Medical Tourism: Acupuncturing

Americans always seem to have such strong reactions to “eastern medicine.” They’re either organic, granola-munching, composting-enthusiasts who are totally gung-ho about anything having to do with the natural remedies, or are the types of people who eat hand sanitizer for breakfast and tried to convince themselves that Sarah Palin wasn’t that bad. It’s quite a polarizing topic. I’d say I lean towards the granola camp on this one, and have been wanting to try out some of the traditional medicines that Korea has to offer for quite some time. Wednesday was election day, schools were out, and my computer-hunching ways have gotten the best of my friends and I, so we decided to hit up an acupuncture clinic in Suwon.

The clinic we went to was a cross between a western day spa and a hospital; nothing about it felt particularly “eastern.” (Somewhere in the back of my mind I think I was picturing a dimly lit room with people smoking opium on large cushions shaped like Buddha.) We took off our shoes and donned slippers upon entering (a typical Korean practice), filled out some forms at the reception desk, and sipped on some instant coffee in the fluorescently-lit waiting room. After a short while, each patient met with Dr. Lee in his office to discuss her ailments. I described pains in my upper back and neck, due to staring at a computer monitor for 10 straight years. Using a spine model he had in his office, the doctor explained the C-curves of the spine, and that sitting at a computer is simply not what human beings were meant to do. (This is what I garnered from his broken English and sign language anyway.) He showed us a few stretches, asked us some questions about previous acupunture experience, current medications, and then escorted us into the treatment area.

Moon & Dr. Lee - looks just like a western doctor's office. (Except for all the Korean books.)

Shruthi poses with some medical art.

This was a stretch the doc recommended after long hours of desk-warming...

Each person has their own little bed surrounded by a curtain, as if you’re getting a bikini wax from your gynecologist. We started with a massaging treatment, in which 5 sponge-like nodes were suctioned to my back and relaxed my skin for about 15 minutes. Then came the needles. He inserted 8 needles into my back; no pain, just a few pricks. The doctor told me that he started giving his own children acupuncture at the age of 3, for things like the common cold and diarrhea. He’ll insert needles into certain pressure points on their hands that will fix whatever qi (pronounced “chi”) imbalance is causing their illness.

Needles! Red warming light shining above.

After the acupuncture, I received a “cupping treatment.” First, the doctor makes 5 or 6 needle pricks in your skin in a concentrated area, and then a plastic cup is placed above them and sucks out all the blood with lactic acid in it. He said this helps to get the blood circulating in that specific area where I expressed pains, and is especially good if you exercise a lot. The suctioning happened for another 15 minutes, and when that was finished the nurse placed an awesome menthol bandage over the spots where the cups were, which I kept on until bedtime.

Shruthi with her cups. Notice the red bottoms - lactic acid blood!

Reflections on acupuncture and cupping? I’m not quite sure that I feel a big difference in my back, to be completely honest. But the doctor did tell me to continue treatment once a week, and it definitely feels like the type of procedure where repetition is key. So I can’t knock it just yet. For 7,500 won, I might just have to try it one more time–it was even covered by my health insurance!

Afterwards we went out for an amazing duck BBQ and soup meal, and walked around the gorgeous, 300-year-old Hwaseong Fortress. But the most Korean thing we did all day was go makeup shopping at a mall at the end of the day.

Duck BBQ! This skewer-contraption is built into your table. DELICIOUS.

Duck soup - tastes just as succulent as it looks.

Post-acupuncture hiking.

Big bell at the top. I've seen one of these things at every Korean historical landmark I've visited, I think.

On top of the world.

Couples do Hwaseong.



  1. Dear. sir.
    I am a practitioner at Oriental medicine clinic in Seoul, Korea.
    My name is Jeong Yeonil and member of Saam and Sambu Acupuncture Non-profit Medical Service Team Abroad.
    i use saam and sambu acupuncture methods , as you know, the traditional korean five elementary acupuncture which is
    very unique and effective, different from the existing five elementary acupuncture methods.
    we are going to give a presentation on sa-am acupuncture and sambu acupuncture plus practical case demonstrations
    to patients in Seoul May 27~28. 2012.
    the cost of seminar and lecture is free of charge.
    first of all, we take participants around the world in advance.
    the lecturer is Kim-Hong-Kyeong, the most famous acupuncturist and herbologist in Korea. the following is a video of his demonstration of acupuncture for

    a patient with knee pain.

    we also attach file book ” An invitation to eastern medicine.

    we are looking forward to your reply as soon as possible.
    Take care.

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