Tiziana answers some of your most frequently asked questions about acupuncture and what to expect from an acupuncture treatment.
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is an ancient system of healing developed over thousands of years as part of the Traditional Medicine of China. Acupuncture is used to restore, promote and maintain good health. It is a holistic healthcare system in the sense that it aims to remove the underlying causes of your health problems, rather than just suppressing the symptoms.
How does acupuncture work?
Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on an energetic model. The ancient Chinese recognised the vital energy inherent in all living things. This energy is called Qi (pronounced chee) and it is a force similar to electrical or magnetic energy. Qi flows and circulates in our bodies along specific pathways called Channels or Meridians. Each channel is connected to a particular internal organ and physiological system.
If the Qi in the pathways becomes obstructed, deficient or excessive, disease occurs. A number of factors can cause a Qi imbalance, such as a poor diet, emotions (ie stress, anger, anxiety, fear, grief, etc.), lifestyle, physical trauma, lack of sleep, and lack of exercise.
The channels communicate with the surface of the body at specific locations called acupuncture points. Needles inserted in these points influence the Qi that flows to the internal organs. There are over 365 acupuncture points in the body and different points have different functions, like alleviating or stopping pain, reducing inflammation, stimulating immune function, regulating digestion, treating rashes, and calming the mind.
From a Western biomedical point of view, it is understood that acupuncture influences a number of physiological functions such as the release of endorphins and monoamines (the body’s natural pain killing chemicals), the release of serotonin, the release of white blood cells that help fight inflammation, the restoration of proper blood and lymph circulation in diseased areas, and the stimulation of hormonal glands and immune system functions.
Research into the effects of acupuncture is ongoing and every year scientists discover more information that helps us understand more fully how acupuncture works.
What can acupuncture treat?
In an official report, Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has listed the following symptoms, diseases and conditions that have been shown through controlled trials to be treated effectively by acupuncture:
– Acupuncture for Musculoskeletal conditions
● Lower back pain
● Neck pain
● Knee pain
● Tennis elbow
● Frozen shoulder
● Joint pain and injuries
● General aches and pains
– Acupuncture for Headache, migraine and nervous conditions
● Migraine and headache
● Trigeminal neuralgia
● Facial paralysis
● Dizziness, vertigo, tinnitus
● Dental pain
– Acupuncture for Stress-related, mental and emotional conditions
● Panic attacks
● Emotional distress
● Poor concentration and memory
● General feeling of stress and/or overwhelm
– Acupuncture for Digestive conditions
● IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
● Abdominal pains
● Heart burn, GERD
● Excessive gas or wind
● Chron’s disease
– Acupuncture for Respiratory conditions
● Asthma, wheezing, shortness of breath
● Sore throat
● Hay fever
● Ear problems
– Acupuncture for Women’s Health
● Painful periods
● PMS (Pre-menstrual syndrome)
● Excessively heavy periods, erratic menstrual cycle
● Menopausal syndrome
● Urinary tract infections
– Acupuncture for other conditions
●Low energy levels
● Chronic fatigue syndrome
● Stopping smoking
● Weight management
● Sea sickness
● Urinary disorders (i.e. incontinence)
● Skin conditions
● Male infertility
● Low libido
● Induction of labour
● Breech baby
● High blood pressure
● Sequelae of stroke
For more detailed information and for a complete list of ailments that can treated with acupuncture, please refer to the World Health Organisation – Acupuncture.
Can I have acupuncture even if I am healthy?
Yes, absolutely! In fact, in ancient China, doctors were paid to keep people healthy, and not so much to heal the sick. Acupuncture is also a very powerful preventative measure that helps people stay strong and healthy. Many patients come in for regular maintenance treatments to stay in ‘tip top’ condition so that they can fully enjoy life. Moreover, because acupuncture treatments are so deeply relaxing, many patients find regular, maintenance treatments beneficial for stress relief.
Does acupuncture hurt?
First of all, it is important to underline that acupuncture needles are nothing like the hypodermic needles used by doctors and nurses in Western medicine. Acupuncture needles are as fine as a hair and they are solid, rather than hollow.
The vast majority of patients do not consider acupuncture a painful procedure. Some patients feel a slight ‘Qi sensation’ when the needle is inserted, however most people feel nothing at all. These ‘Qi sensations’ range from a brief sensation of light pressure, warmth, tingling, heaviness or a dull ache in the area being needled. The type and strength of the sensations vary from person to person, and by and large they are fleeting. Most people find acupuncture very relaxing, and many people fall asleep during treatment.
Please stay assured that the experience is nothing like receiving an ordinary injection!
Is acupuncture safe?
When performed by a properly trained and fully insured professional such as myself, acupuncture is extremely safe. Moreover, the needles I use are sterile, single-use, disposable ones, so there is virtually no chance of infection or contagion.
How many acupuncture treatments will I need?
This varies from person to person, on the condition to be treated, and on other factors such as lifestyle, past medical history, and medications. Some people notice improvement after a single treatment. Others take longer to respond as acupuncture requires a cumulative effect.
Generally speaking, the more chronic and enduring your condition, the more treatments you will need. In Chinese Medicine, we speak in terms of courses of treatments, whereby one course is considered ten to twelve acupuncture treatments.
It is important to complete the course of treatment recommended by your acupuncturist in order to see and feel results. Each acupuncture treatment builds on the previous one, so it is vital not to stop after only one or two treatments. The principle is the same as when taking antibiotics: for proper therapeutic results, we must complete their course, and not just take one or two doses.
Most patients begin noticing changes within one to three treatments. After five to seven visits both the patient and the practitioner should feel confident that the treatment is effective. Acute conditions may be fairly well resolved at this point. Chronic conditions however will take longer before you can reach optimum health.
How often should I come for treatment?
Generally I see patients on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. For some acute conditions, such as severe pain, I recommend to come twice a week for the first two to three weeks, until symptoms are contained. As the condition improves, visits are spaced farther apart, every two, and later three weeks or monthly. On average, I see patients weekly or bi-weekly for the first six visits, and then begin decreasing the frequency of visits as symptoms become more intermittent and later disappear.
Once the condition has resolved, many people choose to continue treatment for maintenance and preventative care. These maintenance visits can be monthly or quarterly, depending on the patient’s goals.
How long does each treatment take?
The first treatment usually takes about one and a half hours. This gives me the time to take a full medical history, to discuss your particular health needs and to conduct the first acupuncture treatment. Subsequent treatments last between 45 minutes to an hour.
What should I expect from my first visit?
Before the actual first consultation, you will fill in an Intake form (please come 15 minutes prior to your appointment to allow time to fill in such form). I will then ask you about your main complaint(s). I will take a full case history, asking you questions about all aspects of your life, from your physical and emotional state through to your lifestyle. This is done in keeping with the holistic and comprehensive philosophy of Chinese Medicine. During the consultation I will also examine your tongue and pulse to see how well each of your major organs are functioning and whether there are any imbalances between them.
Based on my findings, I will formulate a diagnosis of your condition and a prognosis for treatment. A treatment plan can then be developed that will best meet your needs. Finally, you will have your first acupuncture treatment.
What should I expect after my acupuncture treatment?
After an acupuncture treatment, most people feel a sense of calmness and relaxation. Many people also experience dramatic results after their first treatment, while others may take a few days, or a few treatments for their specific problem to improve.
Occasionally people feel tired and drowsy after acupuncture, and with some conditions there may be a flare up of symptoms as treatment progresses. This is actually a positive sign indicating that the body is responding to treatment and is starting to resolve the root cause of the problem.
Most people, however, report feeling more relaxed, feeling less pain, improved energy, improved mental clarity and memory, improved digestion and appetite, and a general sense of peace and well-being with acupuncture.
What should I do before an acupuncture treatment?
Please wear loose fitted, comfortable clothing. Avoid stimulants (i.e. coffee) and alcohol, and avoid feeling either too hungry or too full. If possible, other extremes should also be avoided, such as being physically exhausted. For instance, you should avoid doing a long session of hard physical exercise immediately before your acupuncture visit.
Finally, if you regularly scrape your tongue, it would be helpful if you could avoid doing this for several days before each treatment. Tongue examination is an important diagnostic tool in Chinese Medicine, and this will help me make a more accurate diagnosis.
What should I do after an acupuncture treatment?
It is best to avoid stimulants (i.e. coffee) and alcohol as well as any sort of hard or stressful physical or mental activity, for at least two hours after your acupuncture session. This will give the treatment the chance to work at its best.
Should I keep my appointment if I have a cold/flu?
Yes. Acupuncture is highly effective in treating acute conditions such as colds and flus. The treatment will help you relieve your symptoms, while stimulating the immune system and increasing your resistance to viral or bacterial infections.
Can I have acupuncture if I am pregnant?
Yes, absolutely. Acupuncture is safe for use in pregnancy. In fact acupuncture can help relieve many symptoms linked to pregnancy such as morning sickness, low back pain and heartburn. Acupuncture can also turn a breech baby as well as induce labour.
Are there any side effects to acupuncture?
Very rarely. In 2001, the British Medical Journal (vol. 323, n. 7311) published the results of two large-scale studies showing that the benefits of acupuncture far outweigh negative side effects of treatment. The few post-treatment complaints were minor and short-lived, ranging from bruising to needle pain and lasting less than a week, with no serious adverse events noted. In an accompanying editorial, the journal concluded that complications from acupuncture are “remarkably rare and transient” (ranging from 0.1 to 0.7 percent) especially when compared with the rate of adverse drug reactions or prescribing errors in primary care medicine, estimated at 0.5 to 6 percent.
Does my health insurance cover acupuncture?
Some insurance companies cover all the cost of acupuncture treatments, others a percentage. Please ask your insurer and check the small print of your policy.