In the uncertain times of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m often asked “how is work going?” This exchange usually leads to the person asking me: “How can your students do acupuncture via telehealth? You can’t needle someone through a screen.”
That statement highlights a widespread misconception of acupuncture. Most Americans don’t realize it is but one tool in a larger medicine; most think of acupuncture as “treatment with needles.” What else can an acupuncturist offer without their needles? The simple answer: A lot.
What I mean to say is that, students and practitioners of acupuncture therapy are also well-versed in many other holistic healing techniques that promote general well-being, alleviate stress, and may even help prevent acute and chronic disease.
From providing customized dietary advice, to private instructions on T’ai chi and other complementary medicine techniques, your acupuncturist can offer you so much on a telemedicine visit (even when you can’t get into the office for an acupuncture session). Keep reading to learn more about these techniques and how telehealth works.
What else can an acupuncturist offer without their needles?
Part of the underlying wisdom of Traditional Chinese medicine is its focus on self-care and health promotion. Acupuncture students are educated in movement therapy such as qi gong and T’ai chi; they can impart dietary advice; lead people through breathing exercises and body awareness techniques, and some can offer herbs. Additionally, students are able to guide patients through self-applied acupressure treatments.
Qi gong (alternately, qigong, or “energy work”) is a mind/body practice that integrates posture, movement, breathing, touch, sound, and focused intent or mindfulness, according to the National Qigong Association. Like yoga, hundreds of qi gong styles and practices exist. Reported qigong benefits include improvements in both mental and physical health.
With roots in ancient China, T’ai Chi is an evidence-based, movement-based traditional mind/body technique that is easy to learn and requires no special equipment. You don’t even need a lot of space to learn or practice T’ai Chi, which makes it a fantastic tool to use during a telehealth appointment with a skilled instructor.
According to Mayo Clinic and other organizations, benefits of tai chi include reduced stress, improved balance, strength, and flexibility, and even reduced blood pressure.
You may have noticed so far that acupuncture therapy and associated techniques focus on both mind and body. Dietary advice from holistic providers rests on the same foundation. Acupuncture providers can use telehealth to share dietary advice that centers on enriching a person’s physical and mental energy through nutrient-dense, sustainable, and ethical foods and eating practices (e.g., mindful eating).
We humans intuitively know how powerful the breath is—for instance, we often sigh or take a deep breath when stressed. Thanks to decades of scientific research, we now know why deep breathing can be so powerful and calming (Russo et al, 2017). Deep breathing exercises (which are easy to teach via telemedicine) quite literally activates the part of your nervous system that helps you relax, slow your heart rate, and lower your blood pressure.
Body Awareness Techniques
From progressive muscle relaxation to yoga nidra, body awareness techniques are an excellent way to help identify and alleviate negative emotions and release stored tension in the body. Life so often pulls us out of the present moment and back to worry about the future or past. By teaching you how to become more aware of your physical body, your acupuncture therapist can also help ground you into the powerful now.
Knowledge of Herbs
Practitioners of acupuncture therapy are also trained in the long-standing tradition of herbal medicine. Via telehealth, acupuncturists are able to suggest various remedies or blends that can address specific ailments and monitor the patient’s response to these remedies over time.
I believe that each one of us is the expert of our own body. To this end, self-acupressure can be a deeply enriching way to listen and respond to your body’s needs.
Acupressure is a manual technique you can use on yourself to relax muscles, alleviate trigger points, and in the traditional Chinese medicine tradition restore the flow of life energy, moving your body toward a state of well-being.
As is true for many of the other healing techniques already discussed, acupressure is safe, low cost, and easy to do and learn (especially when given real-time feedback from a skilled provider during a telehealth appointment).
Research Supporting these Techniques
It is also important to highlight the amount of established research supporting the effectiveness of these interventions. T’ai chi and qi gong have shown benefit in addressing some chronic pain conditions1 as well as improving health-related quality of life outcomes2. There is also emerging evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of qi gong to ease stress and anxiety3. Other self-care techniques and dietary advice has shown to empower patients to make healthy behavioral and lifestyle changes4.
One recent randomized controlled pilot study published in Pain Medicine (Murphy et al, 2019) even found that self-administered acupressure techniques were effective at alleviating chronic low back pain and reducing fatigue.
In my experience, these techniques often have a powerful synergistic effect on each other. That is, by utilizing them together (and in addition to other healthy lifestyle strategies) they become even more effective for the individual.
Both the global pandemic and the social justice movement are prompting many people to seek out health positive, health-promoting self-care techniques and information. Now more than ever it is important to turn to practitioners that have fundamental knowledge in medicines and techniques that have persisted for thousands of years. Medicines and techniques that have helped an untold number of people through similar times. I can’t think of a more important time to seek out an acupuncturist via a telehealth visit.
What we are really seeing in the research is simple yet profound:
Healthy lifestyle changes are essential for promoting improved quality of life, increased lifespan, and disease prevention. It’s no wonder the World Health Organization and other professional bodies recommend them so strongly. And as we continue to learn about t’ai chi, qi gong, acupressure, and other healing techniques, I’m hopeful we’ll see them incorporated more frequently into lifestyle modification programs.
And remember: if you’re not willing nor able to go to a provider’s clinic right now, you can still learn about these techniques from the comfort and privacy of your own home. Because pandemic or not, you deserve to be empowered with tools and strategies that can support your health needs and goals.
Frequently Asked Questions about Telehealth and Virtual Acupuncture
When Does Virtual Acupuncture Make Sense?
If you only think about acupuncture therapy as “needles in the skin,” then virtual acupuncture doesn’t make much sense at all. But students and practitioners of acupuncture are also trained in a broad range of other holistic healing techniques, many of which can be taught safely and effectively in the private and individualized setting of a telehealth visit.
How does telehealth work?
Broadly speaking, telehealth is the use of electronic and digital technology, including phone or video conferencing, to connect with a medical professional or wellness provider even when you are unable to be in the same location. Telehealth may include video conferencing, phone calls, texts, emails, chats, and other means of communication. Use these to talk to or even see your provider from the comfort of your own home!
Internet connectivity is required. Telehealth may work differently depending on your provider, location, or particular service you’re utilizing.
How much does telehealth cost?
Some research has found that telehealth visits cost less money than office visits, in some cases by almost two-thirds. This can vary significantly depending on your location, insurance provider, medical provider, and type of service you’re utilizing.
When deciding if the cost of telehealth is worth the investment, be sure to consider the unique convenience it offers. Since telehealth visits can be done almost anywhere with an internet connection, you can avoid hassles such as arranging childcare, getting time off work, and commuting to and from a clinic.
What’s Virtual Acupuncture Like?
A virtual acupuncture session can be very similar to acupuncture therapy sessions you may receive in-person at a clinic—minus the specific acupuncture modality. What is left to be shared via telehealth are all the other services and techniques an acupuncture therapist can provide in a one-on-one instructional setting: Tai Chi, qi gong, breathing exercises, and more.
Interested in working with an MUIH Acupuncturist via telehealth or in office at the Natural Care Center (NCC)? Visit our website, ncc.muih.edu or email the NCC at .
- Bai Z, Guan Z, Fan Y, et al. The effects of qigong for adults with chronic pain: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Chin Med 2015;43:1525–1539.
- Kelley GA, Kelley KS. Meditative movement therapies and health-related quality-of-life in adults: A systematic review of meta-analyses. PLoS One 2015;10:e0129181.
- Wang C-W, Chan C, Ho R, et al. Managing stress and anxiety through qigong exercise in healthy adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2014;14:8.
- Harvie A, Steel A, Wardle J. Traditional Chinese Medicine Self-Care and Lifestyle Medicine Outside of Asia: A Systematic Literature Review. J Altern Complement Med. 2019;25(8):789-808. doi:10.1089/acm.2018.0520