FAQ about Acupuncture
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a medical modality that entails the insertions of fine needles into a patient's body to effect the betterment of health. It is largely known as a key component of the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), although the use of needles for health is well documented in other cultures. Today, acupuncture is WHO recognized therapy that is practiced around the world. It is a holistic, cost-effective, and safe modality for health maintenance, wellness, and pain management.
How does acupuncture work?
Acupuncture delivers its efficacy through restoring the homeostatic process and re-balances the physiological processes.
At the most basic level, acupuncture relaxes the nervous systems and the musculature to remove residual stress responses and increase blood circulation. As a result, the mind is calmer and the body carries less tension. The blood circulation is enhanced, the cortisone level is lowered, the body has fewer alarms to deal with so it can focus all the resources toward a more optimal health. Acupuncture also stimulates the body's central nervous system to release endorphins and reprogram the neuromatrix, both are essential in helping to manage chronic pains.
There are many theories as to how acupuncture actually works. When acupuncture points are stimulated, it causes a dull ache or other sensations in the muscle. One theory holds that the stimulated muscle and sensory neurons send a message to the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), causing the release of endorphins (naturally produced pain killers) and other neurotransmitters (body chemicals that modify nerve impulses), which help block the message of pain from being delivered to the brain and have other regulatory effects as well.
What happens during acupuncture treatment?
As in all medical visits, your acupuncturist will examine you and your conditions through Q&A's, physical examinations (palpation, etc.), visual inspections to diagnose the causes and prescribe appropriate course of treatments, which include acupuncture, herbal prescriptions, etc. Acupuncture needles are sterile, pre-packaged, disposable, and hair-thin. Skilled acupuncturists insert the needles at prescribed locations quickly and painlessly to the patients. The needles are placed at various depths, depending on the point locations and the applications.
Wear loose fitting clothing so your acupuncturist can access the points. Exercise good hygiene, refrain from heavy perfume. After the needles are inserted and stimulated, they stay in place from a few minutes up to 30 minutes.
In a treatment series, the acupuncturist will combine different points, needling techniques, and adjunct techniques such as electrical stimulation and moxibustion. These combinations help stimulate new sources of healing as the patient’s response to treatment is observed.
What conditions are treated with acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a highly versatile modality, with applications that range from muscular dysfunctions, pain management, allergy, menstruation dysfunctions, post surgery care, to facial rejuvenation, and many more. In 2003, the WHO published a list of diseases and disorders for which acupuncture has proven to bring positive therapeutic effects. For the complete list, refer to WHO and Acupuncture.
In the US, acupuncture is most often associated with treating and managing intractable pains, particularly chronic pains, myofascial pains, headaches, menstrual pains. For certain conditions, such as cancer, acupuncture is used as an adjunct palliative care procedure that relieve complications from surgeries and chemotherapies. It reduces the frequency and magnitude of pain and increases the quality of life.
What does acupuncture feel like?
You may feel a slight prick when the needle is inserted, but it is much less than the prick you feel during an injection, since the needles are much thinner. You may feel a heaviness, numbness, tingling or mild soreness after the needles have been inserted. A feeling of deep heaviness or numbness, called “Deqi” (pronounced duh chee) means the treatment is working. The patient tells the acupuncturist “yes” when he or she feels this.
Is acupuncture safe?
Yes! By law, acupuncture must be performed with disposable needles under clean, sterile conditions, it is highly unusual to have any complications. One of the advantages of acupuncture is that the incidence of adverse effects is substantially lower than that of many drugs or accepted medical procedures used for the same conditions.
However, it is important to keep in mind that all modalities are potentially hazardous when it’s applied inappropriately or carelessly. It is possible to drive the needle too deep and damage a vital organ, however, it is precisely for this reason that all licensed acupuncturists must go through rigorous training and certification to ensure they are aware of the risks and are qualified to perform this importantly task prudently.
Is there something I should do to prepare for my acupuncture treatments?
It's always a good idea to arrive at your acupuncture a little early to give yourself a chance to relax into the session. Because needle insertions must be applied to bare skin when we do acupuncture, please wear loose and comfortable clothes that would allow access to your body. Most of time, I would place needles on the abdomen and upper/lower back, so an overall or a one-piece dress is not ideal (but gowns and blankets are available, in case you need to change).
I commonly palpate and needle points on your lower extremities, so tights, panty hose, or skinny jeans will be a bit hindering. I also commonly use points along the arms, on the shoulders and the neck.
What should I do after an acupuncture treatment?
After receiving an acupuncture treatment, patients usually feel relaxed and a little sedated, akin to waking up from a slumber. So afford yourself a little time to gather your faculties and focus before embarking on tasks that require concentration, like for example driving.
How often should I be treated with acupuncture?
This is one of the most commonly asked questions. And the honest answer to that question will always be “it depends on you and your conditions”. For most acute chief complaints such as a seasonal cold, muscle tensions, etc., patients often achieve their treatment goals after one or two sessions. For more chronic chief complaints, for example allergies, digestive dysfunctions, dysmenorrhea, then more sessions are required. this is especially important for injuries that were caused by repetitive use and life style. I always tell patients that we need to get "ahead of the count" with the treatments. Meaning, the cumulative benefits of the treatments must exceed the re-injuries and damages that incur between treatments. Therefore, once you factor into the patient's overall health, age, life style, habits, and so on, pinpointing a specific number of treatments becomes more difficult.
I always advocate allocating four sessions for two weeks, twice a week. Within one week, we should be able to observe and quantify the effectiveness of the treatments. This gives both the patients and the practitioners good idea of how well the treatments are working and whether to continue, or to change or to stop all together. The four-treatments-in-two-weeks rule establishes has proven to be an effective guideline for patients to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the treatments.
What are some guidelines to follow if I decide to try acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a modality, a very effective and powerful modality. However, it is not "magic", so you can not just rely on acupuncture and expect everything to work itself out. Heed your acupuncturist's and/or primary care provider's advice on necessary diet and life style changes.
Do the needles hurt? Is acupuncture painful?
In a nut shell, no they shouldn’t. If an acupuncturist applies good needling techniques, it would not be painful at all. However, we must keep in mind that pain is, above all, a subjective experience that is highly influenced by factors such as state of mind (nervousness, anxiety, fatigue), trust, and so on. I value helping patient ease and relax into the session so I can lead you through a beneficial and enjoyable session.
Also, to put things in perspective, the diameter of typical hypodermic needles ranges from 1.6 to 0.8mm, while that of typical acupuncture needles ranges from only 0.25 to 0.15mm. The super thin needles, coupled with the quick hand techniques I have developed over the years, I apply the needling in just a fraction of second. It's so quick in fact that most of the time the patients don't even notice the needle has already been inserted.
How do I make the most of my acupuncture treatments?
The initial treatment is arguably the most important appointment because it helps the practitioner to be acquainted not just with your chief complaints, but also your overall health history, constitution, life style, etc. This is the reason the initial appointment takes longer and costs more.
Meridian's initial intake form is there to help you elaborate on your health history, so we insist all patients to take the time to fill out the online initial intake form as completely as possible prior to the appointment. That way we can use the valuable clinic time for diagnosis and treatments instead of filling out paperwork.
Does the medical field approve of acupuncture?
Yes. There are more than 16,000 licensed acupuncturists in the United States and 3,000 physicians who perform acupuncture as part of their medical practice. The World Health Organization currently recognizes more than 40 medical problems -- including pain, gastrointestinal, gynecological, and respiratory conditions as well as sports injuries -- can be helped by acupuncture treatment. Lastly, in 1996, the U.S. Food and Drug administration (FDA) reclassified acupuncture needles, regulating them as it does other medical devices. Acupuncture needles most now be manufactured according to single-use standards of sterility and are intended for general use by qualified practitioners.
Will my insurance policy cover acupuncture treatment?
Some insurance companies will pay for acupuncture treatment. Because each insurance provider has different restrictions, it is best to consult with your provider to determine if your treatment will be covered.