Congratulations. By choosing acupuncture, you have taken a great step toward a more balanced, healthy lifestyle. The ancient practices of acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) have helped millions of people regain and
maintain their health.
Since this system of health care may be different than other care you have received, it is only natural to have questions. Read on to find out what to expect and how to get the most out of your treatments.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is an effective form of health care that has evolved into a complete and holistic medical system. Practitioners of acupuncture and Chinese medicine have used this noninvasive medical system to diagnose and help millions of people get well and stay healthy. An acupuncturist will place fine, sterile needles at specific acupoints on the body. This activates the body's Qi (pronounced "chee") and promotes natural healing by enhancing recuperative power, immunity and physical and emotional health. It can also improve overall function and well-being. It is a safe, painless and effective way to treat a wide variety of medical problems.
Acupuncture and TCM take a holistic, or whole-body approach to health. This means your acupuncturist will take into account your whole self, not just your symptoms, in order to get to the root of your health concerns. You will work together to find out how factors like your lifestyle and emotional and mental well-being may be affecting your health.
Getting the chance to really discuss your health concerns with your care provider, and having your provider really listen, may be new to you. Think of it as your opportunity to form a partnership for better health. The more you take part in your healing process, the more successful it will be.
How does acupuncture work?
Current theories on the mechanism of acupuncture:
1) Neurotransmitter Theory
Acupuncture affects higher brain areas, stimulating the secretion of beta-endorphins and enkephalins in the brain and spinal cord. The release of neurotransmitters influences the immune system and the antinociceptive system.1, 2, 3
2) Blood Chemistry Theory
Acupuncture affects the blood concentrations of triglycerides, cholesterol, and phospholipids, suggesting acupuncture can both raise and diminish peripheral blood components, thereby regulating the body toward homeostasis.3
3) Autonomic Nervous System Theory
Acupuncture stimulates the release of norepinephrine, acetylcholine and several types of opioids, affecting changes in their turnover rate, normalizing the autonomic nervous system and reducing pain.4, 5
4) Vascular-interstitial Theory
Acupuncture affects the electrical system of the body by creating or enhancing closed-circuit transport in tissues. This facilitates healing by allowing the transfer of material and electrical energy between normal and injured tissues.5
5) Gate Control Theory
Acupuncture activates non-nociceptive receptors that inhibit the transmission of nociceptive signals in the dorsal horn, "gating out" painful stimuli.6
What will my acupuncturist do?
During the initial exam a full health history will be taken. Your acupuncturist will spend time getting to know you and your health concerns. Questions will be asked regarding symptoms, health, lifestyle and anything else that may offer insight into your health. Your acupuncturist will also employ diagnostic tools that are unique to acupuncture and TCM such as tongue and pulse diagnosis. This information is then organized to create a complete, accurate and comprehensive diagnosis of where Qi has become blocked or imbalanced. After the interview process, you may receive an acupuncture treatment. Visits with your acupuncturist may last from thirty to ninety minutes.
Why do they want to feel my pulse?
There are twelve pulse positions on each wrist that your acupuncturist will palpate. Each position corresponds to a specific meridian and organ. Your acupuncturist will be looking for twenty-seven individual qualities that reflect overall health. If there are any problems, they may appear in the pulse.
Why do they want to look at my tongue?
The tongue is a map of the body. It reflects the general health of the organs and meridians. Your acupuncturist will look at the color, shape, cracks and coating on your tongue.
What should I expect?
The needles are approximately the size of a cat's whisker. The sensation caused by an acupuncture needle varies. You may experience a vague numbness, heaviness, tingling or dull ache where the acupuncture needle has been inserted. Sometimes people experience a little pain as the needles are inserted, or a sensation of energy spreading and moving around the needle. This is called the "Qi sensation". All these reactions are good and a sign that the treatment is working. The depth of insertion varies from person to person. After treatment, you may feel energized or may experience a deep sense of relaxation and well-being.
How safe is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is extremely safe. It is an all-natural, drug-free therapy, yielding no negative side effects, just feelings of relaxation and well-being. There is little danger of infection from acupuncture needles because they are sterile, used once and then discarded.
How are acupuncturists educated?
Today, acupuncturists undertake three to four years of extensive and comprehensive graduate training at nationally certified schools. All acupuncturists must pass three to four national exams, meet strict guidelines and receive licensure to practice in every state.
How many treatments will I need?
Treatment frequency and number of treatments needed depend on a variety of factors: your constitution, the severity and duration of the problem and the quality and quantity of your Qi. Some people experience immediate relief; others may take months or even years to achieve results. Chronic conditions usually take longer to resolve than acute ones. Plan on a minimum of a month to see significant changes. An acupuncturist may suggest one or two treatments per week, or monthly visits for health maintenance and seasonal "tune ups”.
How much does it cost?
Rates vary and depend upon what procedures are performed. It is best to consult with your acupuncturist about costs.
Will my insurance cover acupuncture?
Insurance coverage varies from state to state. Contact your insurance provider to learn what kind of care is covered. Here are a few questions to ask:
• Will my plan cover acupuncture?
• How many visits per calendar year?
• Do I need a referral?
• Do I have a co-pay?
• Do I have a deductible? If yes, has it been met?
Is acupuncture safe for children?
Yes. In some instances children actually respond more quickly than adults. If your child has an aversion to needles, your acupuncturist may massage the acupuncture points. This is called acupressure or tui na.
What are different treatment modalities in Traditional Chinese Medicine?
Your acupuncturist may include other related therapies in your treatment plan, such as cupping, Tui Na, Gua Sha or moxibustion (see images below). Herbal remedies are another important aspect of acupuncture and TCM. It is important to understand and follow your acupuncturist's directions in order to get the most benefit from these treatments.
Cupping is a therapy designed to stimulate the flow of blood and Qi within the superficial muscle layers. It is used for many ailments including sore muscles, tension, neck pain and the common cold. In this therapy, your acupuncturist will place small glass or plastic "cups" over specific areas on your body. A vacuum is created under the cup using heat or suction. They may be moved over an affected area or left in place. You may leave the office looking as though a large octopus gave you a big hug. There is no need for alarm. The slight redness will quickly dissipate.
Tui Na translates as "push grasp". It is a massage technique that moves Qi in various parts of the body. It is used to relieve muscle pain, tension and inflammation. It is also used to heal injuries.
Gua Sha is another technique used to release muscle tension, tightness and constriction. A specialized tool is used to gently scrape or rub the skin over a problem area. Gua Sha feels a bit like deep massage. This too may leave some slight redness that will quickly dissipate.
Moxibustion is a treatment that uses an herb called mugwort. It may be burned on the handle of the needle, above the skin, on salt or on a slice of ginger, or a liquid form may be applied. This is used to "warm" acupuncture points or areas in order to quicken the healing process.
Why did my acupuncturist recommend herbs?
Herbs can be a powerful adjunct to acupuncture care. They are used to strengthen, build and support the body or to clear it of excess problems like a cold, fever or acute pain. They are also extremely powerful in treating chronic, longstanding “deeper” issues that can be more difficult to treat with acupuncture alone. Your practitioner may suggest starting with herbs and then adding acupuncture to your treatment in the future. This is suggested to build up your internal strength so you can receive the full benefits acupuncture has to offer.
What is your role in the healing process?
Your actions are a key component of your treatment plan. Focusing on your health and committing to a healthy lifestyle are the best steps you can take for your well-being. Together, you and your acupuncturist can heal your imbalances and help you achieve harmony and balance.
Even after your symptoms are resolved, acupuncture can assist you in maintaining your health, and possibly prevent future imbalances. The more you incorporate acupuncture and TCM into your life, the more you will learn to nurture your body, mind and spirit.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” — Lao-tzu
How should I prepare?
For the best treatment results, keep a few things in mind:
1. McDonald, John Leslie et al.
2. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, Volume 116 , Issue 6, pgs. 497-505.
3. Neuro-acupuncture, "Scientific evidence of acupuncture revealed", Cho, ZH., et al., 2001.v.
4. Acupuncture - A Scientific Appraisal, Ernst, E., White, A., 1999, p. 74.
5. Acupuncture Energetics, "A Clinical Approach for Physicians", Helms, Dr. J., 1997, pgs. 41-42, 66.
6. Anatomy of Neuro-Anatomical Acupuncture, Volume 1, Wong, Dr. J., 1999, p. 34.