What is acupuncture and how does it work?
Acupuncture is an ancient medical practice dating back up to 5000 years in China that involves the gentle insertion of hair-thin needles into specific points on the body’s surface. Although there are several modern-day theories as to how acupuncture works, the ancient Chinese believed that acupuncture triggers the body’s own self-healing mechanisms by balancing the flow of Qi (pronounced “CHEE”) or vital energy, in the body. Qi is said to flow along specific pathways, known as channels or meridians, that travel throughout the body surface and interior. Most acupuncture points are located along these pathways and act as gateways through which imbalances in the body’s energies can be corrected.
What is an acupuncture treatment like (and does it hurt)?
An initial session with an acupuncturist involves a thorough medical evaluation and history-taking, including both a physical exam and a detailed discussion of your case. The traditional method of diagnosis includes examination of the tongue and pulse, in addition to palpation (pressing) of different regions of the body. Once the acupuncturist decides on a diagnosis and treatment plan, the actual treatment may begin.
Stainless-steel, pre-sterilized, single-use disposable needles are inserted through the skin at specific points on the body. These needles are smaller than hypodermic needles and rarely elicit pain, with the occasional exception of a pinprick sensation upon insertion. Once a needle is inserted, the patient may feel a characteristic, temporary needling sensation act or near the point, which may include such feelings of fullness, pressure, warmth, tingling, or heaviness. These sensations are not painful and are interpreted as a signal that the body’s healing mechanisms have been activated, much like turning on a light switch.
The needles are generally left in place for 15-50 minutes, although the specific time varies according to the patient’s individual needs.
How many treatments do I need?
The course of treatment varies depending on several factors, including the severity and nature of the patients condition. A typical course of treatment may involve 6-12 sessions, although for chronic ailments a longer period of treatment may be necessary. Initially you may receive 2 to 3 treatments per week, and then as the condition improves the frequency of treatment may be adjusted gradually. Most patients typically show improvement after just a few treatments, although each person responds differently. The treatment strategy may be modified as the patient’s condition improved or changes during the course of treatment.
What about other therapies?
Traditional Oriental Medicine includes several other therapies aside from acupuncture. For certain conditions, such as muscle spasms and Bell’s Palsy, a low-current electrical stimulation may be administered along with acupuncture. Moxibustuion is commonly used treatment for arthritis and poor circulation, and involves the application of heat and an herb known as moxa or mugwort. Cupping therapy is another common treatment for muscle sprains and trauma. Physical manipulation in the form of Shiatsu, Acupressure and/or Tui-Na (Chinese Therapeutic Massage) is a common adjunct to acupuncture therapy.
An integral component of Traditional Oriental Medicine is herbology. Most conditions may benefit from acupuncture and/or massage. Depending on the acupuncturist’s assessment of the patient’s condition, an herbal formula or recipe may be prescribed. Raw herbs may be prepared as decoctions, or soups where the herbs are cooked in water for 25-40 minutes and the resulting broth is them consumed. Many patients prefer to take herbs as powders, pills or capsules, as these forms are more convenient for many people. Herbal therapy is a powerful form of treatment, and in some cases the acupuncturist may recommend longer-term consumption of herbs, especially for chronic, debilitating ailments or in weaker patients.