sick care versus health careBy Laura Drago

Americans take a lot of flak about prevention. Our healthcare system is notorious for allowing problems to mount to the point where expensive, sometimes drastic interventions become necessary.

Preventive therapies such as acupuncture feel counterintuitive in a system that’s dictated by instant gratification.

While this may be an accurate assessment of many Americans’ approach to healthcare, as a society we are not unfamiliar with the concept of prevention. In fact, most of us have been practicing it since we were toddlers.

You don’t have to be sick to go to the dentist or mechanic

Many of us have been going to the dentist twice a year for as long as we can remember. Usually, these visits do not happen because there is something wrong with our teeth. Rather, they are preventive, intended to help us avoid problems down the road.

Similarly, many of us see a car mechanic every three months. The majority of these trips (hopefully) are not made because our cars have broken down. They’re made to get the oil changed, routine maintenance that helps our cars run longer and safer.

When it comes to our teeth and our cars, we really get the whole prevention thing. Why can’t the same be said about our overall health?

Acupuncture is preventive medicine

Acupuncture, still relatively new in the United States, is gaining mainstream acceptance for pain relief. A recent analysis of acupuncture for pain—the most comprehensive to date—revealed that acupuncture was more effective than controls and shams in relieving back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, chronic headache, and shoulder pain.

In addition to pain, acupuncture effectively treats insomnia, digestive problems, menstrual issues, and emotional imbalances, among many other things. More and more people are discovering acupuncture’s power in addressing such a vast array of ailments.

Less understood and accepted, however, is acupuncture’s ability to prevent disease.

Human bodies are carbon-based life forms that respond to organic environmental changes. There are predictable changes, such as seasonal shifts, as well as less predictable ones such as emotional upheaval or work overload. These events, regardless of whether or not they are predictable, are part of life. Failing to transition smoothly through these changes weakens our defenses against illness and causes us to get sick.

This is the point of view from which acupuncture is coming. Acupuncture strengthens the body so that it is better prepared to deal with the inevitable physical, emotional and spiritual changes that permeate our lives.

Acupuncture check ups—routine visits during times when you’re feeling relatively well—provide an opportunity to discuss with a medical professional the things that tend to get ignored when life gets busy: sleep, digestion, breathing, and emotional balance.

Despite the excesses and unnatural stressors that have such sway over our lives today, so much of how we feel comes down to these basic functions and the daily habits that influence them. Acupuncturists are trained to identify and rectify imbalances in these key areas before they become chronic and require more drastic interventions.

The mark of resistance: ‘But I feel fine’

Here’s a common question about preventive healthcare: “If I’m feeling good, why do I need to come in?” Acupuncturists hear this all the time.

In the same way you wouldn’t wait for your transmission to drop out (or your teeth) before getting your car checked, don’t wait for your body to bottom out before you start taking care of it. In the long run, prevention is much less expensive, time consuming and exhausting than treating full-blown illness.

Our routines, not the pills we take or once-a-year doctor visits we make, have the biggest influence over how we feel physically and emotionally.

By tending to your body on an ongoing basis, you’re truly caring for your health rather than reacting to the buildup of unbridled stress and settling for a quick fix. Acupuncture can help get us in the habit of health care rather than sick care.

Photo by Sara Calabro

laura drago on acutakeLaura Drago maintains an acupuncture practice in Los Angeles, California. She also works with Kinesis, a mind-body wellness center in Culver City, California. Laura is committed to educating the public on the benefits, uses and modalities of Chinese medicine, and to furthering its integration into mainstream healthcare.

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