Acupuncture is a treatment based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a system of healing that dates back thousands of years. At the core of TCM is the notion that a type of life-force, or energy, known as qi (pronounced “chee”) flows through channels in the body called “meridians.” Each meridian connects to one specific organ, or group of organs, that governs particular bodily functions. When too little or too much qi exists in a meridian or when the qi stagnates or is blocked, illness results. Acupuncture treatment consists of inserting thin, sterilized stainless-steel needles at various locations on the body, known as “acu-points” which function as gateways to unblock or rebalance the flow of qi. Modern research reveals important insights into the physiology of acupunctures healing action. Release of the bodies own endorphins reduce pain and cause relaxation of muscle spasms, is anti-inflammatory, and promotes blood circulation via vasodilation. A normalizing effect on the autonomic nervous system, sympathetic and parasympathetic, has also been observed. One of the most common side effect of acupuncture is improved sleep, which is crucial to healing any condition. Acupuncture induces a wound healing reaction that encourages healing of even old injuries, organ dysfunction and disease. Ongoing research in these areas continues to demonstrate the often profound effects that acupuncture can have on many symptoms and disease states.
What does an acupuncturist do?
In addition to asking questions about your medical history and symptoms, the acupuncturist may want to take your pulse at several points along the wrist and look at your tongue to observe its shape, color, and coating. He or she may also observe the color and texture of your skin, your posture, and other physical characteristics that offer clues to your health. In this process, the acupuncturist is determining the diagnosis of your problem according to the concepts and methods of traditional Chinese medical science. Then having decided how to correct the imbalance in your qi, the acupuncturist has you take a comfortable position, generally lying down on a padded examining table, and he or she inserts the needles, possibly twirling or gently jiggling each as it goes in. You may not feel the needles at all, or you may feel a twitch or quick twinge that subsides as soon as the needle is completely in. Once the needles are all in place, you rest for some time, often 30 minutes to an hour. During this time, you may feel relaxed and sleepy and may even doze off. At the end of the session, the acupuncturist removes the needles, which is painless.
How many treatments do I need?
The number of acupuncture treatments you need depends on the complexity of your illness, whether it’s a chronic or recent condition, and your general health. For example, you may need only one treatment for a recent wrist sprain, whereas for a long-standing, chronic illness you may need treatments once or twice a week for several months to get good results.
What is acupuncture good for?
Acupuncture is effective for pain relief and for post-surgery and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting. In addition, both the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health recognize that acupuncture can be a helpful part of a treatment plan for many illnesses. A partial list includes: addiction, asthma, bronchitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea, facial tics, headaches, irregular periods, menopausal symptoms, menstrual cramps, osteoarthritis, sciatica, sinusitis, spastic colon, stroke rehabilitation, tendinitis, tennis elbow, and urinary problems. You can safely combine acupuncture with prescription drugs and other conventional treatments. It’s important for other practitioners caring for you to be aware of your acupuncture treatment in order to monitor any improvements that will alter the treatments they are providing.
Are there conditions that acupuncture should not treat?
Although some physicians and practitioners may avoid treating during pregnancy, the majority of acupuncturists do not find any particular contraindications to appropriate treatment during pregnancy. In fact, there are traditional treatments for certain problems that arise during pregnancy. For example, the use of acupuncture to relieve morning sickness is well established.
Does my medical insurance cover acupuncture treatments?
An increasing number of insurance providers and HMOs now cover all or part of the cost of acupuncture treatments, but these providers may have restrictions on the types of illnesses they cover. Most workers compensation and auto accident insurance policies include treatment by acupuncture. Check with your insurance company to see what coverage they provide.
The American Academy of Medical Acupuncture (2004) states: “In the United States, acupuncture has its greatest success and acceptance in the treatment of musculoskeletal pain. Most of these indications are supported by textbooks or at least 1 journal article.”
Acute and chronic pain control
Anesthesia for high-risk patients or patients with previous adverse responses to anesthetics
Anxiety, fright, panic
Atypical chest pain (negative workup)
Bursitis, tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome
Certain functional gastrointestinal disorders (nausea and vomiting, esophageal spasm, hyperacidity, irritable bowel) *
Cervical and lumbar spine syndromes
Cough with contraindications for narcotics
Drug detoxification is suggested but evidence is poor
Dysmenorrhea, pelvic pain
Headache (migraine and tension-type), vertigo (Meniere disease), tinnitus
Idiopathic palpitations, sinus tachycardia
In fractures, assisting in pain control, edema, and enhancing healing process
Muscle spasms, tremors, tics, contractures
Neuralgias (trigeminal, herpes zoster, postherpetic pain, other)
Post-traumatic and post-operative ileus
Selected dermatoses (urticaria, pruritus, eczema, psoriasis)
Sequelae of stroke syndrome (aphasia, hemiplegia)
Seventh nerve palsy
Sprains and contusions
Temporo-mandibular joint derangement, bruxism
Urinary incontinence, retention (neurogenic, spastic, adverse drug effect)
Weight Loss Indications according to acupuncturists in the West