What is Medical Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a method to promote natural healing, to reduce pain, and to improve functioning.  This is done by inserting very fine needles at precise acupuncture points, sometimes in combination with heat or electrical stimulation.

Acupuncture is a very old medical art and there are many approaches to learning and practicing it.  Medical acupuncture is the term used to describe acupuncture performed by a doctor trained and licensed in Western medicine who has also had thorough training in acupuncture as a specialty practice.  Such a doctor can use one or the other approach, or a combination, as the need arises, to treat an illness or pain condition.  As an example, a patient presenting with a pain problem may require diagnostic studies as a part of a thorough medical evaluation before it is determined that acupuncture is the proper treatment.

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.  Such 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.

The meridians can be influenced by needling the acupuncture points; the acupuncture needles unblock the obstructions at the dams and re-establish the regular flow through the meridians.  When there is an area of muscle spasm or pain that obstructs the flow of energy through a meridian, acupuncture treatments can then unblock the obstruction and allow energy to circulate 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 may change the experience of pain or may influence other body functions.  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.

What Pain Conditions Respond to Acupuncture?

Most pain conditions can get relief with acupuncture.  The period of pain relief will vary with different conditions.  A pain condition that primarily involves the soft tissues such as muscles and tendons (spasm, tendonitis) will be more likely to respond with more complete, more long-lasting relief.  Those pain conditions that have a bony origin such as osteoarthritis or spinal stenosis may also get symptomatic relief from acupuncture.  However, the arthritis will still be present so periodic maintenance treatments may be necessary in those 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 more treatments per week for several months may be recommended.  For acute problems, usually fewer visits are required.  For health maintenance, four sessions a year may be all that is necessary.

Are There Any Side Effects?

Usually not.  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 general changes in appetite or emotional state may be triggered.  This is often a positive sign that the acupuncture is starting to work so should not be a cause for concern.

Acupuncture needles are very thin and solid and are made from stainless steel.  The point is smooth, unlike hypodermic needles which have a hollow point with a cutting edge.  Thus, the risk of bruising and skin insertion pain is much less than a hollow needle.  Also, only disposable needles are used which
h eliminates the risk of infection.

Does Acupuncture Really Work?

Yes.  In the past 2000 years, more people have been successfully treated with acupuncture than with all other health modalities combined.  Today acupuncture is practiced widely in Asia, Europe and Russia.  It is now being used more and more in America by patients and physicians.  The National Institute of Health recognizes that acupuncture can be effective in treating many pain conditions.  While acupuncture may be effective as a treatment by itself, it can be enhanced in combination with other treatments for pain.  Thus, medical acupuncture integrates the traditional teachings of acupuncture with contemporary Western medicine to maximize well-being and minimize pain.

Do’s and Don’ts On the Day of Treatment

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 a 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, especially for the first few treatments.

Remember to keep good mental or written notes of what your response is to treatment.  This will help in the design of follow-up treatments.

While believing in acupuncture is not essential to its success, 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 treatments.