emphysema) can prevent you from reaping the benefits of acupuncture! This is because the four items listed above block adenosine. When an acupuncture needle breaks into tissue, a rush of adenosine comes to the site of the needle. This same reaction takes place when you get a splinter. The body thinks that when you receive acupuncture, you are getting a splinter. Mighty adenosine is a molecule which helps kill pain. Adenosine helps relax everything especially the heart rate and central nervous system.
Research has found that if you drink coffee right before acupuncture, the pain relief experienced significantly decreases. The anti-adenosine properties of caffeine stay in your system for about 12 hours. If you are not experiencing results and you’re a regular caffeine consumer, try laying off caffeine the day before your treatment. Dietary insufficiencies promote trigger points. If you have tight muscle knots and they continue to cause problems, consider supplementing with the following: iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, folate, B12, B6, C, D. Refer to my previous blog on trigger points for more information.
Anatomical problems cannot be fixed by acupuncture! However, acupuncture can always help with pain. Often, patients are misled into thinking they can avoid surgery if they get acupuncture. While this is the case with some problems, if you’ve torn a muscle, you need surgery! Let’s say you have painful clicking and popping in your shoulder. You had a minor injury to it and you don’t want to go back to your doctor. You just want the pain to go away. You’ve heard acupuncture is good for shoulder pain, so you give it a try. You don’t get better.
You finally get an MRI and it shows, lo and behold, you have a SLAP tear in the labrum! You need surgery—that is why you didn’t get better! A piece of your labrum is jarring around each time you move. This will cause repetitive pain until the injury is physically repaired and rehabilitated into its appropriate position. A qualified clinician can determine if acupuncture can help fix the problem or if it should only be used for pain management.
Sometimes, the frequency of treatments is the problem. Acupuncture works best with multiple sessions. This is because the release of opioid peptides also enhances gene expression. Each time acupuncture stimulates a release of opioids, more peptides are manufactured and stored. If a patient doesn’t feelmuch relief from the first acupuncture treatment, the following treatments tend to yield more opioid peptides via the opioid metabolism and gene expression.
Each person has his or her own set of challenges and chemical makeup. The most challenging part of my job is figuring out how each person responds. This is what we do best at Evergreen Medical Acupuncture!
Dr. Christina Fick (DAOM)