Often I am asked in the clinic, especially by newer patients, questions such as “Why did my symptoms become worse after treatment,” or “I came in for relief from back pain, but then my shoulders and neck started hurting during treatment; why is this happening?”
Though each of these questions may appear to be somewhat different on the surface, there is often a common underlying process taking place. Sometimes, the latter question may simply be answered by pointing to the patient’s posture during treatment or need to try a different chair, but it is possible that something deeper is taking place, which is what I want to discuss here. Either way, it is important to let your acupuncturist know what sensations and pain you experience during and/or after your treatment.
It’s an understatement to say that we, as members of our particular culture, lead busy lives. We do this for many different reasons, and often because it’s what we feel we must do in order to survive. As a result, our “bodymind” has developed strategies to help us cope with the immense amount of pressure many of us experience as a result of daily living. Without such strategies, we could easily become overwhelmed by all that is taking place within and around us. The strategy I am referring to originates in the subconscious mind, and acts as a filter that prevents some sensory experiences from being perceived by the conscious mind. Our subconscious is not doing this to fool or trick us; it’s a survival and preservation mechanism, and it keeps us going, often for years, while living with a chronic condition. This is where the acupuncture treatment process can begin to shake things up a little.
When a new patient comes in for acupuncture, or returns for their second or third treatment, it is often the first time they will have the chance to slow down and be truly still for any longer than a few minutes. (Sorry, but sitting in front of the TV doesn’t count.) This stillness is where sensations or other repressed conditions are allowed the space to begin opening up and given the chance to enter our awareness in a positive way. As this “revelation” begins to unfold, it can take the form of an apparent worsening of symptoms. At other times, the stillness reveals an area in our body where we have been carrying accumulated tension of which we had not been previously aware. In a sense, this can be seen as a gift, even if it seems worse in the beginning, because it means that our bodymind is once again paying attention to the troubled area in a way that allows the healing process to begin taking place. In Chinese, there is a saying: “yi tao, qi tao,” which means “where the mind goes, vital force (or qi) follows.” This explains, at least in part, what is going on within the bodymind when we begin using a tool like acupuncture.
Many conditions have become ingrained in our experiences. And the longer we have lived with the condition, the more likely it is to be resistant to change. This is why frequent and regular treatment is so necessary in the beginning, especially when things begin to shift rapidly and seem to be getting worse. Fortunately, when something like this happens, positive change typically begins to follow very quickly. So, when coming in for treatment, it pays off to be a little patient and persistent in the beginning, as we are usually dealing with a condition that, in a sense, has become a habitual pattern in our lives. Habits take time to change, and that change might be unpleasant in the beginning; but, as many of us already know, it is worth taking the time to allow the treatment process to unfold as it can be full of rewards. Some of which are unexpected and surprising in the end.