What’s the Deal with Acupuncture’s Sudden Resurgence?

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Phoebe Cheong/WTHN

It feels like acupuncture is suddenly everywhere: on the tongues of our favorite social media personalities, popping up on the street corner in new brick-and-mortar locations and dominating wellness conversations on panels and in the press. Perhaps it’s because of the myriad benefits proffered by the service—pain relief, fertility, mental balance—or maybe it’s because of “the Drybar effect,” a term coined by Fast Company that implies businesses are modeling their in-and-out structure after Drybar, a blowouts-only hair salon that is user-friendly and accessible. Social media has fueled the fire too, lighting up feeds with pics of needles protruding from faces and chic notables relaxing in waiting rooms. But is this all anecdotal, or is acupuncture—an age-old practice that began in ancient China as early as 6000 BC—actually experiencing a resurgence in popularity?

To answer, we sought out two of Manhattan’s coveted practices: WTHN, a New York City–based millennial’s answer to the ancient Chinese practice, which opened in November 2018, and Windy Zhiwen Zhong, LAc, DAOM, at Apex Acupuncture. (FYI: The first abbreviation means licensed acupuncturist, and the second means doctorate of acupuncture and Oriental medicine. Combined, they mean Zhong is very good at sticking people with needles.)

WTHN has, in fact, seen an uptick in acupuncture treatments since opening. “We increased our hours of operation and hired more healers to satisfy the acupuncture demand we are seeing,” says cofounder Michelle Larivee. Zhong has seen a similar increase at Apex and attributes the turn to alternative medicine to the FDA’s crackdown on opioids.

Zhong believes that in light of America’s opioid crisis and restriction on prescription pain pills, more people are turning to the ancient art of acupuncture for relief. She even cited decade-old surgery cases in China, where anesthesia has been swapped for acupuncture needles to block the pain receptors of the body. If done correctly, a patient can be in open heart surgery, fully cognizant, but in no pain. 

WTHN notes that clients often come for a specific concern but end up staying for the unexpected positive benefits. Larivee originally became a consumer of acupuncture to help with ongoing pain from a ski injury and ended up incorporating it into her monthly wellness routine. The improvements included better sleep, better digestion, fewer sick days and a successful pregnancy, she told us via email.

At Apex, patients typically sign up for three- to six-month courses of treatment, visiting roughly twice a week to cure their pain with needles, massage therapy and other alternative methods like cupping. At WTHN, a combination of walk-ins and monthly members on their recurring membership model visit. 

With this knowledge, I set out to try the method for the first time. Let me preface this by stating that I am 100 percent needle phobic (a self-diagnosis reveals I suffer from trypanophobia) and regretted pitching this article the moment it was approved. I can’t think of anything worse than having numerous pointy objects shoved into my body by choiceA scene from the 2005 horror movie Saw 2 comes to mind. (Don’t Google it—it’s awful.)


Alas, I found myself on a Tuesday night lying facedown on a table in midtown Manhattan’s APEX Acupuncture being told “This may hurt a bit” by Zhong. The internet loves her, so I knew I was in good hands. 

After answering a quick series of questions (How is your appetite? Do you sleep well? How are you feeling?), I was shocked to learn that one must disrobe when receiving acupuncture. I figured if my neck was hurting, I’d spend 30 minutes with needles in my trapezius muscles. Wrong. 

It turns out that, in most cases, acupuncture needles are strategically placed where you’d least expect. If your neck ails you, hair-thin pricks will end up in your calf. According to Zhong, inserting the tiny instruments straight into the inflammation could be uncomfortable. As the whole body is a system working in tandem, needles were placed in my right ankle.

No, the process did not hurt. Not by any stretch of the imagination. After the series of pokes and questions, I was rubbed by a massage therapist to further alleviate the pain. If my ailment was at a level ten when I arrived, it was probably at a four when I left. A definite improvement.

I will absolutely go back for another round of poking and prodding. I’ll be armed with the knowledge that the needles won’t hurt, I’ll probably have to take off my clothes and I’m sure I won’t be nervous.

Maybe that is reason enough why acupuncture is trending. 

Read more: The Idiot’s Guide to Getting a Facial

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