If you’re having eye problems, you need to see an ophthalmologist, if your sinuses are keeping you from sleep, you’ll want to see an otolaryngologist, and if you’re having heart problems you’ll want to see a cardiologist, with plenty of other referrals to other doctors for liver diseases, back problems, and headaches.
And if you have more than one problem or aren’t sure what’s wrong, it might take weeks to diagnose things before you’re sent to the proper doctor for treatment.
However, many of these things stem from spine problems, says Dr. Lijuan Sun. An unbalanced spine can cause problems that manifest as symptoms, she says, from asthma to headaches to arthritis, because the nerves all pass through the spine.
Thus it’s not uncommon for patients who see Sun to have pains in various parts of their bodies that they say specialists couldn’t cure—but Sun could.
“I’ve had patients who have asked me why I knew so much about a particular area of the body even though it’s not my specialization—in Chinese medicine you don’t study the body part by part. Everything is related,” she says. Sun is a licensed acupuncturist at Cupertino Center Acupuncture.
Patients often come to Sun with pains in various parts of their bodies caused by rheumatic diseases, such as arthritis and gout, and knowing the origin of these diseases has allowed her to treat the pains effectively in a very short period of time.
Recently, a patient of Sun’s came to see her with inflamed joints; her knees were red and swollen to twice their size. The patient told Sun that when she went to see a Stanford doctor, she was given painkillers and told to run every day, even though her knees were swollen to the point where she was unable to walk. Instead, she went to see Sun. After six sessions of acupuncture, her knees were completely back to normal.
In certain cases, not knowing the origin of an abnormal pain in the patient’s body can lead to detrimental measures. Sun previously met an engineer in Silicon Valley who had numbness in his hands and was advised by his doctor to undergo hand surgery even though the cause of the numbness was undetermined. After hearing of this case, Sun said she knew which places in the spine were related to the nerves of the man’s hand, and she thought hand surgery would not be the way to cure it. She advised him not to undergo the surgery, but he went ahead with it anyway. In the end, the surgery further damaged the nerves, and the man’s hand was paralyzed.
Many of Sun’s patients see her after having surgery done, she says. The reason they undergo surgery is because of pain, often caused by a rheumatic disease, but many have found that after surgery the pain does not subside.
Another patient of Sun’s delivers mail on a day-to-day basis and found that her knuckles were inflamed.
“It got to the point where she was in so much pain she couldn’t sleep—she’d wake up in the middle of the night because of the pain,” Sun said.
The patient had seen a doctor for two years regarding her hands but was told that “medical science has not advanced enough to treat this; there is nothing we can do,” Sun said. By the time her patient sought acupuncture treatment from Sun, the joints in her hands were swollen to the point that they had changed shape.
Two months of weekly treatments later, her pain was entirely gone. The patient still comes weekly for facials, Sun said.
Acupuncture clinics qualify as primary care providers in the state of California, and new patients may seek acupuncture treatment without a referral from a doctor. The techniques used stimulate acupuncture points on the body and are one of the oldest healing methods in the world. Many insurance companies now cover acupuncture treatment, considering it a medical necessity.
Not all treatments include the usage of needles, and patients can choose to undergo electroacupuncture, which uses electrical stimulation instead of needles.
Sun’s areas of expertise also include techniques like cupping and moxibustion. Cupping therapy involves placing heated glass jars on the patients’ skin to create a vacuum that will stimulate blood circulation, and moxibustion is acupuncture with the use of a traditional Chinese medicine made from dried mugwort.
Sun creates her own herbal medicine as well, using Chinese herbs that have been used to promote health and balance for thousands of years.
“I never buy even premade Chinese medicine,” Sun said, in order to ensure everything is natural.
“I really like Chinese medicine, it’s so efficient,” she says. “I’ve always liked Chinese medicine. I walk around with a needle in my pocket and if I have a problem—it’s taken care of. What’s better than that?”
Additional reporting by Louis Lu