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Crazy Stuff That I Get Asked

Now you guys probably know that I have been gallivanting to the other side of the planet over the last two weeks so jet lag has been a pretty persistent theme running in the background of my head since I got back to Toronto a week ago. Sure I pretty much hit the ground running and got right back to work but I haven't been able to sit here in front of my trusty laptop to finish the article about "the Beast" called PMS (and hormones) - yet. I figured just to tie things over and to keep things light, airy and fresh (since I am still in a happy vacationland bubble), I'd do a FUN piece!

This post was actually inspired by a conversation I had with a friend over dinner yesterday. We were talking about some of the stuff that comes up at work and somehow the twists and turns in the conversation about some of the more "improbable" things that occur in a workplace morphed into a discussion on some of the craziest things that we get asked at work. He probably wins hands down as he does a customer focused and customer service type of job and gets mobbed by nutty questions from his customers a lot.

As for me, I have seen my fair share of "interesting" questions from all sorts of folks that I have encountered over my years of working the acupuncture circuit. And I have been itching to write something about some of the craziest things that I have been asked about acupuncture in general - partially to dispel some of the myths about acupuncture floating around out there and partially because I like to have a good-hearted laugh when I look back to the start of my career path.

(Obligatory PSA portion of article - the article has been written to poke satirical fun at myself and at some of the things that I used to think of when I was asked the questions listed here. No mean-spirited comments are intended nor implied in the writing up of this. Some of the techniques mentioned here in the article such as Point Injection Therapy are mentioned for information purposes only and not techniques I use personally in daily practice. Advice should always be sought from professionals who actually practice this form of therapy before anyone agrees to undertake any procedure involving this form of medical treatment.)

Question one:

If I want to get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of a session, do I have to let you know first or can I just walk over to the bathroom myself?

Hesitantly answered with (while working hard to keep a straight face):

It probably will be "a lot more comfortable" if you just flag me down and let me remove the needles first. Its probably not a huge deal for you to move around if you really need to (like in the event of a fire, imminent alien attack or something equally life threatening) but, just to avoid the very possibility of being accidentally lanced as you try to make your way to the bathroom, it may be better for me to help you take the needles out first and then put new ones in when you're back.

I can say that this question is really an amalgamation of my own previous experience with what another fellow acupuncturist called "walkers" (patient who tries to walk with acupuncture needles still attached; inspired by term for a generic post-apocalyptic zombie as used on The Walking Dead) and some real questions that people have actually asked me in my practice. I indeed have encountered such a "walker" in a previous clinic that I used to work in. He actually tried to get up shortly after I had placed the needles in and casually asked me where the bathroom was. I was stunned that he tried moving as soon as he said he was comfortable and just I was about ready to leave the room! The situation was promptly remedied but I am still left with an impression that this idea that moving around "safely" after being needled still "interestingly" exists (why??).

Question two:

If you accidentally needle the side of my neck, has anyone actually - like, you know, gushed out a ton of blood?

Colbert eyebrow-raise reflex averted before answering:

As much as zombie themed TV shows and movies about alien space creatures make it seem possible, its not too likely to happen within a clinical setting. Mostly because our needling techniques and occupational safety training does not teach us to specifically "aim for the jugular" and just go for it. (Yes some of us may have secret acupuncture-ninja training but some of those secrets are just that - secrets; never to be revealed!). We always tap the needle in at a specific angle and almost never go beyond even an eighth of an inch past the surface of the skin if areas with little muscle or fascia are worked on (such as on the side of the neck in this case). The needles we use are also rather thin (being thinner than a hyperdermic hollow needle and closer to the width a human hair) and would more likely bend in resistance against a stronger, pressure-filled blood vessel like an artery, rather than coming close to puncturing it.

I was asked the second question around the time that the TV show, The Walking Dead, started running and I can only guess that the prevalence of people being chased around by zombies after the apocalypse prompted more public awareness of projectile jugular or arterial fluids? It was around this time that Toronto's Zombie Run/Walk was a regular thing (though come to think of it, I haven't heard much of this event in the last few years and wonder what the next movie/show/sci-fi themed regular run event will be centred around and what sorts of questions it would prompt about acupuncture?)

Question three: Do you have to practice some form of martial art or do a lot of meditation to become a better acupuncturist?

Answered rather bemusedly and somewhat proudly with:

Why, that is an interesting question! I don't doubt that having some form of martial arts background (whether it be in tai qi, Kung Fu, taekwando or BJJ) would enhance one's practice of acupuncture, I don't believe that you have to necessarily be trained in combat or have an MMA background to have the chops to do well in this career. Anything that helps a person get centred, focused and ideally, disciplined, helps you to be a steady, calm and observant practitioner. These qualities can be cultivated in anything that stills the mind and allows you to see and react appropriately to the situation at hand as patients are "alive biological beings" (for the true blue geeks out there this means that we are sentient, carbon based units with feelings!) and our patients' medical condition(s) can change quickly or suddenly at anytime. You have to react to what the patient presents with and when you have stilled the mind and spirit to do that effectively, then the best course of action is what is most appropriate for the present-time NOW symptoms and not a pre-planned, pre-mediated treatment that may only address observable conditions that may have changed from the previous day(s).

I say "proudly answered" because at the time I was asked this, I was actually enrolled in aikido classes at a local dojo and learned (after many bumps, scrapes and epic-fail falls and sprains) that focusing too much on pre-planning your "counter attack" resulted in poor and often badly executed techniques. Martial arts that employ the subtle art of feeling your opponent's energy in an attack really required you to be calm, still and ready to receive your opponent's attack so that the appropriate technique at the time could be used effectively to disable your attacker. If you pre-plan it by assuming your opponent will hit you a certain way, then you will only be prepared for a specific counter-attack and not be ready for something that you weren't expecting. When my patient asked this question, that was when the light bulb went off in my head and it dawned on me that executing good acupuncture techniques had a lot in common with executing good martial arts techniques. You can never pre-plan a counter attack on the mats because you will not react appropriately to what your attacker comes at you with, so why pre-plan a treatment with a patient before you actually see what symptoms a patient actually presents you with?

Question four:

Do the needles you use actually have some form of liquid or medicine in them to make them more effective?

My answer (no facial expression was used for this question):

Not in the acupuncture that I do. The needles I use are solid stainless steel, sterilized, pre-packed and disposable needles. None of them have a structure like a hypodermic syringe (like the kind used in flu shots or in blood samples for blood tests) so no liquids, herbal tinctures or medicine can be injected into the muscle during use. There are many kinds of techniques that can be used once the acupuncture needle has been introduced to the local site (such as electro-acupuncture, moxibustion, needle manipulation and cupping over the needled acupuncture point) and each one of these needling techniques can help the acupuncturist achieve pain reduction, stress or anxiety relief, hormone balance, immune system enhancement, and so on; without necessarily requiring the injection of liquid herbal medicine to make the treatment "more effective" than if one were to use just the needles alone.

It is a fair question. I admit that when I was first asked this (and this was a few weeks into my first placement in a neighbourhood acupuncture clinic), I was a little confused as I had never heard of such a concept. However, as I practiced more over the years, I started hearing more and more about a technique called Point Injection Therapy where, according to my understanding, a small amount of anaesthetic and vitamins or herbal medicine is injected into the local site where the needle has been introduced in order to help the patient find relief for their condition. I myself have not learned nor practiced this technique but to my understanding, the principles of Chinese medicine diagnosis are applied before deciding on whether the therapy should be used or not and if it is used, where the needles that provide this medicine are to be placed (i.e. which meridians and points are selected for the treatment). Like I said, I personally haven't learned this form of acupuncture and cannot vouch for whether this works well or not but I'd say, if you were to try it, your best bet is to do your homework first and find a Registered Acupuncturist (R.Ac) who is certified by their local board to try it out with. This does exist and if I hear more about its efficacy, you will all be the first to hear about it from me.

*For acugeeks who want to find out more, check out this article from the Oxford Journal Of Medicine for some literature about this form of therapy:

Question five:

When you do acupuncture for labour induction, does the patient go into labour right then and there in the clinic during the treatment?

Which I admit, I had to think about when I was first asked this:

Before I even tell the back story - the answer is almost aways 95% flat out "no". Now there is always an exception somewhere but in my almost ten years of practice, I haven't seen this happen right from the get go on the very first treatment yet (but I'd be sure curious to know if this has happened to anyone else and what they did at the time!).

The reason why I said that I had to think about it was because the first time I was asked this was literally after my first two or three months of practice after getting my TCM (and Human Biology) Degree! I was caught off guard because when the patient asked this of me on the phone (she was already 40-41 weeks pregnant with her first child and past her due date when she called to ask about booking for labour induction), visions of immediate labour popped into my head as the question was posed and for a brief moment I almost thought it was possible. Luckily common sense took hold of me and I told her that it may take more than a single visit and treatment to trigger the oxytocin release in the body required to stimulate labour. I gave her a conservative treatment estimate of two or three treatments spaced no more than a day apart in the same week before the appropriate hormonal release would kick in and start the contractions associated with the onset of labour. I received a phone call from her husband a few days after her second treatment to thank me for helping his wife give birth to a healthy baby boy (in less time than was expected for their first and slightly overdue child)!

Question six:

Does that point in that Jet Li movie, "Kiss of The Dragon" really exist?

Answered between snorts of laughter with:

OK, ok, what was the actual question you wanted to ask? Oh, that was the actual question you wanted to ask. Hollywood sure has a fancy way of "dressing up" the art of acupuncture and making the work in my field look way cooler than it actually is (I should be so flattered!). I can assure you, no, no and again, no. If this sort of point exists, I am pretty sure my professors and clinic consultants withheld this really important piece of information from my class (and I sure hope that PDE courses can supplement what wasn't officially taught in school!).

It never fails to amaze me that every few years, this question will actually surface! Now for those of you who haven't heard of this point or the movie, google "Kiss of the Dragon" and add the additional search word, "acupuncture" and you will see a ton of entries about this (such as this one: or, this one: The acupuncture point that is referred to in this movie is known in acupuncture nomenclature as GV15 or DU15, Ya Men (loosely translated as "Mute's Gate" - for more info on this acupuncture point, see websites: or

Now, just to be perfectly clear, this point can result in serious nerve or brain damage if the person using this point is not properly trained in angle of insertion or safe needling techniques (one more reason why you should always do your homework first and really make sure that you are seeking the advice of a registered, board or accredited professional association certified acupuncturist before you let them do any kind of procedure on you!). This point is commonly used to treat neurological disorders such as stroke and paralysis, and traditionally used to treat aphasias and deafness or mutism. More often than not, it is employed in cases of severe neck stiffness and neck spasm resulting in restriction of movement and pain when trying to move the neck. I doubt very much that it can cause blood to overflow in the cranial orifices of the head until it causes one's head to (ugh!) explode as the movie has alluded to rather graphically. However caution is always advised when using this point and if the person working on you doesn't understand proper technique or isn't trained or registered as a Registered Acupuncturist (R.Ac), then walk out of the consultation. Even though exploding heads may not be the result of reckless use of this point, neurological damage is still possible and its always better to just get out of there.

And there you have it! A sampling of some of the craziest things that I have been asked about the work I do (or am purported to do). I am sure that there will be many more things asked of me in the coming years of my career but right now, since I am in a nostalgic mood having since been back to my old Melbourne haunts, this has been a nice jaunt right down memory lane for me! I still can't believe I have been lucky enough to have worked this long doing the thing that gets me fired up in the morning but I am grateful everyday when I am able to collect yet another funny acupuncture-related anecdote or share an uplifting story with those of you who pass by here!

And now, I have to tackle the PMS and hormones article the I keep saying I will finish up and post......stay tuned and watch this space!!

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