Q: How does acupuncture work?
A: The classical Eastern explanation for how acupuncture works is that there is a life energy flowing through the body which is termed “Qi” that runs in regular patterns throughout the body and over its surface. This energy flows through the body on channels known as meridians that connect all of our major organs. The meridians are like rivers flowing through the body and help irrigate and nourish the tissues. According to Chinese medical theory, illness arises when the cyclical flow of Qi in the meridians becomes unbalanced or is blocked. Just as the Western medical doctor monitors the blood flowing through blood vessels and the communication traveling via the nervous system, the acupuncturist assesses the flow and distribution of the vital energy or Qi within its pathways, known as meridians and channels.
Stimulating the acupuncture points can influence the meridians; the acupuncture needles unblock the obstructions, and reestablish the regular flow through the meridians. A more scientific explanation of acupuncture is that the stimulation of certain trigger points on the body by acupuncture needles prompts the body to release certain hormones and chemicals that can reduce pain, regulate the endocrine system, and calm the nervous system. Inserting needles at these points stimulates various sensory receptors that, in turn, stimulate nerves that transmit impulses to the hypothalamic-pituitary system at the base of the brain.
The hypothalamus-pituitary glands are responsible for releasing neurotransmitters and endorphins, the body’s natural pain-killing hormones. It is estimated that endorphins are 200 times more potent than morphine. Endorphins also play a big role in the functioning of the hormonal system. This is why acupuncture works well for back pain and arthritis and also for P.M.S. and infertility.
The substances released as a result of acupuncture not only relax the whole body, they regulate serotonin in the brain which plays a role in human and animal behavior. This is why depression is often treated with acupuncture.
Some of the physiological effects observed throughout the body include increased circulation, decreased inflammation, relief from pain, relief of muscle spasms and increased T-cell count which stimulates the immune system.
Q: Why would I want to use acupuncture and Oriental medicine?
A: One of the biggest assets of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is its holistic nature. In fact, TCM is one of the most holistic medical systems available today. It does not carry a mind/body separation; instead, the human body and mind are looked at as a whole, complete entity. In addition to being effective for many acute and chronic common illnesses, TCM has much to offer those who wish to raise their quality of health and vitality. Practitioners of TCM work with prevention in mind, attempting to correct small energetic imbalances before they become big health problems.
Current health trends emphasizing exercise, proper nutrition, stress reduction and immune system strengthening all validate the life-styles and methods that have always been encouraged by practitioners and advocates of acupuncture and Oriental medicine.
Interestingly enough, despite the obvious differences between Eastern and Western medical systems, they do share some striking resemblances. For example, take a simple bacterial sinus infection. In Western science it is looked at as an invasion by a pathological bacterium. Chinese medicine sees it as an invasion by a pathological evil. Using Western principles, an antibiotic will be prescribed like amoxicillin. Using Chinese medicine, an herbal formula will be prescribed.
Q: Does acupuncture hurt?
A: Most people who have had acupuncture would describe it as virtually painless or far less painful than tweezing out a hair. The sensations felt range from nothing at all, to mild tingling, to slight numbness/dullness, to electrical pulsations in areas specific to or distant from the site of insertion. All these sensations usually subside once the needles are in place. The needles used are much smaller than the standard hypodermic needle, do not draw blood and are solid, not hollow. The needles are sterilized, stainless-steel (that are as fine as a human hair) and placed into specific points located near or on the surface of the skin.
Q: What does the examination/consultation involve?
A: An exam/consultation includes a thorough dialogue about your medical history, and taking time to observe what your body expresses. For example, looking at the color and luster of your complexion and skin tone, the brightness and clarity of the eyes, the shape and color of the tongue, and feeling the quality of the pulses, (all reflect what’s going on inside the body and with the internal organs). And, palpation to areas on the body of tenderness, all helps your practitioner make a complete Chinese medical diagnosis. Once a diagnosis is made, your acupuncturist will choose the most appropriate acupuncture points for treatment.
Q: What is a treatment like?
A: Most patients would say relaxing. Usually patients leave in less discomfort and are more functional than when they walked in. Sometimes the effects are too subtle to perceive, especially in the beginning of treatment. Yet, with more treatments, the improvements become more and more apparent.
Q: How long is the visit?
A: Usually the first visit is the longest in order to allow for a complete history taking and exam, typically one and a half hours. Follow-up visits are shorter, usually thirty to forty-five minutes, depending on practitioner and patient needs. Sometimes other therapies such as moxabustion, (heat induced treatment), acupressure/massage, exercises, and food recommendations are incorporated with the acupuncture treatment.
Q: Is it safe?
A: When performed by a properly trained and licensed practitioner, acupuncture is safe and effective, free from unpleasant or addictive side effects. Quite often a sense of relaxation and well-being occurs during and after treatment. While undergoing therapy for one ailment, other problems may resolve concurrently. This is a common side benefit that again demonstrates the value of balancing the quality and quantity of Qi within the entire person.
Q: Are there any limits to Chinese medicine?
A: TCM consists of very powerful healing tools, but they are neither a panaceas nor the solution to every health care problem. Both Western and Oriental medicine have their respective strengths and weaknesses, which is why in modern China, the two systems are used together. When appropriately combined, the patient is well served.
Generally speaking, acute, life threatening conditions are best handled by Western medical doctors. Routine health problems and chronic conditions, for which drug therapy and surgery have not been effective, often benefit from acupuncture and Oriental medicine.
About acupuncture and pain management:
In 1986, the NIH Consensus Development Conference on the Integrated Approach to the Management of Pain identified acupuncture as an effective tool for many types of pain and other symptoms. These days, Americans make up to 12 million visits to acupuncturists per year. Allopathic physicians perform or refer to acupuncture primarily in the cases of pain and substance abuse, and most research on acupuncture has focused on these treatments.
Stimulating particular points using needles, pressure, heat, or electric waves causes the measurable release of endorphins into the blood. The activation of small myelinated nerve fibers sends impulses into the spinal cord, midbrain, pituitary, and hypothalamus. Various endorphins block incoming pain information through the release of serotonin, nor epinephrine, and possibly GABA. Studies demonstrate that acupuncture is especially, though not exclusively, effective with myofascial pain and trigger points.
Pain management with drugs can be effective when properly applied, but in many cases pain control is inadequate. Narcotics and other analgesics can cause constipation, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, and difficulty concentration. Patients can develop tolerance to pain medication which requires higher doses of narcotics and risk of depression to the central nervous system, the heart and the lungs as well as the liver and kidney toxicities.
The body’s natural pain-control mechanism is mediated by the release of opiate-like substances called plasma neurotransmitters. They increase with the use of acupuncture.
So far, modern research has described various physiological shifts following acupuncture, such as beneficial changes in the body’s own natural painkillers, anti-inflammatory agents, immune system functions and hormonal activity.
Q: What can acupuncture treat?
- Pain Management
- Eye, Ear, Nose, Throat Disorders
- Circulatory Disorders
- Gastrointestinal Disorders
- Gynecological Disorders
- Immune Disorders
- Emotional and Psychological Disorders
- Musculoskeletal and Neurological Disorders
- Respiratory Disorders