HOW DOES ACUPUNCTURE WORK?
The sterile treatment needles are skillfully inserted into a combination of specific points along the surface of the body in order to stimulate the patient’s inherent self-healing abilities. These acupuncture points, and the complex meridian system they are organized upon, have classically been likened to an interconnection of rivers and streams that nourish all the vital functions of the individual’s body. When the body’s vital force, usually referred to as Chi (or Qi), flows smoothly then there is health. Pain and disease result when there is obstruction of free flow within this meridian system. Thus the chief purpose of acupuncture is to regulate the flow of Chi, and in so doing, restore the individual’s optimal health state.
WHAT CONDITIONS DOES ACUPUNCTURE TREAT?
Acupuncture can be used to treat a variety of health conditions, but is typically most effective in managing pain and disorders exacerbated by stress. Because of its powerful effect on the nervous system, acupuncture is an excellent supplement to treat chronic pain and disability that has otherwise achieved little or no benefit with conventional treatment. In addition, people have found benefit with acupuncture to treat certain types of digestive, sleeping, allergy, emotional, and fertility disorders. Each patient outcome is unique to that individual’s own healing capabilities, and cannot be compared to others with a similar diagnosis.
DOES ACUPUNCTURE HURT?
Acupuncture may initially produce a brief pinching sensation during the insertion of the needle. Some point locations are much more sensitive, such as the hands and feet, compared to other regions, such as the upper back. In many cases, the more sensitive points have a stronger therapeutic effect. Therefore, it is important for the patient to “sense” the presence of the needle during skillful manipulation at each point. Some may describe this sensation as a “heaviness,” “gentle tingling,” or “fullness” in the local area. Each person reacts differently to acupuncture, and each treatment is tailored to meet the needs of each individual patient. If there is no feeling beneath the needle, then there is no therapeutic benefit!
WHAT TYPES OF NEEDLES ARE USED IN ACUPUNCTURE?
Acupuncture uses extremely thin, sterile, single-use, disposable filiform needles of varying lengths. These non-hollow needles are made of stainless steel and function more like hair-like filaments, rather than hypodermic needles used for injections. The needle insertion procedure is considered to be a clean technique, and there is never any medicine or ointment applied to the needle tip.
WHERE ON THE BODY ARE THE NEEDLES INSERTED?
Acupuncture point selection is a highly specialized process and varies considerably from patient to patient, and likewise from practitioner to practitioner. The availability of acupuncture points on the surface of the body falls between the top of the head and the bottom of the foot, and comprises a total of 361 traditional meridian points. However, considering these points are mirrored on the opposite side of the body, plus any “unofficial” tender spots, there is really an infinite number of possible areas to needle. If there is a personal concern with needling a particular region, the acupuncturist can accommodate you by selecting other, secondary points to treat.
WHAT OTHER MODALITIES ARE USED WITHIN THE SCOPE OF ACUPUNCTURE?
Acupuncture can employ supportive modalities to augment the effectiveness of the needle treatment. These modalities are determined by the acupuncturist depending upon each patient’s need and are applied either directly or indirectly to acupuncture points.
A licensed acupuncturist in NYS can utilize: warming methods, such as moxibustion (burning of mugwort herb) and TDP lamp (infrared light); manual techniques, such as Tui Na (Chinese massage), cupping, and acupressure (point pressing); and electrical stimulation.
Patients may also have the option of herbal supplements recommendation and Eastern nutritional consultation to provide the most complete treatment strategy.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ACUPUNCTURE AND PHYSICAL THERAPY DRY NEEDLING?
Acupuncture is an independent, holistic, and comprehensive system of needling based on Eastern TCM theory. Dry needling is a localized, symptom-based treatment technique dependent on Western Medicine principles of breaking up muscle spasms. In simplified terms, dry needling is one type of acupuncture technique that can be used on one particular group of acupuncture points, called “ashi (or sore) points.”
Currently within NYS, the insertion of needles, whether using Eastern or Western theory in treatment, can only be provided by a licensed acupuncturist or medical doctor.
DOES ACUPUNCTURE HAVE ANY RISKS OR SIDE EFFECTS?
In general, acupuncture is considered a safe treatment modality. However, because it involves the insertion of filament needles beneath the skin’s surface, nearby nerves and capillaries, there is always a minor risk of local bruising or tenderness after the treatment. There are few, select regions on the body surface that have an inherently higher risk than the majority of other points, due to their location. The acupuncturist is a highly trained, licensed professional, who will always approach your case conservatively and exercise utmost caution when applying your treatment. All patients will be informed of such risks prior to initiating treatment.
CAN ACUPUNCTURE BE PERFORMED WITHOUT THE USE OF NEEDLES?
Acupuncture can be performed without the use of needles, and is commonly referred to as acupressure, Chinese physical therapy, or Tui Na. It is typically employed with young children or with adults who suffer from extreme anxiety toward needles. In addition to touch therapy, these individuals may benefit from cupping, gua sha, exercise, and herbal supplementation.
IS ACUPUNCTURE ASSOCIATED WITH ANY SORT OF SPIRITUALITY OR RELIGIOUS PRACTICES?
Acupuncture initially developed from ancient Chinese principles of balance and moderation in life practice, and is historically most closely related to the philosophy of Taoism. Although there are some clinics that seem to interject, or even outright promote, a New Age spiritualism to their acupuncture practice, this does not conform to the traditional way acupuncture is to be practiced. It is essential to understand that within Chinese culture, acupuncture and the energetic concept of Chi is treated as a science. That is, it is the foundational element of a system with predictable and testable outcomes. Despite Chi being unable to be measured directly through instrumentation, the secondary effects of its movement are clearly felt by the individual and can even be observed on functional MRIs of the brain.
WHAT IS ACUPUNCTURE “REALLY” DOING?
Western science has been attempting to “discover” the secret location and function of acupuncture meridians and their famous clinical points for decades. Please note that there is no stumbling block in Eastern science, since it is content with analyzing the effects of Chi and not its substance. Although almost all of TCM is built upon empirical or observation-based studies, recent technological imaging has shown fascinating connections between brain activity and the stimulation of certain “points” on the body. In actuality, everything we experience in our bodies can be said to come from the mysterious inner-workings of our brain. Obviously, there is a stimulus/reaction executed by the nervous system in response to the needle. But while some skeptics may find the mystery of acupuncture frustrating, others will embrace its possibilities with optimism and excitement!