What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a method of treatment in Chinese Medicine that has been practiced in China and the Far East for thousands of years. Early Chinese physicians discovered that there was an energy network flowing throughout the body called Qi (pronounced “chee”) or vital energy. Qi circulates throughout the body along specific pathways called meridians.

According to Chinese Medicine theory, any illness arises when Qi, blood, and body fluids become unbalanced or blocked due to stress, injury, lifestyle, or other reasons.

Acupuncture stimulates different points in the body to remove blockage, stimulate the immune system, and harmonize the emotions. When Qi is able to flow freely, health is maintained.

The benefits of acupuncture treatments are cumulative. Patients need to get treatment often and regularly. Over time, the body improves its function and ability to work harmoniously.

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Acupuncture is a

form of Chinese Medicine

that works in the following ways

Acupuncture promotes blood flow

This is significant because everything the body needs to heal is in the blood, including oxygen, nutrients we absorb from food, immune substances, hormones, analgesics (painkillers), and anti-inflammatories. Restoring proper blood flow is vital to promoting and maintaining health. For example if blood flow is diminished by as little as 3 percent in the breast area, cancer may develop. Blood flow decreases as we age and can be impacted by trauma, injuries, and certain diseases. Acupuncture has been shown to increase blood flow and vasodilation in several regions of the body.

Acupuncture stimulates the body’s built-in healing mechanisms

Acupuncture creates “micro traumas” that stimulate the body’s ability to spontaneously heal injuries to the tissue through nervous, immune and endocrine system activation. As the body heals the micro traumas induced by acupuncture, it also heals any surrounding tissue damage left over from old injuries.

Acupuncture releases natural painkillers

Inserting a needle sends a signal through the nervous system to the brain, where chemicals such as endorphins, norepinephrine, and enkephalin are released. Some of these substances are 10 to 200 times more potent than morphine!

Acupuncture reduces both the intensity and perception of chronic pain

It does this through a process called “descending control normalization,” which involves the serotonergic nervous system.

Acupuncture relaxes shortened muscles

This in turn releases pressure on joint structures and nerves, and promotes blood flow.

Acupuncture reduces stress

This is perhaps the most important systemic effect of acupuncture. Recent research suggests that acupuncture stimulates the release of oxytocin, a hormone and signaling substance that regulates the parasympathetic nervous system. You’ve probably heard of the “fight-or-flight” response that is governed by the sympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system has been called the “rest-and-digest” or “calm-and-connect” system, and in many ways is the opposite of the sympathetic system.


Conditions treated effectively by acupuncture

In an official report, Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials, the WHO (WHO) has listed the following symptoms, diseases and conditions that have been shown through controlled trials to be treated effectively by acupuncture:

  • Low back pain
  • Neck Pain
  • Sciatica
  • Tennis Elbow
  • Knee Pain
  • Periarthritis of the shoulder
  • Sprains
  • Facial pain (including craniomandibular disorders)
  • Headache
  • Dental pain
  • Tempromandibular (TMJ) dysfunction
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Induction of labor
  • Correction of malposition of fetus (breech presentation)
  • Morning sickness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Postoperative pain
  • Stroke
  • Essential hypertension
  • Primary hypotension
  • Renal colic
  • Leucopenia
  • Adverse reactions to radiation or chemotherapy
  • Allergic rhinitis, including hay fever
  • Biliary colic
  • Depression (including depressive neurosis and depression following stroke)
  • Acute bacillary dysentery
  • Primary dysmenorrhea
  • Acute epigastralgia
  • Peptic ulcer
  • Acute and chronic gastritis

Frequently Asked Questions

How does acupuncture work?

The understanding of how acupuncture works has evolved with its practice, but the descriptions set down a thousand years ago have largely been retained. The dominant function of acupuncture is to regulate the circulation of qi (vital energy) and blood. Approximately 2,000 years ago, the pre-eminent acupuncture text, Huangdi Neijing (Yellow Emperor’s Classic on Internal Medicine), was written. In it, acupuncture was described as a means of letting out excess qi or blood by making holes in the body along certain pathways, called jingluo (meridians). For some of these meridians, it was advised to acupuncture in such a way as to let out the blood but not the qi; for others, to let out the qi, but not the blood. Many diseases were thought to enter the body through the skin, and then penetrate inward through muscle, internal organs, and, if not cured in timely fashion, to the marrow of the bone. By inserting a needle to the appropriate depth-to correspond with the degree of disease penetration-the disease could be let out.

Instead of discussing acupuncture in terms of letting something out of the body, physicians began describing it in terms of regulating something within the body. The flow of qi through the meridians, just like the flow of water through a stream, could be blocked off by an obstruction-a dam across the waterway. In the streams, this might be a fallen tree or a mud slide; in humans, it might be caused by something striking the body, the influence of bad weather, or ingestion of improper foods. When a stream is blocked, it floods above the blockage, and below the blockage it dries up. If one goes to the point of blockage and clears it away, then the stream can resume its natural course. In a like manner, if the qi in the meridian becomes blocked, the condition of the body becomes disordered like the flooding and dryness; if one could remove the blockage from the flow of qi within a meridian, the natural flow could be restored.

In a blocked stream, just cutting a small hole or crevice in the blockage will often clear the entire stream path, because the force of the water that penetrates the hole will widen it continuously until the normal course is restored. In the human body, inserting a small needle into the blocked meridian will have a similar effect. Just as a stream may have certain points more easily accessed (or more easily blocked), the meridians have certain points which, if treated by needling, will have a significant impact on the flow pattern. Many acupuncture points are named for geological structures: mountains, streams, ponds, and oceans.
Although this description of the basic acupuncture concept is somewhat simplified, it conveys the approach that is taught today to students of traditional acupuncture: locate the areas of disturbance, isolate the main blockage points, and clear the blockage. Ultimately, all the descriptions of acupuncture that are based on the traditional model involve rectifying a disturbance in the flow of qi. If the qi circulation is corrected, the body can eliminate most symptoms and eventually-with proper diet, exercise, and other habits-overcome virtually all disease.

What does acupuncture feel like? Do the needles hurt?

When the acupuncturist places your needles it is common to feel a little pinch, mild sting or dull achy sensation. It should not be painful. Some people are more sensitive than others, so we adjust our technique and the gauge of needles according to each person’s response. We’ve needled many nervous first-timers and their responses are most commonly “that’s it? I barely felt anything!”.

Do I have to believe in acupuncture for it to work? Is it just a placebo effect?

Acupuncture works on animals, and animals don’t have beliefs about acupuncture (yes, veterinary acupuncture exists – and is common for dogs and horses in particular!).

Can I exercise, go to a yoga class, get a massage, go to physical therapy, etc. before or after acupuncture?

Yes, you can combine acupuncture with any other type of health care or exercise at any time. We encourage you to do any other activities that help you to feel your best.

How many treatments will I need?

Every patient is different and will need a different treatment plan. I usually recommend coming in once per week for six to eight weeks and then tapering off from there. Some conditions will require more time to treat depending on their severity and how long they’ve been an issue. Many patients like to continue coming in regularly even after an issue has been resolved just for the chance to relax. My goal is to get you to a “maintenance” level in which you only come in once every month or two to keep your body balanced; just keep me in mind if anything else comes up!

What are the possible theories of how acupuncture may improve fertility?

From historical and modern Eastern and Western acupuncture medicine authorities, it is thought that acupuncture may improve fertility rates by helping to regulate menstrual cycles and ovulation, regulating hormone levels, increasing blood flow to the uterus, and by improving the quality of eggs and sperm.

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