Acupuncture has existed for thousands of years and yet for the uninitiated the question remains: Do little needles stabbing your pressure points have any medical benefits? I was one of these people, until recently. Stretching, massage, Japanese Icy-Hot (called "Saronpasu", but basically no different than tiger balm), and ibuprofen, all failed to relieve my worn out knees and legs, and after two months of pain I finally decided to give acupuncture a shot.
I went to my local sekkotsu-in, a Japanese "bone-setter", which normally specializes in massage therapy for sports injuries, fatigue, and keeping the elderly fit. That said, there are many kinds of sekkotsu-in. Some are more dedicated to relaxation and chronic fatigue. These are not covered by health insurance (at least in my neighborhood), but my shop was authorized to accept health insurance if for the purpose of health-related injuries. Since I first experienced the pain after a day of mountain-climbing, I was approved and paid 1000 yen for my first massage, and 500 yen for each massage after. However after the second massage in a week, my joints still ached so I asked how much acupuncture was, and (not expecting an affirmative) whether health insurance could be used as well. To my surprise, they said the cost of acupuncture is the same as a massage, but required a consent form, signed by a general practitioner. This usually runs around 4000 yen, but I was desperate, and 5000 total for my first time still sounded cheaper than what I had heard of people paying for a single acupuncture session, so I agreed.
Flash forward to the fateful day and I am laying on my stomach, getting ready to be stabbed. "Can I take pictures?" I asked. "Sure" said the young therapist. He then offered to take them for me once he had finished inserting the needles. Great, I thought, and he got started. First he showed me one of the needles he would use and they were the same thickness as my leg hair. That helped me relax a little. He explained that in order to relieve the pressure on the tendons behind my knee caps.
Starting on my lower back, then my calves, and lastly my thighs, a dozen needles were slowly inserted into me. Although there was no piercing pain like getting a shot or a cut, there was a duller, deep ache as the needle reached the nerve that he was aiming for. Once he had finished I was in for a real shock, of the electrical current variety. Attaching leads to each of the thick heads of each needle, the therapist turned up the juice until I felt slightly tingly. I immediately imagined the scene from the Matrix when Neo is covered from head to foot in hundreds of similar needles to revive his atrophied muscles, but the reference was lost on the doc and he put a towel over me, closed the curtain and left me to relax for about twenty minutes.
When the gently pulsating currents wound down, the machine they were attached to played a little jingle and my therapist walked back and, with a cotton swab of alcohol, removed each needle, quickly and painlessly. He wiped each spot, but there was never any blood. Afterward I checked and some areas were pink like a minor mosquito bite, but that was it. He then massaged the same spots for another 20 minutes, helped me stretch out, and recommended I go to an onsen (hot spring) or take a long soak in a hot bath. So I went home and did just that, and the next morning I felt like a completely new man. I walked to work, did my thing there, walked home, and got packed for a touch rugby tournament the next day where I ran around on a grass pitch all day and my legs never once bothered me!
So, did it work? YES. Was it worth the money? YES. Did it hurt? NO! Why doesn't everyone do this? I have no idea. It really did help immensely. Obviously, I had been doing a lot of other things to aid in my recovery, including stretching daily, taking it easy, and getting massages at the same sekkotsu-in, but I have no doubt the acupuncture was the final push I needed to complete my recovery.