Does acupuncture hurt?

Most patients do not find that acupuncture is a painful process. Many find that acupuncture is very relaxing, so much so that they fall asleep during treatment. Some patients do have a sensation as the needle is inserted; most feel nothing at all. Acupuncturists call it a "Qi" Sensation and can range from a feeling of warmth, tingling, ache, heaviness or a sensation of pressure in the area. These sensations are usually only one or two points.

Are the needles safe?

Yes. Acupuncturists use sterile, disposable needles. They are used once and then disposed of in biohazard containers. These containers are sent to a medical waste management company for proper disposal according to federal laws and regulations.

Are there any side effects to Acupuncture?

Acupuncture has a very low rate of side effects according to the NIH (National Institutes of Health) "One of the advantages of acupuncture is that the incidence of adverse effects is substantially lower than that of many drugs or other accepted medical procedures used for the same conditions." (Acupuncture. NIH Consens Statement 1997 Nov 3-5; 15 (5): 9.)

What are the theories of how acupuncture work?

The west has yet to come to a comprehensive answer about how Acupuncture works but it has some segmented theories.

1. The "Augmentation of Immunity" Theory acupuncture raises levels of triglycerides, specific hormones, prostaglandins,  and white blood counts.

2. The "Endorphin" Theory states that acupuncture stimulates the secretions of endorphins in the body (specifically Enkaphalins).

3. The "Neurotransmitter" Theory states that certain neurotransmitter levels (such as Seratonin and Noradrenaline) are positively affected by acupuncture.

4. The "Circulatory" Theory holds that acupuncture has the effect of constriction or dilation of blood vessels. This may be caused by the body's release of Vasodilaters (such as Histamine), in response to acupuncture.

5. "Gate" Theory states that the perception of pain is controlled by a part of the nervous system that regulates the impulse, which will later be interpreted as pain. This part of the nervous system is called the "Gate". If the gate is hit with too many impulses, it is overwhelmed and closes, preventing the pain impulse from getting through. Acupuncture treats the smallest gates and nerve fibers which are the ones first affected.

What can I expect when I go to an Acupuncturist?

The Acupuncturist will do a full health history in order to find out the underlying cause of your health issue or disorder. The Acupuncturist will ask about your symptoms, health and life-style. Afterward the Acupuncturist will examine your tongue, feel your pulses and palpate various parts of your body. This helps the Acupuncturist find patterns that tell which organs and meridians are out of balance. With this information the Acupuncturist will identify a pattern of disharmony according to Oriental Medical theory and will make a treatment plan to address it. After your initial interview, you may receive an Acupuncture treatment.

How should I prepare?

1. Come with any questions you have.

2. Be prepared to remove your clothing or wear loose, comfortable clothing for easy access to acupuncture points.

3. Please eat something before you come in for your visit.

4. Refrain from overexertion, drugs, or alcohol for up to 24 hours after the visit.

5. Between visits, take notes of any changes that you may have experienced.

How long do treatments take?

An office visit will last from 30 minutes to 1 hour. The needles, once inserted, will usually be left in place from 15 to 45 minutes. Ultimately, the session length depends on the technique and desired results.

How many treatments are needed and how often?

Although some people will respond well to only one treatment, more are often necessary. The frequency of treatment and number of treatments needed is related to the patient's condition. Generally, the longer the patient has had the condition the longer the course of treatment will be before showing substantial and lasting results. Acupuncture can be scheduled as often as five times a week or as little as once a month. Typically, in China, patients are treated two to five times a week. Although some patients respond favorably after only one or two treatments, others may not respond even until the ninth visit. As symptoms improve fewer visits are required. A client should discuss his or her treatment program with the Acupuncturist, as each individual case is unique.

Should I keep my appointment if I’m sick?

Yes. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs are highly effective for treating acute conditions, such as colds and flus, stomach viruses and headaches. Patients report immediate improvement in symptoms after acupuncture treatment or commencing herbal therapy. An oft-repeated phrase by happy patients is, "As soon as I started taking the herbs I felt better!"

Many patients call immediately to schedule a treatment when they first notice cold or flu symptoms. These include healthcare practitioners who don't want to get their patients sick, business professionals who are too busy for a sick day or two, and patients who are chronically ill and want to 'get this one over with, quickly'.

So if you're sick, call your acupuncturist and make and appointment. If you have an appointment scheduled, keep it. If you're concerned about being contagious to your practitioner, request an herbal consultation instead of a treatment.

Are the benefits of acupuncture due to the placebo effect?

Physiological changes occurring after acupuncture are not the result of the placebo effect. Many of the effects occur without the conscious knowledge of the patient, but these changes can, and have, been measured by scientific investigation.

What if I can’t come for regular acupuncture treatments?

Herbal therapy is an effective option for those who cannot come regularly for acupuncture visits it can also extend the effect of acupuncture treatments. Some patients opt for Chinese herbal formulas instead of acupuncture treatment because of issues with needles.  Herbal therapy can fill in for the interval between acupuncture treatments, allowing some patients to decrease the frequency of acupuncture treatment.

TCM (Traditional Chinese Medical) herbalists use herbs instead of drug therapy to address problems internally. It is highly effective because the formulas can be modified to decrease side effects. In fact, many conditions, such as gynecological problems, dermatology and immune system disorders require herbs for effective treatment. Pain conditions require regular acupuncture treatments and massage for resolution of symptoms. If the condition is due to work or repetitive use then acupuncture and massage can be used to keep the symptoms at bay.

What is a Medical Acupuncturist?

This is an important question of great concern in the Oriental medical profession. Medical acupuncturists are MD's who have taken a 100-300 hour course in acupuncture (often at UCLA) allowing them to practice on patients. (Chiropractors are also legally allowed to practice acupuncture after completing a 300-hour course.) They do not have the extensive education and training in Oriental medicine NCCAOM certified practitioners receive.

NCCAOM certified practitioners must have graduated from an accredited acupuncture college with a minimum of two years and 1,700 hours for Acupuncture certification, or 2,200 hour for Chinese Herbology or Oriental Medicine certifications. (Oriental Medicine is a comprehensive certification demonstrating knowledge and training in acupuncture, Chinese herbology, western biomedical sciences, Chinese dietary therapy, Tui Na massage, Tai Qi and Qi Gong. However, most acupuncture college programs are considerably longer, taking three to four years of fulltime study to complete. California acupuncture colleges adhere to especially stringent laws, requiring 3,000 hours of education and clinical training, of which 2,000+ hours must be in the discipline of oriental medical theory.

Of even greater concern is the 300-hour course for MD's and chiropractors was designed to give medical researchers the appropriate background necessary to develop and interpret studies on acupuncture. The Medical Acupuncture certification was not designed to meet the educational requirements and training neccessary to treat patients. If your doctor provides Medical Acupuncture services, inquire whether s/he is certified by NCCAOM, the most rigorous and extensive level of certification in the Oriental medical field.