Like many people, I have had a certain curiosity around acupuncture. What is it, and how does it work? I had the great privilege of meeting acupuncturist Jeff Schoenheit, who also works with Broadway dancers and urban athletes, and was able to get my questions answered. We arranged a “treatment trade” and we were each able to experience each other’s treatment style and strategy. Here’s Part 2 of our conversation.
Q1 – Recovery Advice
Jeff Schoenheit, Performance Acupuncture NYC (JS): What is the number one tip or piece of advice you would give people to help them recover from injury?
Mark M Lusk, MVMT (ML): Do your homework! Our job, as PTs, is to help our patients get stronger and to “put the pieces together” in their sport, their artform, or their daily lives. The home exercises that we give are prescribed to help progress them from Point A to Point B – with the latter being their overall goal.
Q2 – You Don’t Understand Me
ML: What are the most common misconceptions about acupuncture?
JS: This is a big sticking point for me and something I talk about a lot, because there is so much that people don’t understand about acupuncture. Typically people would either dismiss it as quackery or revere it as some type of mysticism – and neither is correct. It’s a medical system that has its own logic and efficacy; it’s just pre-scientific. [Sometimes people try to be supportive when they hear I’m an acupuncturist, and they’ll assure me that “I believe in that!” And I appreciate the sentiment, but I don’t care if you believe in it or not, it’s not a religion and it’s not Tinkerbell. It exists and it works and it doesn’t depend on the placebo effect to get results,] It’s based on sending very specific signals to the brain through the nervous system utilizing the cutaneous nerves.
The other big misconception: the idea that in order for acupuncture to work, there must be invisible rivers of “Qi” coursing through the body. Western doctors and surgeons will insist that they’ve cut into the human body and there’s no ‘meridian” there. Other people have tried to measure energy or locate the ‘meridians’ in the body without much success, either. But “meridian” is a bad translation (coming from the French); a more accurate word would be “channel.” These channels aren’t mystical structures, they have to do with fascia and nerves and the actual structures that we know exist. But the meridian map is functional, not structural. It shows us how points on the body interact with each other and how we can use one spot on the body to affect change in other parts, or in the internal environment. Not every acupuncturist will agree with me on this, but that’s my take on it.
Q3 – Challenging Times
JS: What types of injuries present the biggest challenges from your perspective and what advice would you give to people trying to prevent them?
ML: Each type of injury has it’s own set of challenges. But, in my experience, low back and neck injuries can present the most challenges – for patients and therapists alike. For the patient, low back (LBP) pain and neck pain can have a significant impact on their daily quality of life, their work capacity, and the patient’s ability to move and exercise. LBP imposes the greatest impact on our healthcare system, and causes the greatest negative impact to our economy and workforce. My advice is to avoid sitting for long periods, learn to sit efficiently, and move often. Luckily, more employers are willing to invest in standing desks, which provide workers with multiple options for positioning. Also, it’s a great idea to set an alert on your calendar to get up, move, stretch, and do your corrective exercises.
Note: when the alarm goes off, don’t just hit Snooze! You may want to have some sticky notes handy so that you can jot down your current thoughts or task, and pick up right where you left off. Finally, returning from any injury is a process. Make sure you’re doing your homework and returning to your sport or activity gradually. Remember: there’s not a lot that we can do to speed up the healing process, but there’s a lot that you can do to slow it down!
Q4 – Now & Later
ML: How does your approach change between treating acute injuries and more “maintenance” clients?
JS: I tend to see people after they have had their injury for at least a few weeks, but sometimes I’ll get someone coming in with a very recent injury, which is actually a really great time to get acupuncture. If someone sprains their ankle and it’s very hot and inflamed, painful to the touch, from a Western perspective they’re going to recommend rest, ice, compression, elevation – but you can’t do much to the actual site of injury in the acute stage. But with Balance Method acupuncture, it’s a system based on mirroring and imaging, and you never put needles in the actual site of injury.
So if it’s your right ankle that’s sprained, I’m going to leave it alone but I’ll put a ton of needles in your left hand, using it as an image of the opposite foot. It may sound far fetched if you’ve never had it done, but often we’ll be able to take the pain level down and make the area less tender to the touch right away within the session. Treating early like that can speed the healing process and get you started on the right track immediately. Now further down the line, or in a maintenance treatment, my focus will shift to addressing muscle imbalances that have occurred in response to the injury, and I’ll often take a biomedical approach here.
So after that ankle sprain, the acute injury may be fully healed but you’ve still got intermittent pain and it doesn’t feel like things are quite back to normal – maybe that’s because your tibialis posterior or peroneus longus is inhibited (meaning the muscle isn’t firing at it’s full strength and stability because of a disconnect in communication between the nerves and the musculature). So we’ll get into the motor point of those muscles, which is a point connection between the nerves and the muscle, and we’ll apply light electrical current to the point. This sends healthy contractile signals to the brain and brings that muscle back online so that it returns to normal functioning. Then we want to do the same for stabilizing muscles like Glute Medius which also become inhibited right up the kinetic chain. It’s fun treating this way because you can test a muscle before treatment, see that it’s not strong, treat it with electricity and then re-test and people are amazed at how much strength they get back after even a 5 to 10 min treatment.
I hope that gives you a little more insight into acupuncture and Jeff’s unique approach! To contact Jeff, visit jefflac.com, email at email@example.com, or call (347) 423-4318.
Mark M Lusk, DPT, OCS, CFMT
Jeff Schoenheit, L.Ac., MSTOM, LMT