Healthcare for the Digitally Overloaded

by Tammy Strobel on April 21, 2011

Photo by Sara Calabro

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Sara Calabro. Sara is an acupuncturist and the founding editor of AcuTake, a blog dedicated to improving acupuncture education and access.

We’ve arrived at a point of tension. Technology has enabled possibilities that just 10 years ago seemed unthinkable. And yet these same advancements have deprived us of some of our most basic abilities, instincts and pleasures. This conflict has spurred an ongoing and at-times-heated debate that’s being played out everywhere from the blogosphere to the classroom to the boardroom. However, one area where the topic is being discussed much less than it should be is in healthcare.

Medicine—particularly in the West, but growingly, around the world—has become dominated by an obsession with technology. MRIs, CT scans, and lab tests are ordered before laying a hand on the patient; antibiotics and antidepressants are recommended as quickly as cough drops. Up against insurance billing requirements and overcrowded hospitals, physicians often are forced to favor quick fixes over sound medical decisions. This excessive reliance on technology in medicine has trickled down to patients, causing them to disconnect from the process of staying healthy.

The need is greater now than ever for therapies that derail this trend by encouraging us to consciously participate in our health outcomes. Acupuncture is one such therapy.

Acupuncture is premised on the idea that human beings are comprised of interdependent structures and functions whose condition is affected by emotional and environmental factors. This is very different from Western biomedicine, which assigns symptoms to isolated anatomical structures. The latter approach is to thank for countless life-saving feats in emergency and acute situations. But it falls drastically short in addressing the chronic conditions that perpetually drain our healthcare system’s resources and devastate people’s quality of life.

Greater adoption of acupuncture could help ease this burden considerably. Here’s how:

Acupuncture puts us back in control. Medical technologies such as pharmaceutical drugs force the body toward a particular result—usually temporary reduction of symptoms, often accompanied by side effects—which leaves little room for patient involvement. In contrast, acupuncture engages the body’s own healing mechanisms to address the underlying problem. Essentially, the body directs the medicine rather than the medicine directing the body. This activates our intuitive sense about what’s going on with our health rather than relying on someone else or a machine to tell us.

Acupuncture inspires patience. Technology has birthed and bred an “I want it now” society. With some exceptions, acupuncture does not work overnight, especially for chronic conditions. It is an ongoing process that requires an investment of time and a willingness to let go of assumptions.

Acupuncture combats our culture of excess. The driving idea behind acupuncture is that we’re already in possession of everything we need to be well. Achieving health is not about introducing a new technology; it’s a matter of turning what’s already there into something positive. Learning to conceive of illness and treatment in this way helps prevent dependence and encourages moderation.

Acupuncture can save us money. It’s not just in theory that acupuncture helps curb excess. Widespread adoption of acupuncture could drastically reduce healthcare costs. For over 5,000 years, acupuncture has been keeping people healthy with nothing more than needles and cotton balls. It’s the epitome of case studies in how achieving success is independent from investing in new technology.

Acupuncture encourages gratitude. A healthcare system that’s so heavily reliant on externally manufactured diagnostics and therapies sends a message that we are not enough. Thinking in terms of what we already have rather than what we need is healing in its own right. Acupuncture is inspiring in its ability to remind us of how much potential we already possess.

Tammy talks a lot about the importance of digital sabbaticals. Applied to healthcare, a digital sabbatical is a state of mind. It requires taking a step back—from the medicine cabinet, the sensationalized research headlines, the barrage of pharmaceutical advertising, and sometimes even the doctor’s orders—long enough to ask some important questions. How do I feel? (This is not the same as, what’s my diagnosis?) How is this therapy affecting me? (This is not the same as, did my lab results change?) What would make me feel better? (This is not the same as, I need to refill my prescription.)

Acupuncture, because it demands presence and participation from its recipients, can help answer these questions. It encourages us to think more broadly about health, beyond what mainstream influences have conditioned us to believe. Ultimately, open mindedness and awareness in healthcare will take us infinitely further than the latest technology.

For more information on acupuncture and how it can be used to treat specific conditions, please visit acutakehealth.com.

1 Kylie April 21, 2011

Sara, thank you so much for this post, and Tammy, thank you for bringing it to us. A few months ago, I tried acupuncture for the first time at a community acupuncture practice here in Brooklyn. It’s had wonderful, subtle effects on my health and wellness, and (just as you say) it truly does help me to feel empowered and cared-for. It’s led me to a much greater awareness of my body, and the in-my-bones knowledge that I don’t need to look outside myself for answers.

My enthusiasm for acupuncture has now spilled over to my friends and family, and my father in law, who has never used “alternative” medicines before, is now getting acupuncture for his arthritis. It’s pretty amazing.

Anyway, thanks for this wonderful post, which I’m sure will help me to articulate all the benefits of acupuncture. Yay!

2 Sara Calabro April 21, 2011

Thanks for the feedback, Kylie. I’m so glad to hear you had such a positive experience with acupuncture. Community clinics are making huge strides in bringing acupuncture to the many people who need it. Thanks for helping to spread the word to your family and friends! By the way, what community place did you go to? I live in Brooklyn too :)

Sara

3 Barb April 21, 2011

This is a wonderful post! I first tried acupuncture about 10 years ago after breaking my jaw (thanks to someone accidentally swinging a baseball bat in the wrong place). I had so much pain, and am deathly allergic to most pain medications. It was an act of desperation on my part to see an acupuncturist – I’m afraid of needles – but the pain was intense. After the very first treatment (throughout which I was thinking ‘Lady, do you really believe this stuff you’re telling me?’), I had significant relief! It was temporary, but after each treatment, the relief lasted longer. I became a believer! I’ve been seeing the same acupuncturist for all these years, and all I can say is, it works, and it’s painless, and it has made so many improvements to my life and my health. I can’t say enough good things, and Dale (my acupuncturist) is wonderful. I highly recommend acupuncture to everyone!

4 Sara Calabro April 22, 2011

Thanks so much for the comment, Barb. Ouch on your jaw! That’s great that acupuncture was able to help, and that you’ve since continued and noticed positive effects beyond acute pain management. And bravo on overcoming your fear of needles :) Thank you for sharing your story.

Sara

5 Joshua | The Minimalists April 21, 2011

Sara,

I’ve never considered acupuncture as an remedy to help us live in the moment. But I suppose it makes since (given the points you stated in your article). Thanks for sharing an otherwise foreign practice with me.

Take care,

Joshua Millburn

6 Sara Calabro April 22, 2011

Thanks for reading, Joshua. I know what you mean—I never thought of acupuncture in this way either. It was only through studying and practicing it that these ideas started to emerge. The longer I do this, the more I’m noticing these little life lessons that are embedded in the medicine. It is a metaphor for so many things and has really taught me a lot. I appreciate your feedback and open mindedness to a new concept.

I love your blog, by the way :) Keep up the awesome work.

Sara

7 KalleyC April 22, 2011

Thank you for writing this post. I’ve seen Acupuncture work wonders for my mom. She has been to countless doctors over the years and all they keep offering her is medication for her pain. She doesn’t want to be popping pills that could eventually lead her to be dependent on it. My mom now swears by Acupuncture to manage pain.

8 Sara Calabro April 22, 2011

Kalley,

I’m so glad your mom has found relief in acupuncture. It really can be life-changing for people once they take the (often difficult) step of looking outside mainstream options for pain management. Thanks for sharing your mom’s success story.

Sara

9 Holli April 22, 2011

I love the message of this post, and have only recently experienced the wonder of looking for alternative practitioners to help my daughter’s health. When I was told by a specialist in 2009 that my 15 month old should take a laxative for constipation until she turned 10, I knew I had to look elsewhere, beyond the medical community. It has been a crazy journey, but I have learned that our bodies are truly resilient if we can quiet down and give it the attention and nourishment needed. I totally agree that we need to get away from the unsustainable western system of only treating symptoms.

We have not used Acupuncture, but I have seen it work for my Mother-in-law. This explanation of the practice is really clear and concise. Thank you for sharing!

10 Sara Calabro April 22, 2011

Hi, Holli. Thanks for sharing your experience. That’s exciting that you’re delving into other options for your daughter. If she is still struggling with some digestive stuff, here are a couple articles that discuss an acupuncture approach. They’re not specific to kids (or even necessarily her exact symptoms), but perhaps you’ll still find it helpful:

http://acutakehealth.com/think-twice-before-ibs-antibiotic
http://acutakehealth.com/decoding-abdominal-pain

Best of luck on your journey, and let me know if I can be of any help in regards to acupuncture.

Sara

11 Holli April 23, 2011

Thank you, Sara. We are happily finding her issues resolving, but I am always open to learn more about other approaches.

12 Christina April 26, 2011

I adore my acupuncturist. She helped me in so many ways that medication could not. What I learned about acupuncture is that during my hour session I was forced to relax and just breathe. Because you are full of needles you SHOULD NOT move. My sessions were an hour of bliss, warmth, calm light and music and healing.

13 Sara Calabro April 27, 2011

I’m glad you’ve had such a positive experience with acupuncture, Christina. And wise advice—moving when full of needles isn’t the best idea :) Thanks for the feedback.

Sara

14 Thea | Write Change Grow April 28, 2011

Hi Sara
Thanks for this article. I have been considering acupuncture lately. I’ve been having problems with my neck and shoulders for a while now (all those long hours typing at my laptop). While my chiropractor has definitely helped ease the pain and headaches, I feel I am ready to try another form of treatment. Years ago I got sick and was on seven courses of antibiotics in a row. What healed me in the end was seeing a holistic doctor (who was also a GP). She fixed me up in record time and I have been open to alternative medicine ever since.
Again thanks for the great post.
Cheers
Thea

15 Sara Calabro April 29, 2011

Hey Thea,

Thanks for your message. Neck and shoulder pain is probably the most common complaint that I see, largely due to exactly what you mentioned—long hours in front of the computer. Acupuncture can help considerably, and I’ve found a style called trigger-point acupuncture to be especially effective. If you’re interested in learning more about it, have a look at this article. I wrote it on back pain specifically, but the principals apply to pain throughout the body; treatment for upper back/neck stuff would just involve different muscles than the ones mentioned in the article:

http://acutakehealth.com/little-known-cure-for-back-pain

Thanks again for the feedback, and let me know if I can be of help in any way.

Sara

16 Christina April 29, 2011

Thea, I had lower and mid back problems and the acupuncture really released the muscles in that area. My acupuncturist also did some wonderful massage with Chinese oils that I still use when I am not visiting her.

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