acupuncture, me - Brian C. Allen, my business - OMHS, the profession

My Recent Radio Interview

WDDE me needlingI was recently interviewed by WDDE 91.1 FM, Delaware’s Source for NPR news. The story, which I have as an mp3 file, appeared on air on April 18, 2014 . The article which I have as a PDF file, appeared on the website. Yes, those are my hands in the photo. All three can be accessed below.

Overall, I think it was a positive treatment. I was asked far more than what ended up in the pieces. I understand that the depth that I provided may not have been appropriate for that venue. I am fine with that. However, I do have one complaint. The article attributes the word “energy” to me. I do not use the word “energy” as a substitute for the word qi, and I did not state that “it is more about energy than it is about physicality.”

It has been a few weeks since the broadcast, and so far no one has contacted me as a result of the radio broadcast or website article. Luckily, I had no expectations. I think it is good, however, that these kinds of broadcasts and articles are becoming more frequent and more popular. It does good for the profession as a whole. We need that kind of general marketing.

Click the link to read the Published Article. The article’s links to the audio and video segments no longer work, but I have them both below.

Here is a recording of the Radio Broadcast.  Click the play button to start.

Here is a copy of the video.  Click the play button to start.

me - Brian C. Allen, my business - OMHS

OMHS Youtube Channel

I recently started a YouTube channel for my business.

The purpose of this channel is to give you a look at what I do at Oriental Medicine and Health Services.

(Note:  I have since changed my business name to First Choice Acupuncture, Herbs, and Massage.  I still have the same YouTube channel.)

You can expect videos relating to T’ai Chi and Qigong. These videos can be helpful if you are one of my students, as they may serve as important references. If you are not a student, it will give you chance to see what these practices are like.

I will also be featuring videos from time to time on the main aspects of my business: Acupuncture, Chinese Herbs, and Tuina Massage.

I intend on using my videos in combination with Blog articles here in order to provide a more interesting experience for the reader. I hope you enjoy the videos and the upcoming Blog articles that I will be writing.

Here is a link to the main channel page:

Plyoutubesubscribeease subscribe to my YouTube channel by clicking the button to the left. By doing this, you will be kept updated whenever I publish a new video.

Thanks again.


Does Acupuncture Hurt? What Can I Expect?

insert-needleI get this question from people often, especially from new patients on their first visit. I usually give my typical smiley smirk and say, “I’m going to be putting needles into your body. Of course it is going to hurt.” I realize that this is not funny in the classical sense, especially to the patient, but that small bit of absurdity in the midst of the new patient jitters often provides some levity. I follow up with, “Really, though, it’s not that bad.” I then go on to explain in more detail. It is a common enough question, so I thought I would share this information with you now.

There seems to be a popular misconception, especially in America, and perpetuated by mass media, that acupuncture is painless. Well, it is, but it isn’t. It all has to do with the definition of pain and, more specifically, with the Chinese definition of pain as it relates to acupuncture. Acupuncture is from China, after all, and the original phrase stating that acupuncture should not be painful is from China. In China, painful acupuncture would be having a continuous sharp or a continuous burning sensation that does not go away on its own after about one minute. If this happens, it should be brought to the attention of the acupuncturist so that the needle can be adjusted, and then the pain will go away. This does happen on rare occasion, and is just a normal part of the process. So, if it happens to you, do not be alarmed or discouraged, just let your practitioner know when it occurs.

That being said, acupuncture is definitely not sensationless. In fact, some of the normal sensations involved with acupuncture would be thought of as pain sensations by those in American culture. However, those sensations are actually referred to as qi reactions (deqi in Chinese) and are not considered pain by the Chinese definition.

What sensations are involved with acupuncture, then? I will explain, but keep in mind that this is all based on the acupuncture that I do which is based largely on the Chinese TCM model. There are other types of acupuncture with different needling methods, some of which involve no insertion at all.

First, let’s talk about the needles. They are single-use, sterile, disposable, stainless steel needles. I tend to use 32 gauge needles for most applications. That means the needles are 0.25 mm thick, which is very thin. Acupuncture needles are different than the hypodermic needles which are used when we get shots or blood tests. Because they are so thin, around 5 to 10 acupuncture needles can fit inside the tip of a hypodermic needle, depending on the gauges used. Hypodermic needles are hollow and sharp; they cut through the skin and puncture structures (veins, arteries, nerves, etc.) beneath the skin. Acupuncture needles are solid and the tips are relatively dull; they push through the skin and, instead of puncturing structures, will nudge structures out of the way with careful needling. So, do not expect insertion of an acupuncture needle to feel like getting a shot or blood test.

Insertion of the needle is a 2 step process. First, the needle is quickly inserted shallowly so that it gets through the skin. This is done either free-hand, which I do, or with a guide tube, which is also common. It is this initial part of insertion that feels like a pinch. Some people do not even feel the pinch, but the pinch-like sensation usually happens. In sensitive and thin skinned areas, the pinch feeling tends to be more prevalent. In less sensitive and meatier areas of the body, the pinch is less noticeable.

After the initial part of the insertion, the needle then gets inserted deeper into the body to the depth and at the angle that is appropriate for its location and for its purpose. While this happens, a variety of sensations are possible. Some people even feel nothing at all, which I always find surprising because I am very sensitive and feel absolutely everything when being needled. Sometimes only the movement of the needle itself can be felt. However, a common sensation is an ache, pressure, or distended feeling around the needle, as if the needle is much thicker.

This ache is one of the more notable qi reactions. It can come on gradually and be mild, or it can come on suddenly and be very strong for an instant, fading gradually after that. In particular, when it is sudden and strong, Americans categorize it as pain. They typically do not like the sensation. In China, however, it would be typical for a patient to be disappointed if they did not feel that sensation. In fact, once elicited, a Chinese doctor might continue stimulating the needle to prolong and propagate that sensation to the point of having the patient yell at times. Again, the patients expect this as part of a good treatment. It is a different story here. Heavy needling like that would make the majority of American patients question whether or not they should come back for another treatment. Therefore, a much lighter type of needling tends to be done here, and even though I follow the Chinese model, my needling is lighter and more suitable for our culture.

In addition to the ache, there are other common sensations that may be felt. Coolness, warmth, itchiness, and tingly sensations are all possible, too. Also, any of the sensations may be: 1) local, just where the needle is; 2) referred, meaning the needle is one place, but it is felt someplace else; or, 3) radiating, meaning the sensation can travel in any direction away from the needle (most commonly in the direction of the acupuncture channel on which it is located).

Not everyone feels these types of sensations with every needle. Also, what a patient feels during one treatment may not be the same thing felt during the next treatment even if the needles are in the same points. Furthermore, even though these sensations are qi reactions and are an indicator that the acupuncture is doing what it is supposed to be doing, it is actually more important for the practitioner to feel the qi through the needle after insertion. It is because of this that the needle may be manipulated by twisting or pushing and pulling in order to call the qi to the needle and to deliver the proper treatment intent for that point. So, even if a patient feels nothing from a particular needle at a point, as long as I feel what I need to feel, I continue on to needle the next point.

After I feel the qi reaction, in many cases (particularly for functional complaints rather than musculoskeletal or structural complaints) there is no need to leave the needles in place in the patient. They can be removed at that point. However, I tend to leave the needles in, generally anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes depending on many factors. I do this because it is part of the Chinese TCM model, is what I learned in school, and is what is expected by patients getting acupuncture. There is a reason for this.

It is thought that the qi in the body cycles though the various acupuncture channels as connected from beginning to end in about 15 minutes, give or take depending on many factors. Therefore, if an acupuncture needle is positioned properly, but a qi reaction is not felt by the practitioner, the qi will still naturally arrive at the needle at some point during the treatment if the needle is retained.

Many practitioners, especially new ones, are not skilled at connecting the qi to the needle. It is not something that is easily taught. It is a sort of intangible skill that must be experienced in order to fully understand and to replicate. Therefore, needle retention can allow for a more effective treatment. Because of my long-time martial arts, t’ai chi, and qigong backgrounds before I studied acupuncture, I was already familiar with qi, how it felt, and how to manipulate it. This knowledge and experience easily flowed over into my acupuncture practice.

Usually, there is little or no sensation when removing a needle. The patient will often feel either nothing or just the movement of the needle. Sometimes there is discomfort, but it is more or less instantaneous. Also, I occasionally and intentionally elicit another qi reaction as I am removing a needle.

More often than not, there is no blood. In the few instances where there is blood, it is often not more than a small drop and is blotted clean with a cotton swab. Even rarer, a bruise and / or small swelling can occur. If there is a swelling, it can be immediately rubbed out to the point that it will not return, but the bruise will run the normal course of a bruise for you.

It is possible that with certain types of needling, particularly with deep and / or strong needling for structural complaints, the patient will experience some muscle aching for a day or two at the most, very similar to the type of muscle ache one would get from working out too much. This is normal, will go away, and does not take away from the effects of the treatment.

These are the notions that I like to get across to my patients before needling them so that they know what to expect. I try to be thorough, but I keep it basic. I think I have included everything here, but if you have any questions, please let me know.

education, me - Brian C. Allen

My Education and the Road to Oriental Medicine


I guess it all started when I was in kindergarten.  I already could read some words and I knew the letters of the alphabet.  However, I didn’t really know the alphabet.  I mean, I didn’t realize they had to be in a certain order.   The teacher pointed to the list of letters above the blackboard and asked the children to recite the alphabet.  There they all were reciting the alphabet, and I felt clueless.  They all had a jump on me, and now, at age 4, I was faced with the monumental task of having to quickly memorize a 26 item sequence – not cool.

I begrudgingly accepted the duty of rote memorization.  I shouldn’t be too down on it.  Rote memorization has its purposes, and it is important.  It is, however, the lowest form of learning and speaks nothing of actual understanding or one’s ability to apply knowledge.

I should point out that only one other person was able to read in my kindergarten class, and she was at least 6 months older than me.  I understood letters and knew how to use them; I just had some initial problems with the rote memorization.

Let’s fast forward to 7th grade.  I took the SATs that year and scored better than the average high school student.  That opened a few educational doors for me:  special classes, accelerated programs, etc.

In high school, I was already taking college calculus in the 10th grade.  I was the guinea pig for the development of the college level physics class at my high school as well.  The rest of my classes were college prep and advanced placement classes.  I did very well in school, but I never developed good study skills.  I understood everything and could figure out anything that was placed in front of me, but I still hated memorization.  More importantly, by this point in my life, I hated the structured environment of the education system, and I hated jumping through hoops.  I hated having to show up for class.  I hated having to read what book they told me to read (I am a very slow reader, also), and to add insult to injury, they would make me write a book report which I also hated to do.

OK, so I was an angry youth.  I really was.  Everybody assumed that I would just go to college and do great things, but I just couldn’t do it.  I was sick of it all.

High school graduation came and went.  September came, and I did not go to college.  However, by the time that February came around, I decided I really had to go college and do something with my life.  I was always a science nut, so I signed on the line and declared my major:  a B.S. in Biology (Biotechnology).  I chose this over physics, which I loved, because I was still totally fed up with math.  Math was easy for me, but it was sort of shoved down my throat, and I was still sick of it.  Biology was cool, but my real plans were for graduate school where I would switch my track to Neuroscience.  The human brain fascinated me, and I wanted to do research work.

Well, I only lasted a year and a half.  I was going to school full-time.  I was working 35 hours a week to pay for it all while living on campus.  I got burned out.  Unfortunately, I was still an angry youth, and I still hated memorization and jumping through hoops.  I knew I could handle the courses and the information, but I had to do it when they said and how they said, and I couldn’t handle that.  In retrospect, I realized that I lacked the maturity required for success at college.

So, from that point I went into the workforce.  I spent a few years working as a bookkeeper (computers + math = easy) at a law firm.  Then, I got into computer aided design, CAD, work and then worked as a technical illustrator (computers + math + art = easy).  However, those were just jobs that paid the bills.  My real life was martial arts.

I worked out anywhere from 2 to 6 hours per day, 6 days a week.  I both practiced and taught kung fu and t’ai chi, did light weight training, and did aerobics.  My goal was to one day have my own business, a large martial arts school.  All along, since early childhood, I was fascinated with Chinese culture.  Martial arts had introduced me to and peaked my interest in the healing arts of the Asian countries also.

Then, one day it happened.  All of a sudden, I realized that a career in Oriental Medicine (Acupuncture and Chinese herbs) was possible.  I never realized that there were Chinese medical colleges in our country.  I always thought that one would have to go to and live in China in order to learn such things.  I was wrong.  There were about 40 accredited Acupuncture or Oriental Medicine colleges across the country.

I investigated the colleges and found out that the ones located in California had the most comprehensive programs, almost double the hours of some of the colleges located elsewhere.  California had its own licensing standards which were higher than those of the National standards.  Acupuncture is well integrated into the medical insurance system in California, and Acupuncturists enjoy primary care physician status.  I figured that if I was going to put in the time, effort, and money (too much money) into this, I wanted to get the most out of it.  I chose the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine (PCOM) located in San Diego, California because its graduates consistently achieved the highest percentage of passing scores on both the California certification exam and the National certification exams.

It was a 4-year, 3400 hour Masters of Science in Traditional Oriental Medicine degree program.  However, I learned that I needed at least 2 years of undergraduate college in order to be admitted.  So, I went back to college.

I was more mature this time around.  Also, I changed my major from Biotechnology to Philosophy.  I figured that if I were going to take classes that weren’t going to matter in my career, I may was well take courses that were 1) very interesting to me, and 2) easy.  I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me in San Diego, so I thought I would take it easy in Delaware.

I was working full time, still working out, and teaching kung fu and t’ai chi.  So, I attended college part-time.  My original plan was to finish the whole Philosophy degree before moving on.  I should note that I had several minors as well:  East Asian Studies, Chinese Language, and Religious Studies.  That plan changed.  The part-time pace was too slow, so with just one year left to finish, I gave up again.  Already having more than enough credits to gain admittance at PCOM, I packed up and moved to San Diego.

The full-time course load at PCOM was quite intense. Originally, I planned on a more normal pace, taking 6 years to finish the 4 year course.  However, I decided to take a full load my first trimester there:  7 classes.  Yes, the full-time schedule consisted of 7 to 8 classes per trimester, with 3 trimesters a year, with a 2 week break between trimesters.  There were 75% more courses than a standard 4 year undergraduate degree.  I found that I was able to handle it that first trimester, and full of passion and excitement, I continued onward at the full-time rate.  It did, however, take me 5 years to finish, instead of 4, because I took a lot of extra courses, mostly in bodywork, but also pediatrics and external herbal applications.  In the end, I graduated with 211.5 credits and a 3.9 GPA.  The only reason it was not a 4.0 is because, once again, I got very burnt out, my health suffered, and I decided on occasion that my health and peace of mind was more important than an “A”.

Sadly, during my time at PCOM, I found myself fighting those old demons.  I found myself hating the process.  I did not want to keep jumping through hoops.  I just wanted to be a practitioner.  Really, I am not a good student.  I enjoy learning, but in my own way and in my own time.  Attendance policies were very strict; tests and assignments were frequent and numerous.  The amount of memorization required was insane.  Have I mentioned that I hate memorization?  This was killing my passion for Oriental Medicine and made me question my dream.

I did find a remedy, however.  I just did even more work.  While everyone else was in study groups working on memorization, I was reading.  Rather than just memorizing the ingredients of an herbal formula, I would read all the commentary on that formula that I could find, not just in the required texts, but in any other texts I could find.  I found myself reading translations of old Chinese medical texts as well as newer texts by some of the great minds in the field today.  None of this was required, but I needed it.  I needed to understand the medicine and know how it all worked, rather than just memorize everything about it.  This helped keep my passion alive.

Ultimately, I found the work easy, but the process was very hard on me.  I guess I am just not wired that way.  I really tried to be the good student.  In the end, though, I am glad that I still did it my way.  I came out of PCOM both learning and understanding much more than what the standard program could offer.  It is also worth mention at this point that out of the approximately 40 people that started the program when I did, only about 5 actually made it through to the end.