Q: What is acupuncture?
A: Acupuncture is the stimulation of specific body points by insertion and manipulation of fine needles. There are 365 ancient points empirically proven effective in the treatment of specific disorders. These points lie on channels mapped by the Chinese over 2,000 years ago. Modern research has confirmed these points have decreased electrical resistance and increased electrical conductivity.
Q: Does acupuncture hurt?
A: If done properly, a patient feels sensation at a needled point. Called “de Qi” in Chinese, it means the Qi (pronounced “chee”) has arrived. The Chinese do not perceive this as pain, so they say acupuncture is bu tong, or painless. Westerners who are less familiar with acupuncture or are perhaps afraid of needles may experience mild discomfort at insertion.
There is no discomfort once the needles are in place.
When acupuncture’s curative effects are realized, they far outweigh the initial angst or discomfort.
Q: What does acupuncture treat?
A: Any illness that shows even the smallest sign of recovery or improvement can be more quickly resolved by acupuncture. This means that acupuncture helps recovery from acute disorders such as colds, flu, and bronchitis so they do not become chronic or recurrent. Chronic disorders such as allergies, asthma, chronic fatigue, arthritis, digestive or gynecological problems may improve or resolve completely with acupuncture treatment.
Acupuncture is effective in treating pain. It reduces inflammation, promotes healing, and enhances human response.
Q: How does an acupuncturist know what points to treat?
A: Points are chosen based on the patient’s symptoms and traditional Oriental theories of diagnosis and treatment. Ancient points may be used as well as trigger points, or what Chinese call ah shi, tender points found by palpation.
Q: How deep do the needles go?
A: This varies, depending on the disorder, where the point is located on the body, the amount of body fat at a particular location, the size, age and state of the patient, as well as the acupuncturist’s style of practice. Most body points require a penetration of ¼ inch; ear points or scalp points are shallower, points on the buttocks are deeper.
Q: Are the needles sterile?
A: All acupuncturists in the US today should use pre-sterilized, individually packaged, disposable needles assuring no passage of communicable disease from patient to patient. The National Commission for Certification of Acupuncturists (NCCA) requires acupuncturists to pass a Clean Needle Test using CDC standards of sterile procedure. All licensed acupuncturists have passed this test.
Q: How does acupuncture work?
A: In Traditional Chinese theory, the human body is seen as a part of nature. When water flows in a stream, there is life in and around it. If the stream is blocked, areas below the blockage are deprived of water and deprived of life. Areas above the blockage collect water which stagnates and rots.
The body is seen as having channels of streaming Qi, Blood, and Fluid. If moving freely, life is fostered and health is maintained. If obstructed, there is pain, congestion and eventually illness.
Acupuncture moves Qi, Blood, and Fluids. It supplies where there is deficiency, drains where there is excess and moves through where there is obstruction.
Q: How does acupuncture work in Western biomedical terms?
A: Research is confirming that acupuncture causes neural and extra-neural biomechanical and biochemical changes. We have known for some time that acupuncture stimulates the brain’s release of endorphins, but that the endorphin release alone cannot account for all of the acupuncture’s therapeutic effect. Reflex stimulation accounts for the sympatholytic effects that spread through a body segment. This reflex stimulation releases vasoconstriction caused by muscle shortening, common to pain and spasm. When the muscle relaxes, the pain and spasm resolve.
Extra-neural changes are responses outside of the nervous system. When a needle is inserted into a point, it penetrates the connective tissue, causing a wound. This discharges “injury potentials.” Platelet Derived Growth Factor (PDGF) is delivered to the “injured” site, which in turn induces DNA synthesis and stimulates collagen formation in the connective tissue. The effect of this stimulation lasts several days, until the tiny wound heals. Since connective tissue is a contiguous fabric wrapping the entire body, as well as every organ, muscle, vessel, nerve down to every cell, it is theorized that the channel system for streaming Qi lies in the connective tissue.
Q: Do acupuncturists only insert needles?
A: Most acupuncturists have been trained in an Oriental system which includes questions and recommendations about diet, work and lifestyle habits that greatly augment the acupuncture. Acupuncturists may also use adjunct therapies such as Gua Sha, Moxibustion, cupping, electrical stimulation, massage, or Qi Gong. Some acupuncturists are also trained in prescribing herbal Chinese medicine.
Q: Are there different styles of acupuncture?
A: Yes. Though acupuncture originated in China, it has been “indigenized” by each country to which it has been introduced. Hence, Japan, Korea, Viet Nam, the U.K., Europe, and the United States have adapted acupuncture to their cultural influences. This has resulted in different styles and applications of practice. For example, acupuncture has become very useful in America in drug detoxification and withdrawal and sports injuries.
Q: How many treatments will I need?
A: This depends on the duration and severity of the complaint. Ask your acupuncturist what their experience is with your particular problem. It is often recommended that a patient try at least three sessions. By this time, both the patient and the practitioner will know if the problem is being helped and can evaluate together regarding further treatment.
Q: How will I feel after acupuncture?
A: Most patients feel deeply relaxed during and after acupuncture treatment. It is recommended that heavy labor or workout is not done the same day as treatment nor using alcohol or recreational drugs.
If being treated for a painful problem, the prognosis is good if the pain changes in any way even if it worsens for a time. It will improve after it worsens. A subsequent treatment may be given 2-7 days to retain the cumulative effect of the prior treatment.
Many painful disorders improve immediately, but may begin to return in 3 to 5 days. The subsequent treatment strengthens that improvement for 5 to 7 days, until complete resolution is obtained. Patients often express an interest in receiving “tune-ups” over time to maintain themselves and prevent relapse. Traditionally, acupuncture was done at the change of seasons to prevent illness and strengthen the body.
Q: How do I choose an acupuncturist?
A: Ask for a referral from other health practitioners or friends that you can trust. In the State of New York, you can call the Acupuncture Society of New York (ASNY) to find licensed acupuncturists in your area. This is a professional society that welcomes membership, lobbies for and promotes the profession of acupuncture in NYS.
You can verify an acupuncturist’s licensure by call the New York State Board for Acupuncture. If outside New York, you may also call the National Commission for Certification for Acupuncturist to inquire if the acupuncturist is nationally board-certified.
Q: Is acupuncture treatment covered under my health insurance policy?
A: Many insurance companies now cover acupuncture treatment. However, you will need to contact your particular company, or review your written policy to determine whether your company accepts it. All licensed acupuncturists are legally able to submit for insurance reimbursement, as long as the patient’s policy accepts it.