In popular culture and the mind of most unfamiliar with the practice, acupuncture is the one with all the needles — a picture that’s scary for those with a fear of needles, and also a picture that’s not entirely accurate — or at least not complete.
According to Katharine Binder, an Easton-based acupuncturist for more than a decade, acupuncture is a treatment that encompasses a lot more than just needle techniques. It includes a number of procedures intended to stimulate various points on the body in an effort to promote healing. Techniques can run gamut from cupping (which had its moment in the spotlight thanks to its use by Olympic athletes) to acupressure (which involves stimulating various points by hand and is used often on children) and any number of specialties in between.
“There are so many different styles of acupuncture out there,” Binder said. “When one style resonates with you or does not resonate with you — it doesn’t mean that acupuncture doesn’t work for you. It means that you need to find someone that practices a style that works with your body or what your pathology is.”
Of course, the commonly thought of needles do exist, but Binder assures patients that the needles are as thin and flexible as a cat’s whisker, and the treatment isn’t actually supposed to cause pain.
“There are some needle techniques where you shouldn’t feel anything. But there are other needle techniques where you should feel an ache, a warm pressure, something traveling down your arm or leg, or even a muscle twitching.
“These are all normal things,” Binder said. “The way I practice, this is not a no pain, no gain kind of situation … We always go to where you’re comfortable.”
Binder came to acupuncture after a career as a prosthetist, where she designed and fit artificial limbs for patients with amputations. Binder said she became interested after seeing a number of patients suffering from phantom limb syndrome respond to acupuncture in ways they had not to more conventional therapies like medication or injections.
Patients with amputations are just some of those Binder said can benefit from the various modalities of acupuncture treatment. At Binder’s practice, Eastern Shore Acupuncture and Healing Arts, she’s treated a wide range of patients, from children to those in need of end-of-life care.
“We often think of acupuncture as pain management, and it is phenomenal for pain management,” Binder said. “But in my practice, and in many practices in our area, you’ll see a lot of women’s health issues being addressed; infertility, irregular or painful periods. You’ll see gastrointestinal issues addressed in there; diarrhea, constipation, gastritis. And it has a real strength in helping with mental and emotional conditions, and issues surrounding addiction.”
Though acupuncture is commonly thought of as a form of alternative medicine, Binder said she’s never looked at it that way. For her, the practice is as much a part of health care as any other treatment, and she said she tries to keep the lines of communication between all practitioners managing a particular patient as open as possible.
“I see this very much as integrative medicine,” Binder said. “I feel like this is evidenced by more research coming out of oncology that’s showing that acupuncture helps improve drug uptakes while reducing the symptoms of chemotherapy, like nausea and depression. We (also) see more research coming out of physical therapy showing that we reach our physical therapy goals and have better outcomes when you’re working with an acupuncturist and a physical therapist.”
Amid advances in science and technology, it’s almost hard to believe that something created around 3,000 years ago has found a place in modern medicine. But that’s exactly the case for acupuncture, which can trace its origins back to Daoist China. Binder said there are a number of theories about exactly how the practice was started, but likely it evolved over time from bloodletting techniques.
“What people suffered from, they were trying to develop treatment modalities for. I think the reason acupuncture integrates so well into the current medical system that we have is it was part of a system of medicine,” Binder said. “Acupuncturists or traditional Chinese medicine practitioners regularly would integrate exercises and meditation, and dietary instructions and herbal instructions. And so, it was designed to work synergistically with all these different things that we see that exist in our medical system currently.”
Keys to finding the right acupuncturist for you...
“The best way to find an acupuncturist is to go to our national accreditation website, which is NCCAOM.org. There, you’ll be able to find people who have, at the bare minimum, passed their national board exams, which means they’ve met the minimum requirement to practice. I think referral from a friend or a family member is important, or from a doctor or physical therapist.”
Find someone you’re comfortable with
“Like any health care provider, meet with this practitioner, make sure you feel comfortable with them, because you are making yourself vulnerable. You have to share what your concerns are ... So, make sure it’s somebody that you trust.”
Figure out what specialty works for you
“There are a number of practitioners who have specialized in certain things and there are also more generalists, like myself. One of the other key things when looking for an acupuncturist is to ask them, ‘Do you have experience working with my condition?’ And then, ‘Have you been successful in working with my condition?’”
Explore Your options
“The great thing about the community of Easton, is that not only do we have all these different styles being practiced in one area, but we have different forums in which acupuncture is being practiced. You’ll see acupuncturists, like myself, who have a private practice. Some chiropractor offices hire acupuncturists, some doctor’s offices have them working in tandem.”