An Introduction to Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a comprehensive system of health care with a clinical history of more than 3,000 years. TCM is based on the concept of “Qi” (pronounced “chee”), Qi is a vital energy that animates our bodies, nourishes us and moves us. Qi flows through our bodies via meridians or pathways that cover our entire bodies and are connected to our major internal organs. Imbalance and disease occur when this flow of energy is blocked, we experience optimal health when our energy is ample and freely flowing, thus invigorating the organs and tissues.
Qi is said to affect a person’s spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical condition. According to TCM, Qi has two forces, Yin and Yang, they are opposing forces that work together to create harmony and balance. Nothing is ever all Yin or all Yang, both exist in all things, including people. Many of the major organs of the body are Yin-Yang pairs that must be in balance to be healthy. When a person’s yin and yang are not in balance, Qi can become blocked. Blocked Qi causes pain, illness, emotional imbalance or other health problems.
TCM uses acupuncture, herbal therapy, moxibustion, cupping, diet, meditation, physical exercise, and Tui Na massage to restore health by unblocking Qi and correcting the balance of Yin and Yang within the person.
These therapies work with the natural vital energy inherent within all living things (Qi) to promote the body’s ability to heal itself. This system of health care has been (and is currently) used extensively in Asia, but is rapidly growing in popularity in Europe and North America due to its natural and holistic nature that addresses the root of the problem rather than simply managing the symptoms.
Frequently Asked Questions
How does acupuncture work?
Acupuncture works by inserting hair-thin needles into specific points along meridians to restore balance to the flow of Qi throughout the body, thus bringing the body back into balance and promoting health. Scientific measurements of acupuncture show an increased circulation of blood to the area being treated and an increase in the hormones called endorphins, which block pain and promote healing, strengthen the immune system, and promote blood circulation.
The effect of physiological function and health from Acupuncture follows a holistic medical paradigm to regulate the function of the human body, calm the nervous system, regulate the endocrine system, and increasing resistance by enhancing the immune system.
Acupuncture points have very specific functions: They can improve digestion, increase white or red blood cell production, increase or decrease heart rate and blood pressure, release pain, relaxes tension, increase energy and circulation, just to name a few. When the energy within an organ or an associated pathway is blocked, insufficient or excessive, pain or dysfunction is the result. Stimulating the correct points with the appropriate technique balances the energy flow so that health is restored.
How does a TCM practitioner identify and treat disease?
Traditional Chinese Medicine uses an intricate system of pulse and tongue diagnosis, palpation of points and meridians, medical history and other signs and symptoms to create a composite diagnosis. A treatment plan is then formulated to enable the body to achieve a balanced state of health. This plan may include one or several of the following:
– Traditional Chinese herbal formulas
– Tui Na massage
– Diet therapy
– Qi Gong and Meditation practices
– Lifestyle changes and exercise
Many conditions may be alleviated very rapidly by acupuncture and TCM. However, some conditions that have developed over a course of years will be relieved only with slow, steady progress. As in any form of healing, the patient’s attitude, diet, determination and lifestyle will affect the outcome of a course of treatment.
Does acupuncture hurt?
Acupuncture should not hurt. It is normal to sometimes feel heaviness, aching or tingling around the site of the needle insertion, this is called the “De Qi sensation”, achieving this sensation has been shown in clinical studies to increase the effectiveness of the acupuncture treatment.
Acupuncture needles are as fine as one or two strands of hair and cannot deliver the same sensation as a shot you would get at your doctor’s office. The point is smooth (not hollow with cutting edges like a hypodermic needle) and insertion through the skin is not painful like injection or blood sampling. The risk of bruising and skin irritation is less than when using a hollow needle. From patient to patient and from point to point, however, reactions do vary, from completely painless to very sensitive, with most falling somewhere in the middle. The type and quality of needle used, along with the skill of the practitioner make a significant difference in the sensations experienced by the patient.
Few reject acupuncture on the basis of any temporary discomfort. Nearly all patients experience a significant level of relaxation and may even fall asleep during treatment. Following an acupuncture treatment, many patients feel a heightened sense of well-being which may last for several days.
For those who are unusually sensitive or who have an aversion to needles I’d be happy to discuss alternatives with you.
What Conditions Can Acupuncture Treat?
The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine’s ability to treat more than 43 common disorders, including some of the following:
– Gastrointestinal disorders: such as food allergies, peptic ulcer, chronic diarrhea, constipation, indigestion, gastrointestinal weakness, anorexia and gastritis
– Urogenital disorders: including stress incontinence, urinary tract infections and sexual dysfunction
– Gynecological disorders: such as irregular, heavy, or painful menstruation, infertility in women and men, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
– Respiratory disorders: such as emphysema, sinusitis, asthma, allergies and bronchitis
– Disorders of the bones, muscles, joints and nervous system: such as arthritis, migraine headaches, neuralgia, insomnia, dizziness and low back, neck and shoulder pain
– Circulatory disorders: such as hypertension, angina pectoris, arteriosclerosis and anemia
– Emotional and psychological disorders: including depression and anxiety
– Addictions: such as alcohol, nicotine and drugs
– Eye, ear, nose and throat disorders: such as tinnitus, hearing loss, colds and flu, vision problems, and diseases of the eye
– Supportive therapy: for other chronic and painful debilitating disorders
Acupuncture addresses most pain and illness. Most commonly treated are back pain, chronic pain, headaches, muscle spasms, tendonitis, arthritis, allergies and other immune system dysfunctions, menstrual disorders, PMS, infertility issues in men and women, menopause symptoms, digestive problems, fatigue, insomnia, asthma, depression, colds and flu, high blood pressure, and other stress-related disorders. Also responding well are bladder and gall bladder disorders, prolapsed organs, diarrhea, irregularities in the heartbeat, vision and hearing problems, facial paralysis, rheumatism, circulatory problems, post-operative pain, and addictive behaviors. This is a partial list.
Can acupuncture help cancer patients?
Acupuncture is used to treat the side effects of traditional treatment: chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. Side effects of cancer therapy that acupuncture addresses:
– Dry mouth
– Hot flashes
– Recovery from surgery
Are There Any Side Effects?
It is quite common especially within the first couple of treatments to have a sensation of deep relaxation or rarely, mild disorientation immediately following the treatment. These pass within a short time, and never require anything more than a bit of rest to overcome.
Occasionally the original symptoms being treated worsen for a few days, or other general changes in appetite, sleep, bowel or urination patterns, or emotional state may be triggered. These should not cause concern, as they are simply indications that healing is occurring.
Acupuncture restores the body’s natural, healthy function without side effects. Chinese medicine sees and treats the person as a connected whole, not as isolated symptoms or as a disease. Thus, it does not allow aggressive treatment of one symptom or part of the body while forgetting the effects on the whole person!
Is Acupuncture safe?
Yes. Only sterile, single use disposable needles are used. Complications due to acupuncture are extremely rare and there are virtually no adverse side effects. Over five thousand years of clinical experience have shown acupuncture to be a safe and effective medical treatment. Advise your acupuncturist if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant so that they know to avoid points used to induce labour.
Out of 68,000 recorded treatments in two 2001 surveys in the UK, there were only 14 minor (bruising, feeling nauseous) adverse events. There have been very few reports of serious adverse events, and most adverse effects are transient, lasting no more than a day or so.
Can children receive Acupuncture?
Yes. Generally speaking children do well with acupuncture because their energy is very responsive and they usually have fewer complicating factors. As a result their course of treatment may be shorter and fewer needles required; in infants acupressure and Tui Na are more commonly used.
What should I do before an acupuncture treatment?
To receive the greatest benefit from your treatment, the following suggestions are important:
– Do not eat a large meal immediately before or after your treatment, but do not come excessively hungry.
– Do not exercise heavily.
– Do not consume alcoholic beverages for six hours before or after your treatment.
– Wear loose clothing.
– Plan your visits so that after the treatment you can rest and not have to be at peak performance.
– Take any prescription medicines as directed by your regular doctor.
How many treatments are needed and how often?
Frequency and number depend on how long the person’s condition existed before starting acupuncture, whether or not the patient has had long-term drug therapy and/or surgery, and on the overall depth of the problem. Coming for treatment in the beginning stages of illness and having avoided more intrusive methods reduce the length of the treatment period also, patients differ in their responsiveness to acupuncture.
Weekly treatments are the norm and over time the period between each treatment increases; however there are conditions requiring more frequent visits, like severe pain and stroke. Acupuncture therapy has more chance of success when the patient seeks treatment as soon as possible after an illness or injury, follows the course of treatment faithfully, and makes appropriate dietary and lifestyle changes to support the healing process.
To maximize the chance for recovery and prevent problems from becoming chronic, regular treatments should be given until the problem is resolved. Each subsequent treatment should give a better and more prolonged result and the symptoms should gradually disappear as the treatments continue.
Do I Have to Believe in Acupuncture For It To Work?
No. Acupuncture is used successfully to treat animals that cannot understand the process or “believe” that it will make them better. A positive attitude towards wellness may reinforce the effects of the treatment received, just as a negative attitude may hinder the effects of acupuncture or any other treatment. A neutral attitude will not block the treatment results.
Should I tell my doctor?
If you are receiving treatment from your doctor then it is advisable to mention that you plan to have acupuncture. The acupuncture treatment may enable you to reduce or even stop taking some forms of medication, but you should always consult your doctor regarding any change of prescription. Your acupuncturist needs to know about any medication you are taking as this may affect your response to the acupuncture treatment.
Should I continue with my prescribed medication while undergoing a course of acupuncture treatment?
Yes, at least until you have discussed this with your doctor or the practitioner who prescribed the medication. Many people seek the help of an acupuncturist because of dissatisfaction with drug treatment, because it does not seem to be working or because the side effects are unacceptable. DO NOT stop taking any medication without professional guidance.
What should I look for in an acupuncturist?
As well as checking that they are registered with a professional body and have appropriate insurance coverage, you may find that your personal rapport with the practitioner is important. It is helpful to find a practitioner with whom you feel comfortable, who understands what you want from treatment, and who can explain clearly what they expect acupuncture treatment might do for you.
What is the history of acupuncture as a complementary and alternative treatment?
The oldest medical book known, written in China 4000 years ago, describes the use of acupuncture to treat medical problems. The use of the treatment spread to other Asian countries and to other regions of the world, including to Europe by the 1700s. In the United States, acupuncture has been used for about 200 years.