I remember the first time I had this conversation not long after I opened my clinic. A patient called in – I’d been treating her for knee pain and she wanted to cancel her appointment that day because she was sick with a head cold. I told her, “You know I treat sick people, right?” She said, “What? Really? You can do something for me??” She kept her appointment and I did a point protocol on her that really helped to clear her sinuses.
I’ve had this conversation many times since. Pain is usually the first thing that comes to mind when someone considers acupuncture. Or others think about it for the one concern they might have, for example, insomnia or headaches. So it’s easy to forget acupuncture can help with so many other concerns, including the common cold.
When to come in for acupuncture:
- At the very first sign of a cold. If you get a treatment at the beginning of your cold, it can help support you to fight it off faster.
- For any head cold symptoms – nasal congestion or runny nose, plugged ears, runny or irritated eyes, sinus headache, sore throat, mild cough.
- If most of the symptoms have gone away, but you still feel run down or can’t shake that one last symptom.
When not to come in for acupuncture:
- When you have a violent cough (you technically can get acupuncture, it just won’t be comfortable to sit still for a little while).
- When you have a fever (your body’s immune system is very busy fighting off the virus). Stay home, rest, and drink lots of fluids.
- If you think you could have pneumonia or another severe lung infection, go see your medical doctor.
There are two additional techniques that I often use for colds, if we catch it at the very beginning. (I find this is not as effective if the cold has already settled in.) One is called cupping, which many people are now familiar with thanks to the most recent Olympics. Cupping uses a round suction cup placed on the upper back and shoulders to draw circulation up to the surface of the skin.
Gua sha is the other technique. Instead of suction cups, a gua sha tool is used to rub the skin, also drawing circulation up to the surface. Both techniques bring a redness up to the surface which is different from a bruise, nor does it hurt like a bruise.
Although it surprises most people the first time, these marks are intentional and they will clear in a few days. This treatment helps to boost the immune system and provide an anti-inflammatory effect (1).
Why do I cup or gua sha the upper back for a cold? It seems counter-intuitive when you think of all the symptoms being in the head or chest. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the upper back and neck area is one of our body’s most defensive, protective areas. Imagine there is a blizzard outside (not difficult to imagine in December in Illinois!) and you have to walk a block to your car. Picture yourself all bundled up heading out into the wind – what position is your body in? Most people will be a little bent over protecting themselves from the wind, so you can immediately see how the upper back and neck get hit by the wind first. (And that’s why a scarf should be your best friend all through the winter.) This area can get very tight and constricted from being in protective mode and cupping or gua sha can help.
Consider coming in for a treatment the next time you have a cold.