Monday, September 20, 2021

Latest Adventure: Acupuncture

Someone I respect, following advice from a reputable doctor, had a good experience with acupuncture in dealing with recalcitrant pain. Here is my experience from last Tuesday as it happened, followed by my analysis:

Following significant discussion, the practitioner had me on a table with my shoes and socks off. She started sticking needles in my right foot. I could definitely feel the needles going in, and they were left in.

After maybe five needles, she asked how my left (worse) hand was. I said it was maybe 30% better. Five or so needles later, she asked again, and I said no change. After the next round, I said (with significant surprise) that my left hand now hurt less than my right hand. She then followed the same process in the left foot, with similar results in the right hand.

Next, she asked where there was still pain, and proceeded to stick needles in the base of my thumbs. I said my hands no longer had sharp pain, but instead feeling like they were recovering from an injury (more of a dull ache). At this point she stopped and said the needles would stay in for 30 minutes.

I meditated for that half hour, occasionally checking in on my hands. They seemed to get more painful as the time went on. When she came back in, she said the relief could last days or maybe just a few hours, and to come back for three more treatments within two weeks. 

By the time I put my socks and shoes on and got to the front desk, my hands felt as painful as when I came into the office. My hands were worse than normal the rest of the day, although somewhat better than normal the next day. 

What I think happened: a combination of protection from pain, placebo effect, and response bias.

In retrospect, my body was under attack. It does not seem unreasonable that my brain reacted by saying, "Tell them what they want to hear! Give them whatever they want! Just get them to stop stabbing!" This would explain why some of the perceived relief went away once she stopped putting in new needles, and why the rest quickly faded after the needles were removed.

Needle-less to say, I won't be going back.

PS: I have nothing against the placebo effect! We should not be snobs against anything that gives anyone relief.

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