How does acupuncture work?
Acupuncture is a primary health care modality that has been around for at least 3000 years and is used widely throughout the world. It is a complex system of diagnosis and treatment that views the person as a whole and works to “re-program” and restore the normal functions of the body.
Acupuncture therapy employs the insertion of tiny thread-like needles into specific points along the meridians (energy channels) that cross the body, in order to stimulate a physiological response. By stimulating appropriate acupuncture points (there are over 350 acupuncture points in the human body) the universal life energy present in every living creature (called Chi or Qi by the Chinese) is regulated and health is restored. When the flow of energy is disturbed for any reason, there is disruption in health, resulting in pain or illness. As long as the energy flows freely, health is maintained.
Modern acupuncturists also use other modalities such as herbal medicine, physical exercise, nutrition, meditation and breathing exercises in caring for the whole person.
What should I expect during treatment?
Most patients find the treatment very relaxing. Many are surprised to find how comfortable they are during an acupuncture treatment and how easily and painlessly the needles are inserted. Some patients even go to sleep during treatment. The needles are quite different (much smaller and thinner) than hypodermic needles, and you may feel a slight sensation upon insertion and slight pressure or a "dull" reaction when the needle reaches the correct depth.
There are several different sensations that may be felt when getting treatment, dependent on the acupuncturist, his or her unique style of treatment, and the individual being treated. All of these sensations are normal and good. They may include heat, cold, tingling, numbness, heaviness, distension, and a feeling of floating. You may even feel a sense of the energy moving along the meridians in the body.
What are the side effects of acupuncture?
One of the great advantages of acupuncture is the absence of side effects. Acupuncture needles generally cause no bleeding or pain, and most practitioners today use the disposable kind (I personally will not see any practitioner that does not use the disposable kind). Acupuncturists are trained in exact location, angle as well as depth of insertion of the acupuncture needle to avoid any injuries.
How many treatments are necessary?
No two conditions or people respond in exactly the same way. The length of treatment depends on the condition, the severity, and the duration of the condition. Your physical and emotional state are also important, as well as your compliance with your doctor's instructions and recommendations.
Can children receive acupuncture?
Yes. Generally speaking, children do well with acupuncture because their energy is very responsive. As a result their course of treatment may be shorter and fewer needles may be required. On the other hand, the younger the child is, the more training the practitioner needs. If your practitioner isn't ready for a child as young as yours, ask for a referral.
How does examining my torso help in diagnosis?
Your acupuncturist feels the skin temperature in three areas of your torso. These areas are referred to as the upper, middle, and lower jiao (pronounced chow), and the process is called checking the jiao. Each jiao is associated with particular meridians. The temperature gives an indication of the relative flow of energy in the region. This piece of diagnostic information, added to many others, helps your practitioner choose the points appropriate for your treatment.
How do I decide if I need acupuncture treatment or psychotherapy, and can they be used together effectively?
Some people report that they feel better just talking with their acupuncturist, and they question whether the needles "really do anything".
An acupuncture treatment generally begins with a conversation regarding observed changes in the patient's body, mind, and spirit. Such a conversation reminds some patients of their psychotherapy sessions. Although the content may be similar, the purpose of the acupuncture practitioner is different from that of a psychotherapist. An acupuncturist is assessing the client's energy, in part by asking questions. When listening to responses, the practitioner is paying attention to what is being said, what is not being said, and to the overall energy field in which the speaking takes place.
Patients who seek psychotherapy sometimes question whether acupuncture might facilitate their work. Several people who have done both report that acupuncture has proven very beneficial to their psychotherapy sessions.
I've seen pictures of people with needles in their ears. What are they doing?
When acupuncture is done on the ears it is called auricular acupuncture. Recently there have been articles on its use to support people in overcoming drug addictions. Short needles are inserted shallowly at 5 specific sites and allowed to remain for thirty minutes. While it is only one part of a successful treatment program, the role acupuncture plays is important. Clients treated with auricular acupuncture report a reduction in cravings, less anxiety and better sleep.
How is the length of treatments related to each condition?
Length of treatment is as individual as the treatments themselves. However, there are some "rules of thumb" that may prove helpful. Generally, it takes a minimum of four treatments spaced a week or so apart for every year you've had a condition. For example, if you have had neck pain for three years, you would expect to go for twelve treatments to reach the optimum benefit for your condition. Factors such as age, overall state of health, and medications all influence the length, frequency and effectiveness of treatment. After six to eight treatments you and your practitioner will know to what extent you are or are not benefiting from acupuncture.
Does acupuncture really work?
Yes. In the past 3,000 years, more people have been successfully treated with acupuncture than with all other health modalities combined. Today acupuncture is practiced widely in Asia, the Soviet Union, and in Europe. It is now being used more and more in America by patients and physicians. Acupuncture treatments can be given at the same time that other techniques are being used, such as conventional Western medicine, osteopathic or chiropractic adjustments, and homeopathic or naturopathic prescriptions. It is important for your acupuncture physician to know everything that you are doing so he or she can help you get the most benefit from all your treatments.
Do I need to believe in acupuncture for it to work?
You do not need to believe in acupuncture to receive its benefits. Many acupuncturists point to how effective it is in treating animals. A number of patients try acupuncture as a 'last resort' on the advice of a friend. They come reluctantly and they get better nevertheless, though even after getting better some still have trouble believing in such a system! Although acupuncture is thousands of years old, from a Western perspective there is much that we still do not understand about how or why it works.
Is acupuncture safe?
Yes! Acupuncture is very safe. As one of my teachers would often say, "Acupuncture heals, it does not hurt". The majority of practitioners use pre-sterilized disposable needles that are used only one time and then properly disposed of as bio-hazard medical waste.
Can I have acupuncture if I am pregnant?
Absolutely. Acupuncture can be very helpful for a number of the complications that are associated with pregnancy. Women who have a history of miscarriages can benefit from acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine during pregnancy. Acupuncture is also good for alleviating morning sickness, low back pain, correcting a breech position, and for those interested, it can help with delivery.
What is Alternative Medicine?
The National Library of Medicine classifies alternative medicine under the term complementary therapies, or "therapeutic practices which are not currently considered an integral part of conventional allopathic medical practice". Some, such as physical therapy, diet, and acupuncture, become widely accepted whereas others, such as radium therapy, quietly fade away.
Therapies are termed as Complementary when used in addition to conventional treatments and as Alternative when used instead of conventional treatment.
To learn more about alternative medicine, I suggest you read some works by Dr. Andrew Weil, MD and Gary Null, PhD and visit The Life Extension Foundation at www.lef.org.
Where can I read about New Research?
The following books (and other works by any of these authors) will provide you with a wealth of information.
The CHINA STUDY
Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health
T. Colin Campbell, PhD and Thomas M. Campbell II
IODINE - 2nd Edition
Why you need it, Why you can't live without it
David Brownstein, MD
Breast Cancer and Iodine
How to prevent and how to survive breast cancer
Dr. David M. Derry, MD, PhD
The COENZYME Q10 Phenomenon
A breakthrough nutrient
Stephen T. Sinatra, MD, FACC
What conditions can be treated with acupuncture?
Many people in the United States are already familiar with the use of acupuncture as a treatment for chronic pain.
In an official report, Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials, the World Health Organization (WHO) has listed the following symptoms, diseases and conditions that have been shown through controlled trials to be treated effectively by acupuncture:
- low back pain
- neck pain
- tennis elbow
- knee pain
- periarthritis of the shoulder
- facial pain (including craniomandibular disorders)
- dental pain
- tempromandibular (TMJ) dysfunction
- rheumatoid arthritis
- induction of labor
- correction of malposition of fetus (breech presentation)
- morning sickness
- nausea and vomiting
- postoperative pain
- essential hypertension
- primary hypotension
- renal colic
- adverse reactions to radiation or chemotherapy
- allergic rhinitis, including hay fever
- biliary colic
- depression (including depressive neurosis and depression following stroke)
- acute bacillary dysentery
- primary dysmenorrhea
- acute epigastralgia
- peptic ulcer
- acute and chronic gastritis