Acupuncture: What is it?
Acupuncture is a method of encouraging the body to promote natural healing and to improve functioning. This is done by inserting needles and applying heat or electrical stimulation at very precise acupuncture points.
How does acupuncture work?
The classical Chinese explanation is that channels of energy run in regular patterns through the body and over its surface. These energy channels, called meridians, are like rivers flowing through the body to irrigate and nourish the tissues. An obstruction in the movement of these energy rivers is like a dam that backs up the flow in one part of the body and restricts it in others.
Needling acupuncture points influences the meridians: the acupuncture needles unblock the obstructions at the "dams", and reestablish regular energy flow. Therefore acupuncture treatments help the body's internal organs to correct imbalances in the digestion, absorption, and energy production activities, and energy circulation through the meridians.
The modern scientific explanation is that needling the acupuncture points stimulates the nervous system to release chemicals in the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. These chemicals will either change the experience of pain, or they will trigger the release of other chemicals and hormones that influence the bodies own internal regulating system.
The improved energy and biochemical balance produced by acupuncture results in stimulating the body's natural healing abilities, and in promoting physical and emotional well-being.
Acupuncture treatments can be given at the same time other techniques are being used, such as conventional Western medicine, osteopathic or chiropractic adjustments, and homeopathic or naturopathic prescriptions. It is important that your acupuncturist know everything that you are doing, so he or she can help you get the most benefit from your treatments.
Are there any side effects?
Usually no. As energy is redirected in the body, internal chemicals and hormones are stimulated and healing begins to take place. Occasionally the original symptoms worsen for a few days, or other general changes in appetite, sleep, bowel or urination patterns, or emotional state may be triggered. These should not cause concern, as they are simply indications that the acupuncture is starting to work.
It is quite common with the first one or two treatments to have a sensation of deep relaxation or even mild disorientation immediately following the treatment. These pass within a short time, and never require anything more than a bit of rest to overcome.
What are the needles like? Do they hurt?
People experience acupuncture needling differently. Most patients feel only minimal pain as the needles are inserted; some feel no pain at all. Once the needles are in place, there is usually no pain felt.
Acupuncture needles are disposable, very thin, and solid and are made from stainless steel. The point is smooth (not hollow with cutting edges like a hypodermic needle) and insertion through the skin is not as painful and infectious as blood sampling. The risk of bruising and skin irritation is also less than when using a hollow needle.
Is acupuncture covered by health insurance?
A growing number of insurance companies currently cover acupuncture costs; other companies do not yet recognize the value of acupuncture. Each health policy must be reviewed to determine acupuncture benefits.
How will I feel after the first treatment?
Results of acupuncture treatments is not instant; it is cumulative and often occurs in stages. It’s like going to the gym. After the first day, you only feel sore; as you continue to work out, muscle starts to build up.
It takes time for your body to change, and one thing is certain: the more you do, the more changes you will notice. Also similar to working out, progress is not constant; sometimes symptoms may even get worse initially, before they get better. You may feel more pain after the first treatment, before pain starts to go away.
Remember, symptom change is qualitative change (you may not notice it right away); and it takes quantitative change to achieve qualitative change.
For All Our Patients Who Use Chinese Herbal Medicine:
It is sometimes easy to forget that herbs are medicine. With so many supplements and herbs available over the counter, it is easy to assume that because herbs are natural, they must be harmless. The Chinese herbal system is a thing of beauty; but it is complex and takes years to master. Some herbs are very powerful and potent substances.
Chinese herbal medicine ranges from something as simple as date (Da Zao) or berry (Gou Qi Zi) to powerful purgatives like Gan Sui (Euphorbia) or Yang tonifying herbs like Fu Zi (prepared Aconite). Herbs are meant to be prescribed for each individual depending on their current symptoms and constitution. Taken inappropriately, it can be harmful; on the other hand, these same harmful herbs can heal difficult conditions when prescribed properly by experienced practitioners.
For this reason, it is best that you purchase herbal formulas from a clinic where doctors can appropriately prescribe, and monitor any symptom changes so that you get the most benefit.
In addition, if you consider taking left over herbs from previous treatments, make sure to always ask if it is still appropriate for your current conditions.