IBD | Information
I found acupuncture when I was first diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in 2008. I was desperate to get relief from my joint pain and abdominal distress. I was entrenched in western medicine but medications were either failing or not getting me the amount of relief I desired. I needed to find something to complement and enhance my western medical regimen.
Fast forward seven years and I found myself enrolling in a masters of acupuncture program. My experience as a patient had transformed me in such a way that I decided to change careers. I had a front row seat to see how a blend of eastern and western medicine could complement each other. I knew that both medicines had their limitations and where one fell short the other could pick up. I wanted to be a practitioner who could sit with my patients and wholeheartedly understand the sorrow and pain that came with living with a chronic illness.
One thing I love about Chinese medicine is that it takes the whole human into consideration. The mind, body and spirit are intricately connected and one part cannot be taken out of the equation when treating a patient. There is a great quote from John Muir that illustrates this idea nicely. He says, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” When I treat patients I’m not just asking about their constipation. I’m also inquiring how the person is feeling stagnated in their life. I’m not just treating diarrhea. I’m also inquiring on how the person is digesting relationships and consuming all that life throws at them.
For me, acupuncture’s greatest gift has been giving me the ability to navigate the ups and downs of living with a chronic illness with more grace and flexibility. When I find myself feeling down about a flare, my acupuncture treatments lift me up. Society teaches us from an early age to bottle in emotions because it is not appropriate to express them. Chinese medicine doesn’t see any emotions as being negative. When we experience emotion it is for a reason. I have learned how important it is to honor my emotions, let them flow through me and then release them. Within the context of Chinese medicine, if we become stuck in an emotion for too long then it can become a cause of physical ailment.
Acupuncture has been around for over 5000 years. At its core, the goal of acupuncture is to restore the body to its optimal functioning. The classical Chinese medical texts discuss a vital force that circulates through our bodies and controls the workings of the main systems and organs of the body. This metabolic force is what we call Qi. The insertion and manipulation of hair-thin needles at certain points on the body allows an acupuncturist to guide the movement of Qi to help restore the body and mind to equilibrium.
If 100 patients with IBD walk into the clinic each of them would be treated differently. Acupuncture is not based on protocols. The underlying reason that multiple patients have mucus and blood in their stools could be different and therefore treatment needs to be individualized based on the unique circumstances of each patient.
It is important to note that the success of treatment can be attributed to multiple factors. For patients to find relief from chronic issues it may take consistent treatment (weekly) for several months. The strength of a patient’s constitution will also determine if their body has the ability to improve by 50%, 80% or even 100%. Sometimes it takes more than just acupuncture to help a patient and it is important to factor in other professionals to create a multi-disciplinary team (herbalist, physical therapist, craniosacral therapist….). The end game is not usually curing a patient of their chronic disease. Rather it is getting the patient to a place where they are feeling physically and emotionally well enough to live a life full of enrichment and joy.
If you are interested in seeking out support from acupuncture you can go to your state’s acupuncture society’s website or to NCCAOM.org to find a licensed acupuncturist. Acupuncture has become more accessible as many acupuncturists work as in-network providers with insurance companies. To see some answers to frequently asked questions about acupuncture you can learn more on my website.
Rena Münster is a board certified acupuncturist in private practice at Roots Acupuncture and Healing in downtown Silver Spring, MD (soon to be expanding in DC!). She has been a proud ostomate for 4 years and lives with her husband and two cats. She chronicles life with an ostomy @my_intestinal_fortitude in Instagram and Facebook. When she isn’t treating patients she spends time working as a Patient Coach for 11 Health providing lifestyle and emotional support to new ostomates.