Acupuncture is the insertion of very thin needles into the skin to balance the body's energies and improve health. Health is restored by stimulating certain points on energy pathways, called meridians, to balance the flow of Qi ("chee") and Blood. These points have been used for more than 2000 years to regulate the body's flow of energy through the 12 major meridians that traverse the entire body. The meridians have specific spots, or acupuncture points, on the skin that are used like switches or gates to redirect energy flow to effectively treat many conditions. The meridian system can be likened to the irrigation channels seen in cranberry bogs or rice fields. The gates are opened or closed appropriately to drain or supplement a field that has too much or too little water. Recent technological and scientific advances have verified the locations of these points, which the Chinese have used for centuries. Acupuncture works by redistributing energy in the body to return it to a balanced, healthy state.
What Problems Can Be Treated With Acupuncture?
The widely publicized National Institutes of Health (NIH) study in November of 1997 showed efficacy in adult post-operative and chemotherapy nausea, among other conditions. The NIH statement lends credence to the World Health Organization's (WHO) statement that acupuncture is effective at treating more than 40 known health issues. Some of the general categories are:
- Muscular and Nervous System Disorders: such as sciatica, low back pain, frozen shoulder and tennis elbow
- Gastrointestinal Disorders: such as hemorrhoids, constipation, colitis and other inflammatory conditions of the digestive tract
- Ear, Nose, and Throat Disorders: such as earaches, toothaches, and sinus inflammation
- Respiratory Disorders: such as bronchitis, shortness of breath and asthma.
How Does Acupuncture Compare To Conventional Medicine?
In order to get a complete picture of the patient's health and the possible causes of their illness, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners ask many questions. Many of the questions may not seem relevant to the condition at all, but little pieces of information add up to a better diagnosis and treatment plan. Acupuncturists also use the tongue and pulse differently to assess the patients' condition. In Chinese Medicine there are 28 different ways to classify the pulse. More information can be obtained from "reading" a pulse than just its rate. Similarly, there are many different "tongue types," that are based on characteristics (such as the moistness of the tongue's coating, color and thickness, among others) which is used to support a diagnosis or lead to another.
Are There Different Styles Of Acupuncture?
Although acupuncture originated in China almost 3000 years ago, the technique has spread throughout the world. The many techniques that exist today reflect the diverse environmental conditions under which each of the styles developed and include variations of Chinese, European, Japanese, and Korean. Within the major styles, acupuncture can be further defined to include: scalp, ear, hand, foot, laser, wrist-ankle, electro-acupuncture, and many others.
What About the Terminology?
Although many of the concepts used to diagnose and treat with TCM are different from those used by conventional physicians, some of the words used are the same. TCM usually refers to the energy associated with an organ, not to the organ itself. For example, in TCM the term "kidney deficiency" indicates a problem with the Kidney Meridian energy. It does not mean that the kidneys are malfunctioning.
How Many Needles Are Used And Is It Painful?
The number of needles used depends upon the particular situation. More needles may not always be better than the few needles. Generally no more than 10 or 12 needles will be used. While needle insertion by a trained acupuncturist shouldn't be painful, some points are more tender than others. Consequently, you may feel a pinching sensation or a feeling similar to a single hair being tugged.
How Long Is Each Treatment And How Many Treatments Will It Take?
The average treatment usually lasts about forty to sixty minutes. Your first visit will take longer because the practitioner will ask many questions about your daily activities to better understand how your situation developed and to tailor a treatment plan. The number of treatments required will depend on the condition itself, how long the patient has had the condition and the patient's level of participation. Morehouse School of Medicine Acupuncture Clinic uses only sterile, disposable needles.
Some Tips To Prepare For Your First Acupuncture Treatment
- You may find the following list helpful in preparing for your first treatment.
- Wear comfortable clothing. The best outfit is one that is comfortable for the patient, yet allows the practitioner access to the body for diagnostic palpation and needle insertion (i.e., sweatpants or shorts). Wear clothing that allows the practitioner access to your arms and legs below the elbows and knees.
- Eat a meal about an hour before your treatment. It is difficult to relax when you're really hungry. Similarly, it is not advised that you receive treatment too soon after a large meal. Consumption of alcohol within the few hours following a treatment may decrease or undo the benefits of the treatment.
- Tell the practitioner of any medical conditions you might have, even if they don't cause you any trouble. A pacemaker or pregnancy can play a major role in determining an appropriate treatment.
- Remove jewelry before the treatment. Certain metals and gems may affect the energy flow in your body, so removing jewelry prior to treatment is advised.
How Can I Make The Most Of A Treatment?
- The first thing to do is relax and breathe deeply.
- If you feel lightheaded or faint during or after the treatment, tell your practitioner so your treatment can be adjusted or needles withdrawn.
- Don't move or change your position suddenly. If you are uncomfortable or have an itch that is really bothering you, ask your practitioner for assistance.
- If at any time you want your treatment stopped, for any reason, tell your practitioner.
- It is important to answer each question accurately and honestly. If you remember something later that you think might be important, you should tell your acupuncturist at your next visit.
What Can I Expect After Treatment?
- As a general rule, you can expect to feel better.
- Patients with acute injuries often experience the most dramatic results in the first treatment, especially if they receive treatment immediately. Some patients experience an immediate and total relief of their symptoms, others do not. The relief may last a few days or until the needles are removed. In a few cases, especially chronic conditions, there may be no immediate relief only to notice the pain diminishes over the next couple of days.
- Sometimes people feel nothing after a treatment. Some people have a sensation of energy moving. It depends on the condition and length of time the person has had the condition and the individual being treated.
- If a question makes you feel uneasy or embarrassed, inform the practitioner of your uneasiness. Often an explanation of how the question relates will alleviate the uneasiness, and it may redirect a particular line of questioning. TCM uses emotional states in addition to physical symptoms and signs to arrive at a diagnosis.
What Questions Should I Ask To Determine If An Acupuncturist Is Qualified?
- Ask if Licensed by a State Board of Medicine.
- Ask if affiliated with an acupuncture association such as the NCCAOM, AAOM.