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 energetic channels run in predictable web-like patters through the body and over its surface. Qi is circulated through these channels, sometimes called meridians, which flow like rivers through the body irrigating and nourishing the tissues and organs. An obstruction in circulation of qi in the meridian system is like a dam that backs up the flow in one part of the body and restricts it in others, which can lead to the development of excess (Shi) and deficient (Xu) patterns. These “patterns of disharmony” affect tissue and organ function locally in the short term, but if not corrected will eventually have an adverse systemic effect.
The meridians, and thus, patterns of disharmony can be influenced through acu-point stimulation. The acupuncture needles unblock obstructions at the dams, reestablishing the free flow of Qi in the meridians. Acupuncture treatments can regulate these imbalances, resulting in improved tissue and organ function, relief of pain, and a return to health.
One challenge facing a more accurate biomedical understanding of the underlying mechanisms of acupuncture is the assumption of dependence on a single therapeutic effect. Clinically the advanced practitioner knows that there are many ways to influence the body through acu-point needle stimulation. Ironically the most often quoted “analgesia through endorphin release” is relatively short lived and of minor importance. Increased anti-inflammatory and immune response, improved circulation, musculoskeletal alignment and balance through motor point and motor nerve stimulation, autonomic regulation and deep relaxation effects are of much greater clinical value.
IS ACUPUNCTURE COVERED BY HEALTH INSURANCE?
Some 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. More and more insurance companies are recognizing the value of providing coverage for medical acupuncture services. You can help by insisting that your insurance company offer you reimbursement for medically indicated acupuncture treatments before you accept their policy.
WHAT IS THE SCOPE OF ACUPUNCTURE?
Acupuncture is a system which can influence three areas of health care:
- Prevention of illness.
- Treatment of various medical conditions.
- Promotion of health and well-being.
While acupuncture is often associated with pain control, in the hands of a well-trained practitioner it has much broader applications. Acupuncture can be effective as a stand alone therapy or simply as an adjunct to other medical treatments. The World Health Organization recognizes the use of acupuncture in the treatment of a wide range of medical problems, including:
- Psyco-emotional disorders: anxiety, depression, addiction, attention deficit…
- Neurolgical and orthopedic conditions: sciatica, muscle and joint pain, migrain headaches, fibromialgia, disc and spinal pathologies, neuropathies, auto immune disorders
- Digestive disorders: gastritis and hyperacidity, spastic colon, constipation, diarrhea.
- Respiratory disorders: sinusitis, sore throat, bronchitis, asthma, recurrent chest infections.
- Urinary, menstrual, and reproductive problems.
Acupuncture is particularly useful in resolving physical problems related to tension and stress and emotional conditions.
HOW MANY TREATMENTS WILL I NEED?
The number of treatments needed differs from person to person. For complex or long-standing conditions, one or two treatments a week for several months may be recommended. For acute problems, usually fewer visits are required, and for health maintenance, four sessions a year may be all that is necessary.
ARE THERE ANY SIDE EFFECTS TO THE TREATMENT?
Usually not. 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 sensation as the needles are inserted; some feel no sensation at all. Once the needles are in place, a pressure like sensation may be felt. Acupuncture needles are 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 as injections or blood sampling. The risk of bruising and skin irritation is less than when using a hollow needle. Because your acupuncturist uses only disposable needles, there is no risk of infection from the treatments.
DOES ACUPUNCTURE REALLY WORK?
Yes. In the past 2,000 years, more people have been successfully treated with acupuncture than with all other health modalities combined. Today acupuncture is practiced widely, not only in Asia, but around the world. It is now being used more and more in America by patients and physicians. 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 all your treatments.
DO I HAVE TO BELIEVE IN ACUPUNCTURE FOR IT TO WORK?
No. Acupuncture is used successfully on cats, dogs, horses and other animals. These animal patients do not understand or believe in the process that helps them get better. A positive attitude toward wellness may reinforce the effects of the treatment received, just as a negative attitude may hinder the effects of acupuncture or any other treatment. A neutral attitude (“I don’t know if I really believe in this.”) will not block the treatment results.
ARE THERE ANY “DO’S AND DONT’S” FOR ME ON THE DAY OF A TREATMENT?
Yes. To enhance the value of a treatment, the following guidelines are important:
- Do not eat an unusually large meal immediately before or after your treatment.
- Do not over-exercise, engage in sexual activity, or consume alcoholic beverages within 6 hours before or after the treatment.
- Plan your activities so that after the treatment you can get some rest, or at least not have to be working at top performance. This is especially important for the first few visits.
- Continue to take any prescription medicines as directed by your regular doctor. Substance abuse (drugs and alcohol) especially in the week prior to treatment, may interfere with the effectiveness of acupuncture treatments.
- Remember to keep good mental or written notes of what your response is to the treatment. This is important for your doctor to know so that the follow-up treatments can be designed to best help you and your problem.