Wondering if acupuncture is right for you? Browse acupuncture FAQ for more information, and contact us if you have additional questions!
What conditions does acupuncture treat?
First of all, you don’t have to present with a “condition” to be treated with acupuncture! Acupuncture is great for stress of any kind, or just as a relaxing spa treatment.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes acupuncture as an effective method of treatment for many medical conditions, and can be used in conjunction with western medicine.
Some of the conditions that acupuncture has been shown to be effective for:
- Upper Respiratory Tract: Acute sinusitis, acute rhinitis, common cold, acute tonsillitis
- Respiratory System: Acute bronchitis, bronchial asthma (most effective in children and in patients without complicating diseases)
- Disorders of the Eye: Acute conjunctivitis, central retinitis, myopia (in children), cataract (without complications)
- Disorders of the Mouth: Toothache, post-extraction pain, gingivitis, acute and chronic pharyngitis
- Gastrointestinal Disorders: Spasms of esophagus and cardia, hiccough, gastroptosis, acute and chronic gastritis, gastric hyperacidity, chronic duodenal ulcer (pain relief), acute duodenal ulcer (without complications), acute and chronic colitis, acute bacillary dysentery, constipation, diarrhea, paralytic ileus
- Neurological and Musculoskeletal Disorders: Headache and migraine, trigeminal neuralgia, facial palsy (early stage, i.e. within three to six months), pareses following a stroke, peripheral neuropathies, sequelae of poliomyelitis (early stage, i.e., within six months), Meniere’s disease, neurogenic bladder dysfunction, nocturnal enuresis, intercostal neuralgia, cervicobrachial syndrome, “frozen shoulder,” “tennis elbow,” sciatica, low back pain, osteoarthritis
Most people find acupuncture after many rounds of western medicine has failed them, and most often discover acupuncture for pain management. Acupuncture is extremely effective for managing pain conditions, as well as the following:
- Eye, Ear, Nose & Throat Disorders: Sinusitis, sore throat, hay fever, earache, nerve deafness, ringing in the ears, dizziness, poor eyesight
- Circulatory Disorders: High blood pressure, angina pectoris, arteriosclerosis, anemia
- Gastrointestinal Disorders: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), spastic colon, colitis, constipation, diarrhea, food allergies, ulcers, gastritis, abdominal bloating, hemorrhoids
- Gynecological and Genitourinary Disorders: Premenstrual syndrome (PMS); irregular, heavy or painful menstruation; endometriosis; menopause; fibroids; chronic bladder infection; complications in pregnancy; morning sickness; kidney stones; impotence; infertility (men and women); sexual dysfunction
- Immune Disorders: Candida, chronic fatigue, HIV and AIDS, Epstein Barr virus, allergies, lupus, multiple sclerosis (MS), hepatitis
- Addictions: Smoking, drugs, alcohol, food
- Emotional and Psychological Disorders: Anxiety, insomnia, depression, stress
- Musculoskeletal and Neurological Disorders: Arthritis, neuralgia, sciatica, back pain, bursitis, tendonitis, stiff neck, Bell’s palsy, trigeminal neuralgia, headaches and migraines, stroke, cerebral palsy, polio, sprains, muscle spasms, shingles
- Respiratory Disorders: Asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, colds and flu
- Miscellaneous: Chemotherapy/radiation side effects, diabetes, dermatological disorders, weight control
How does acupuncture work?
Acupuncture relies on the theory that the body’s life force (qi) runs along meridians of the body. These meridians run along the entire body and surface at acupuncture points distributed throughout the body. The acupuncture points are places on the body where the electrical conductivity is greater, and therefore more sensitive to stimulation, affecting a change in the nervous system. This is generally where the needles are inserted.
Another method is by inserting the acupuncture needles into muscle trigger points, points in the muscles where the the nerve enters and a minimal amount of electrical stimulation will cause the muscle to react. Another type of point that is used is a muscle trigger point, hyperirritable spots in the fascia surrounding skeletal muscle. These points are used to relax the irritated muscles involved in pain.
Two of the most important hypotheses of how acupuncture works have to do with pain control and how acupuncture affects the higher brain.
The first theory of acupuncture mechanism is the acupuncture analgesia: pain control hypotheses. This theory postulates that stimulation of an acupuncture needle travels a path up the central nervous system that ultimately inhibits pain signals.
Another theory of the pain management mechanism is observing the affect of the stimulation of acupuncture points on the hypothalamic beta-endorphin mechanism. Research has verified that endogenous opioid peptides as well as other neuropeptides in the central nervous system are released after acupuncture points are stimulated, leading to analgesic effects. Full article in Neuroscience Letters here. Considering the current national opioid crisis, acupuncture will be more and more important in the future of regulating this issue. Acupuncture can release the body’s own supply of opioid molecules instead of drugs in which the body becomes dependent on them. These pain-killing molecules could be 200 times more potent than morphine). More about opioids here.
The hypothalamic beta-endorphin mechanism helps to explain the acupuncture-disease-treatment mechanism. Through studies using FMRI, it was shown that higher brain structures were activated as a result of acupuncture stimulation. This led researchers to postulate a pathway of acupuncture stimulation from the higher brain to areas of the brain responsible for beta-endorphin secretion (opioids), as well as the regulation of endocrine, autonomic and other functions for the purpose of homeostasis.
Acupuncture has also been shown to regulate blood flow, body temperature and blood pressure, increased circulation, regulation of neurotransmitters in the brain that affect emotional states, decreased inflammation and strengthening of the immune system via effects on T-cell counts.
DO I HAVE TO BELIEVE IN ORDER TO OBTAIN RESULTS?
No. Regardless of your belief systems or philosophies, acupuncture will affect the body in the biological methods described above. The best results of any healing modality come from a good relationship with your practitioner, so it is important to trust the person you are working with on your path to healing. In Chinese Medicine theory, we believe a practitioner with strong and stable “qi” is important, as they provide a safe space for the patient to open up to the effects of the treatment. When choosing a practitioner, be sure to make decisions based on your chemistry with them and if you feel comfortable in the office.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF ACUPUNCTURE?
Acupuncture is a highly safe form of physical medicine, although there are a few risks. These include bruising, fainting, muscle spasms, bleeding, nerve damage (extremely rare) and punctured organs (extremely rare).
An acupuncture needle is an FDA approved medical device and is sterile and disposable. A new needle is used for every point in each patient.
Acupuncture needles are so tiny, patients rarely feel the sensation of the actual needle. More often the sensations elicited by qi movement are what is felt. This is often felt as a deep throbbing sensation. For comparison, 2o acupuncture needles can fit inside of one hypodermic needle ( a needle typically used for shots in western medicine).
WHAT OTHER TECHNIQUES BESIDES ACUPUNCTURE DO YOU USE?
Electro-Acupuncture: Acupuncture needles are used in this technique, and a device is used to deliver small electrical pulses between a set of needles. This is the same as a TENS unit, except needles are used to give a deeper effect instead of electrodes applied directly to the skin. This method has been proven effective as anesthesia, as as treating neurological disorders, skin conditions, muscles spasms, inflammation, swelling and edema and accelerates wound healing.
If you are a little needle shy, come in anyways because there are a lot of other modalities that are used in Chinese Medicine. These can be used alone or in addition to needles, depending on the needs of the patient. These are just a few:
Moxibustion: A technique in which a Chinese herb called mugwort or Artemisia Vulgaris is used to heat an acupuncture point, particularly in the treatment of certain debilitating conditions as well as arthritis and pain. Moxa is usually rolled into a stick, lit, and held over specific areas of the body. It can also be placed onto the handle of an acupuncture needle for deeper penetration of heat.
Cupping: Either glass fire cupping or plastic cupping is used for this technique. A suction is created between the cup and the skin and is left on for a period of time, depending on the patient’s needs. Cupping is a popular method of treatment because a technique known as moving cupping feels like a massage. This method may cause red marks and it is best to keep the area covered after treatment. A suggested method of action of cupping is that it breaks up stagnant fascia and allows more blood flow into areas that are knotted due to stress and damage.
Gua Sha: Gua Sha literally means “scrape away heat”. A specialized scraping instrument or spoon is used to stroke the affected area to induce blood flow, similar to cupping therapy. Also like cupping therapy, it is popular with patients for a massage-like feeling as well as feeling release immediately from strained muscles. It can also leave marks and is best to keep covered after treatment.
Tui Na: Tui Na literally means “pinch and pull”. It is a form of Chinese body work used for a variety of disorders and musculoskeletal issues. It is not generally used as for relaxation but in conjunction with acupuncture to address specific disharmonies.
Shiatsu: A form of Chinese body and energy work that is similar to acupressure, but is an entire body treatment that taps deep into the meridians of the body. It is an intuitive modality in which the practitioner will diagnose and interpret the results of the session. It is deeply relaxing and elicits massive changes on many levels.
What to expect
WHAT CAN I EXPECT ON THE FIRST VISIT?
On your initial visit, you will need to fill out a detailed intake form on your current chief complaint, your general health and your health history. Chinese Medicine is a holistic approach so it is important to consider every part of the body as well as lifestyle and family history. if you have never had acupuncture before you may be asked questions that you’ve never been asked before by anyone! Chinese Medicine practitioners use every piece of information they can get as diagnostic tools. The initial visit is a kind of “let’s get to know you” appointment.
After all of your data is gathered, you will be given a treatment plan in which the desired number of acupuncture treatments will be discussed as well as lifestyle goals.
Open up and say Ah! Chinese medicine practitioners use many diagnostic tools, and one is looking at the qualities of the tongue. Be prepared to stick out your tongue during your visit, and don’t be shy, we look at tongues all day! We also will feel the pulse at the wrist on both sides of the body, listening and feeling for clues that can help determine a diagnosis.
On the initial visit, a mini treatment will be given, just to assess the patient’s reaction to the needles as well as the patient-practitioner dynamic. In future visits, many acupuncture needles might be used depending on the patient, as well as other techniques discussed above. Herbal formulas may be offered in conjunction with the acupuncture treatments after a few visits.
An herbal consultation consists of an intake and then a recommendation of a starting formula for the patient’s condition. Follow up visits will be necessary to assess how the patient is tolerating the formula and if any adjustments are needed.
WHAT SHOULD I DO TO PREPARE FOR AN ACUPUNCTURE APPOINTMENT?
Choose your “acupuncture outfit” as people often call it. This should be loose fitting, comfortable clothing that can be easily rolled up to expose most of the legs and arms. Often access to the torso is needed, so be aware of this while choosing an outfit. If access to any other area of the body is needed, there will be gowns and towels for draping.
It is recommended that you do the following before your appointment:
- Have eaten a meal before your appointment, but avoid a heavy meal within one hour of the appointment.
- Avoid alcohol, tobacco or any other drugs just before your appointment.
- Avoid excess caffeine immediately prior to your appointment.
- Avoid vigorous exercise or sexual activity immediately prior to your appointment.
- Be well hydrated.
HOW MANY SESSIONS WILL I NEED?
Length, number and frequency of sessions vary. For most conditions, a series of several sessions is necessary to achieve the maximum benefit. After an initial consultation, the acupuncturist should provide you with a treatment plan that includes the techniques to be used, as well as the frequency and duration of treatment.
HOW LONG DO APPOINTMENTS LAST?
The length of acupuncture sessions varies depending on your condition. Typically, your first visit will be longer than your subsequent visits. Sessions can be as short as 30 minutes to as long as two hours. If you are getting a herbal consultation, your appointment will typically last 3o minutes. If it is your initial visit, it could last longer depending on the length of the intake. Plan your first visit accordingly.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT AFTER TREATMENT?
You can expect to feel calm and relaxed. You may have what we call “acupuncture brain”. You may feel a little drowsy or blissed out, so be careful while driving or navigating the world, especially after your first visit. After you know how your body reacts to acupuncture, you can operate as normal, but always be mindful right after an acupuncture treatment!
You may feel hungry afterwards, but be careful not to put too much stress on your body such as eating large, fatty meals or going back to work right after! Your body will be in a transformational state, and it will be trying to sort everything out for your health benefit, so give it some time to relax and rest right afterwards!
WHAT IF I DON’T WANT NEEDLES. CAN I STILL BE TREATED?
Yes. A typical treatment can consist of other modalities than needles. Or needles can be used along with other modalities. Chinese Medicine includes so much more than just needles.
source: NeuroAcupuncture, 2001