Acupuncture, according to its practitioners, is a medical treatment involving the stimulation of certain points along the "energy pathways" of the body. Typically this is done by insertion of very fine sterile needles into the body. However, points can be stimulated in any number of ways that do not involve needles such as electrical stimulation with probes, heat, or just mechanical stimulation.
Historically, acupuncture is one component of an overall program of Chinese medicine that includes theory, practice, diagnosis, physiology, and the use of herbal and/or nutritional preparations. Acupuncture is used to control pain, tone muscles (facial lifts), treat allergies, relieve addiction withdrawal from opiates or nicotine, and help people lose weight.
Many researchers from Eastern and Western cultures alike think of acupuncture as a way to a quiet and calm conscious state allowing improved energy flow through blocked meridian pathways which otherwise lead to disease.
What are qi (chee) and meridians?
Let's first talk about the history and discovery of acupuncture as a science. Over 2000 years ago, Chinese doctors noted that warriors returning from battle often reported that health conditions present before battle had been 'cured' after they were wounded.
Intrigued, Chinese doctors noted that certain conditions would repeatedly improve with arrow or sword wounds to specific locales on the body. While at first it didn't make much sense to shoot somebody with an arrow to their back to cure their headaches, Chinese practitioners experimented and found they only needed to poke the spots with very fine needles or sharp sticks to achieve the same results.
Over centuries Chinese physicians mapped out 'rivers' or meridians that carried the bodies innate energy or qi (chee) throughout the body. Each organ was found to have its own meridian and if that meridian was deficient in - or exhibited excess - qi, that organ suffered until it became diseased.
Where meridians come close to the surface of the skin, they can be stimulated. These spots are termed "acupuncture points" and stimulation of specific points can effect the meridian and its organ system in a very specific way. The ultimate goal of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is to bring each meridian into balance with every other meridian. In this way total harmony of the body can be achieved and ultimate health restored and maintained.
How long do treatments take?
The initial evaluation usually takes an hour. We utilize a computerized Electro Meridian Imaging System that greatly speeds up the evaluation process and provides a color graphic printout of your overall condition. Time spent may vary depending on the complexity and nature of the condition. Subsequent acupuncture sessions are usually ½ hour in length. This, too, will vary based on the nature of the condition being treated. There is usually a very short waiting period to see the doctor, if any. We value our patient's time and scheduling needs.
How does the doctor diagnose my condition?
There are several traditional Chinese medicine approaches to determining exactly what treatment a patient needs:
Pulse Diagnosis: By taking a number of pulses on both sides of each wrist a comprehensive picture of qi flow disruption and organ imbalance can be visualized.
Observation of the Patient: Noting color & condition of the complexion, texture and condition of the skin, hair, nails, voice, breathing, etc. add to the holistic diagnosis of the patient.
Inquiry: Seeking a history of the illness, the patient's feelings, lifestyle, diet, exercise habits, family history, emotional equipoise. These may all give insight to qi imbalance and organ imbalance.
Physical Examination: Palpation of acupuncture points can be utilized to give the doctor specific insight into the meridians and organs those points serve. Tenderness or soreness may relate to a specific problem.
Electro Meridian Imaging: In the last several decades Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis has entered the computer age. In our office we utilize a computerized system that allows us to perform a relatively fast and complete evaluation of all 12 main organ meridians. We can then graph the result in an easy to interpret format.
How long will I need to be treated?
Because each patient's health problems and response to treatment are unique, the number and frequency of treatments will vary from three times each day, to every three months. Typically the recommendation is 2-3 treatments per week for acute care (usually 8-10 visits). Some patients respond favorably after only one or two treatments. Some may not improve until the sixth or eighth visit. Severe conditions may in rare circumstances require two or three times per week for several months for maximum results. And sometimes, despite the acupuncturist's best effort and skill, the patient does not respond to treatment. In general, we see that acute conditions require less treatment than chronic conditions.
Each acupuncture session builds on the previous one, thus building health. The more frequent you get treatment, the faster you will heal. It is worth noting that patients almost always receive "supplementary advice" such as nutritional guidelines, supplements or Chinese herbs and/or exercises to help facilitate recovery. Following your physicians advice in addition to receiving your treatments will greatly magnify your healing process, and you will need fewer treatments. This will save you time and money in the long run.
I'm afraid of needles. What can I do?
Needles are only one way to stimulate acupuncture points. There are a number of other ways for the 'needle-impaired' to receive acupuncture. For example, in our office we utilize rubber electrodes that are taped to the skin with adhesive patches. A small current is then run through the electrodes and in this way the acupuncture point is painlessly stimulated without breaking the skin.
This technique is mostly utilized for "facial lift" acupuncture point stimulation, since it is sometimes impractical to insert 30 needles into the face at each session! But there is no reason that any condition cannot be treated in this manner. Drawbacks include the process is more time consuming to setup than simple needling and some practitioners feel better results may be achieved by the deeper stimulation that needles provide. The choice is up to the patient.
Other forms of 'needle-less" treatment include use of an electrical or mechanical probe that the doctor can directly stimulate points with as needed.
Are acupuncture needles sterile and safe?
Yes. Our office follows very strict sterilization procedures. In fact, we only use one-time disposable needles which are thrown away after each use. Pre-sterilized needles are manufactured, packaged, and shipped in sterilized containers to ensure compliance with federal law.
Does health insurance cover acupuncture?
Good question! I can not give you a "yes" or "no" answer. It seems that more and more insurance companies are including acupuncture treatment in their covered services.
It really depends on your medical insurance company and what type health insurance plan you are enrolled in.
Basic Medicare is now covering eight acupuncture visits a year. Most basic health insurance companies offer medical insurance programs that cover acupuncture treatment.
A few insurance companies like Aetna U.S. Health care start to offer acupuncture treatment coverage in one of their medical insurance programs. You should contact your specific health insurance company to check whether your current medical insurance cover acupuncture treatment.
If you have injuries caused by car accident or work-related injuries, your auto insurance or worker's compensation insurance will cover acupuncture treatment.