WHAT IS ACUPUNCTURE?
Acupuncture is an ancient system of healing based on the manipulation of energy through a network of meridians with the use of needles. It is used to maintain and restore the proper functioning of the body and its systems, and to bring the individual towards a state of balance and health.
Acupuncture is part of a larger system referred to as Chinese medicine. It is one of the oldest forms of treatment in existence and is part of a system that is used by more people on the planet than any form of medicine.
WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF ACUPUNCTURE?
Evidence of ancient forms of acupuncture can be traced back over 3000 years ago, with the first written records dating back 2500 years. The first acupuncture needles were carved of wood, stone, and animal bones.
Acupuncture arose out of the broader system of Chinese medicine, which itself was a practical manifestation of the ancient Chinese world view. This ancient Chinese understanding was the local expression of the ancient Asian worldview. Acupuncture represents the practical application of ancient wisdom as a therapeutic modality.
Acupuncture, like everything, evolved and developed with time. As time passed, careful observation and reflection on the body and the surrounding environment led to a theoretical, highly evolved system of treatment.
After the development of acupuncture in China, its practice spread throughout Asia by way of trade and travel. As was true within China itself, various styles developed according to the culture, the environment, the population, and the health issues faced. Within China, these diverse styles are now collectively referred to as part of Chinese medicine. Throughout Asia, they are referred to as Asian medicine.
WHAT ARE THE TECHNIQUES OF ACUPUNCTURE?
Although needle therapy is the most well-known acupuncture technique in the West, there are others. The most common of these are moxibustion, guasha and cupping. Like needling, they are forms of therapy used to promote circulation through the meridians, and involve respectively the use of heat, friction and suction.
HOW DOES ACUPUNCTURE WORK?
Acupuncture works by inserting thin needles at specific points on the surface of the body. In the West, we refer to these spots as acupuncture points. In Chinese, they are more properly referred to as holes. These holes are like wells where energy collects. The insertion of needles contacts and manipulates this energy (referred to as Qi), affecting its flow along channels that are called meridians. Meridians are not structural entities, like blood vessels or nerves; they are energetic pathways. There are 73 meridians, with 365 acupuncture points on them, and several hundred more outside of them. Together they irrigate and connect all the tissues and organs of the body with each other, and to the surface of the body. Acupuncture theory teaches that pain and disease arise from blockage and imbalance in these channels. This, in turn, results in improper functioning of the organs and tissues of the body. Acupuncture opens and rebalances the channels, thus promoting normal functioning of the body.
IS ACUPUNCTURE TREATMENT HOLISTIC?
Acupuncture is a truly holistic therapy, in that it treats the whole person. Not including the overwhelming amount of literature published during the 20th century, there have been over 30,000 volumes of acupuncture and Chinese medical texts written prior to the 20th century. They offer comprehensive discussions on the nature of health and disease, including the organs, meridians and acupuncture points, emotion, diet, lifestyle, exercise, environmental considerations, and the relationship between these.
Chinese medicine is a system of systematic correspondences. That is, it describes relationships and connections between all things in the macrocosm (the external environment) and the microcosm (the internal body). Chinese medicine maps connections between the physical, the mental, and the emotional. In fact, there is no concept or language in Chinese medicine for describing these as being separate. We speak of mind-body medicine in the West, but this implies a separation that is not perceived in Chinese medicine.
While disease may manifest primarily on one of these levels, it is still connected to the others. This complex manifestation of illness is the topic of pattern disharmonies.
Acupuncture treatment by definition addresses all of these levels, and therefore helps people to experience their connectedness. Symptoms are often logical extensions of who people are in the world. Acupuncture theory allows a framework for connecting our symptoms to our lives.
DOES ACUPUNCTURE HURT?
Acupuncture does not hurt. It is relaxing to the majority of patients There are as many different styles of needling as there are styles of acupuncture. Chinese medicine describes the sensation known as “de Qi,” or the Qi has arrived. This is often described as a dull, achy sensation, and signifies that the acupuncture point has been manipulated. In acupuncture, you do not just stick needles into spots without some needle manipulation and subsequent sensation of activation. However, this varies greatly. In America it is common to use thinner needles and elicit milder sensations than the Chinese might. As is true with herbal medicine, because we are not used to it, a little goes a long way. The right amount of stimulation is simply the amount that is appropriate for each person. There are circumstances where heavier stimulation is warranted. The discomfort is minimal and temporary, and the process is always discussed first with the patient.
The needles are fine, solid, stainless steel needles with rounded heads that push the tissues apart rather than cutting them. The sensation varies from none at all, to a local tingling, to a dull ache, to a feeling of electricity or water running through the skin. People are aware of the needles, but rarely describe discomfort. An average of 15 to 30 needles are used in a treatment, with depths of insertion varying from just under the skin to an inch or more.
WHERE ARE ACUPUNCTURE NEEDLES PLACED?
There are acupuncture points almost everywhere on the body, but the most commonly used are on the hands and feet, and the forearms and lower legs. If there is pain, needles may go near the site that is affected.
ARE ACUPUNCTURE NEEDLES STERILE?
All acupuncturists use disposable, stainless steel acupuncture needles. There is no risk of infection with these.
HOW LONG IS AN ACUPUNCTURE SESSION?
Needles are typically left in place for 25-30 minutes, although this can vary greatly. In my own practice, I allow 30 minutes of time prior to the treatment for questions, discussions, and examination. The first session is longer, as a complete history needs to be gathered.
HOW LONG DOES ACUPUNCTURE TAKE TO WORK?
The number of sessions required for acupuncture to work varies. Length of the illness, severity of the illness, general health, and medical history all impact the course of treatment. Most people begin to feel better overall very quickly. Here are some guidelines, using pain as an example:
• For recent, acute symptoms, immediate changes may occur, with only a few treatments necessary to resolve the problem.
• Symptoms of longer duration may require several treatments to see a change, but most people will see some improvement within this period.
• Four to six weeks is sufficient for most people to see significant, lasting changes.
• Chronic problems may require treatment over the course of several months, or longer.
• Chronic, internal symptoms usually require treatment over a three to six month period, or longer.
• Serious illness will generally require treatment over the course of one to three years.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I RECEIVE ACUPUNCTURE?
Acupuncture is generally administered once per week, except in cases of severe pain. As symptoms diminish, treatments are administered less frequently. An initial course of treatment is outlined during the first session.
DOES ACUPUNCTURE HAVE ANY SIDE EFFECTS?
Acupuncture is very safe and free from side-effects when administered properly. The most common effect people experience is temporary aggravation of symptoms, as part of the healing process. This is generally predictable, and is always discussed before any treatments are administered.
CAN I RECEIVE ACUPUNCTURE IF I TAKE MEDICATION?
Most people are on medications, and there is no interaction with the acupuncture. Elderly patients on blood thinners may be more prone to bleeding on areas with thin skin such as the face and ears, so these places are simply avoided.
DO I HAVE TO BE SICK TO RECEIVE ACUPUNCTURE?
Acupuncture is a wonderful preventative therapy. Receiving regular treatments, or treatments at the change of seasons, is an excellent way to maintain balance and health, and prevent illness.
HOW MUCH DOES ACUPUNCTURE COST?
Cost varies in different parts of the country and according to the particular practice. Initial office visits are typically longer and have a higher cost than subsequent visits. Initial consultation and treatment can last up to two hours, and regular office visits and treatment typically last one hour.