After working as an environmental lawyer and consultant, Joan Strawson realized that she wanted to find a more direct way to help people. So she began training in acupuncture and recently opened Oasis Oriental Medicine at 127 E. Patrick St. in Frederick. Strawson spoke recently with the News-Post about her transition and the powers of eastern healing.
What types of services do you have, and what does your business do?
I’m primarily an acupuncturist, but we also offer other modalities of Chinese medicine. So that would be like cupping, if you were paying attention to the summer Olympics and you saw all the athletes with the red cupping marks on them — we do cupping, we do guasha, which is another form of body work that uses a tool to scrape the skin and help release toxins and help better absorb nutrients. And both cupping and guasha are phenomenal complementary approaches to the acupuncture needle for people who are not experiencing pain. Most of my work is with people who are in pain, either low back pain — well back pain and sciatica, I would say that probably 80 percent of my patients have low back pain and sciatica, and another 50 percent of them have that neck, shoulder, upper back pain with a little bit of numbness and tingling going down their arm that people seem to get from spending too much time looking down at their phones and their other electronics. And so the acupuncture, the cupping, and the guasha are all really great for addressing pain issues. I also do a little bit of Chinese herbal medicine.
You mentioned the electronics and technology. Do you see any types of injuries or ailments that have become more common, or that those types of things exacerbate?
Absolutely. Like I said, the neck pain, it starts in the neck, then it goes down your shoulders and the upper back, when your muscles get so tight then you get kind of shooting pain and numbness and tingling down your arms, and maybe all the way down to your hands and fingers. And that has, from my observation, over the past few years just increased exponentially. And most of it is because we’re holding our phones or our iPads or our computers in front of us and we’re looking down and we’re putting strain on our necks and our upper backs.
How long have you been doing this?
I’ve been a licensed acupuncturist for about a year and a half, but I started school in 2013, so I’ve actually been practicing for quite a bit longer, just at a school clinic under supervision.
How did you get into it?
I have always, my whole life, been fascinated by energy medicine and alternative healing. Actually, in the late ’80s I was getting acupuncture on my horses, and I saw how phenomenally it worked for them. They just went so much better and were so much more comfortable. And at the time I was having a lot of knee problems, and like so many people who are afraid to try acupuncture, they’re afraid of the needles. And I was afraid of the needles, and I was like ‘I know it works, because I see it work on my horses. But I’m afraid of the needles.’ So I finally just got up the courage and went and tried it, and I just found out that it was an awesome medicine. For a lot of years, I was an environmental scientist, and an environmental attorney, and working for a company that consulted with EPA, really big into environmental health, human health. And eventually came to realize that I wasn’t really helping people in the way I wanted to help people, and I needed to find a change and I needed to find a way that I could really, really help people one-on-one. And I finally realized that acupuncture, I’d been doing it my whole life, and it was time for me to study it.
What are you doing when you’re doing acupuncture on someone?
Chinese medicine theory says there’s a life force that goes through all of us. We call it chi, other alternative medicines all call it something different, but it’s just that concept that there’s this sort of electrical life force energy in us. And when it gets blocked, when it can’t move freely, that blockage causes pain. In Chinese medicine theory, the chi, the life force, circulates through our bodies in a series of meridian pathways that are kind of equivalent to blood vessels, they follow specific pathways in the body. And when somebody comes in in pain, we ask a series of questions to kind of identify what pathways might be blocked, where the problem is. Then by inserting the needles into specific areas along these pathways of chi, we’re able to release the blockage, get the chi going, and get blood flowing, let the toxins be removed from the blood system and healing nutrients get put back into the muscles and relieve the pain. That’s Chinese medicine theory. Western medicine theory says we’re releasing endorphins in the brain, so that helps block the pain, and we’re blocking the nerve signals that transmit pain signals through the body, and we’re working on the fascia, those little membranes that line the muscles that actually play a pretty big role in how supple our bodies stay and how well our blood vessels are able to exchange toxins for nutrients.
What is the biggest misperception that you see or hear about eastern medicine in general?
I think it’s that the needles hurt. We’re all used to getting shots. And we’re used to thinking about those big hollow needles that doctors use to give us shots. Acupuncture needles are about the thickness of a human hair, and they’re solid, and they’re very flexible. And they really don’t hurt.