Frequently Asked Questions About Acupuncture Treatment
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture originated in China 2000-3000 years ago and is one of the oldest, most commonly used medical procedures in the world. Acupuncture started to become more popular in Canada in 1971, when New York Times reporter James Reston wrote about how doctors in China used needles to ease his pain after surgery.
The term acupuncture describes a family of procedures involving stimulation of anatomical points on the body by a variety of techniques. The acupuncture technique that has been most studied scientifically involves penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation.
From a Traditional Chinese perspective, your body has several channels (or meridians) through which you life energy (Qi) flows. Acupuncture is a means of adjusting the body's life energy (Qi) through the insertion of fine needles into carefully selected acupuncture points along the meridians of the body.
Does acupuncture hurt?
It is rare that someone finds an acupuncture treatment to be painful. Most people enjoy treatment and find it very comfortable, and relaxing. That does not mean that treatments are devoid of sensation. Sometimes the needle insertion feels like a quick pinch that rapidly subsides. Some people report a mild tingling, heaviness, warmth, or a dull ache at the acupuncture point, which is a sensation of Qi moving. Acupuncture needles are rounded at the end and therefore do not cut the skin like regular injection needles do. After the treatment it is common for the patient to feel a tremendous sense of relaxation.
How many treatments will I need?
The number of treatments that is required will depend on the severity and duration of the symptoms that you would like to address. The number of treatments can also depend on your goals. For many acute conditions, one or two treatments can be very helpful. For chronic health conditions of years or even life-long duration, a longer course of treatment is normally required. Within the first 4-6 sessions, the effectiveness of the treatment is often evident. Consultation with an experienced practitioner who will ask you questions about yourself and your condition will offer the best guide for the length of treatment.
What happens during an acupuncture treatment?
Acupuncture needles are inserted into specific points and are then manipulated using electrical stimulation or with the hands to create a gentle pumping action, by twirling or leaving in the needle in place for a few minutes. These motions help to enhance the effect of the needles by stimulating the release of your body's natural anti-inflammatories, pain relievers, hormones and neurotransmitters that our nerves, brain and organs use to communicate. From a Traditional Chinese perspective, stimulating specific acupuncture points in the body helps to regulate the flow of energy (Qi) and remove blockages in our energy channels (meridians). It is important that the Qi is flowing properly in the body, in order to restore balance and be healthy.
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What conditions does acupuncture treat?
The World Health Organization (WHO) lists approximately four dozen different conditions that can legitimately be treated by acupuncture. The most common uses for acupuncture in the West include:
- Bone and Joint Problems including arthritis, low back pain, neck pain, sciatica, whiplash, shoulder rotator cuff injuries
- Muscular Problems including inflamed, injured or strained muscles, ligament sprains
- Nerve Related Problems including sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome, numbness and tingling
- Headaches including migraines, cluster and tension type
- Disorders of the Head and Face including facial paralysis, trigeminal neuralgia, vertigo, sinusitis, tinnitus or "ringing in the ears."
- Cardiovascular Disorders including angina, high or low blood pressure, stroke
- Endocrine problems including hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism
- Gastrointestinal disorders including constipation, diarrhea, gastritis, duodenal and gastric ulcers, vomiting
- Gynaecological and obstetric problems including menstrual cramping, bloating, menopausal symptoms, as an aid to labour, morning sickness
- Mental and emotional disorders including addictions, insomnia, symptoms of stress, anxiety
- Respiratory disorders including asthma, bronchitis (acute and chronic), cough (chronic)
- Skin disorders including eczema, psoriasis
How does acupuncture work?
Although many theories have been presented, there is still no easy answer as to exactly how acupuncture works. One explanation is that acupuncture helps to stimulate your body's natural pain killers (endorphins), which can help to relieve the pain associated with certain conditions. Another theory is that acupuncture influences the release of certain neurotransmitters, which are what our nerves use to communicate with our organs, muscles and all the cells in our body. This theory explains why acupuncture is helpful with a variety of nerve and organ related conditions, sleep disorders, muscle and joint problems. A third explanation is that acupuncture helps to stimulate the release of the bodies' natural vasodilators, which help to improve circulation to the injured area, remove wastes and promote healing. Although we may not know precisely how it works, studies have shown that it does work for many people and is effective for a wide variety of conditions.
Do I have to believe in it for it to work?
No, you do not have to believe in it for it to work. While having a positive state of mind helps with any type of treatment, conventional or otherwise, it is not necessary to "believe" in acupuncture for it to work. This is evidenced by clinical study of "non-believers," and by the fact that animals and small children who cannot be instructed to "believe" receive relief through the use of acupuncture.
Is acupuncture safe?
This is a very common question among those who have never experienced an acupuncture treatment. The answer does depend on the skill of the practitioner. If he or she is unsure of what they are doing, it is certainly possible to inflict injury with an acupuncture needle. However, when practiced by a licensed, trained acupuncturist, acupuncture is extremely safe. One of the great aspects about acupuncture is that it can help with a variety of conditions without making you drowsy, spaced out, or nauseous or without some of the other side effects of drugs or medications.
Are there any side effects or complications?
As previously mentioned, acupuncture is an extremely safe method of treatment, and as such, side effects and complications are extremely rare when treated by an experienced, licensed practitioner. However, a small number of patients do have reactions to the procedure which may include nausea, lightheadedness and fainting. As in any matter pertaining to health, any concerns should be discussed with the practitioner prior to treatment and following treatment to ensure maximum effectiveness.
Are there any contraindications for acupuncture?
There are very few situations where acupuncture is not advised. These are the most common:
• Patients with bleeding disorders (hemophillia)
• Pregnant patients - certain acupuncture points should not be used during pregnancy
• If the patient has a severe psychotic condition
• If the patient is under the influence of drugs or alcohol
Are the needles clean?
Before undergoing any acupuncture treatment, ask the practitioner about their sterilization procedures. All registered acupuncturists are required by law to sterilize needles. In our office, we only use disposable, sterile needles which are discarded after the treatment of each patient. Your safety is our greatest concern.
What should I expect on my first visit?
Acupuncture is no different than any other form of medical treatment. Upon entering our office, our receptionist will welcome you and request that you complete our patient forms located in the New Patient Center. This paperwork provides us with your health history and information on your condition.
Next, you will have a consultation with one of our medical acupuncturists to discuss your health-related problems, concerns, and potential treatment options. This initial visit is designed for our acupuncturist to learn more about you, your condition, and expectations to determine how acupuncture can meet your goals.
After your consultation, we will perform a complete a thorough examination. During the examination we may test your blood pressure, reflexes, strength or flexibility. Other standard neurological, orthopedic, postural, and physical tests may also be performed as well. However, nothing will be done in our office without your consent.
Report of Findings
Once the information is collected and examinations are performed, we will give you a detailed report of all findings and answer any questions including:
1. How can you help me?
2. How often do I need to come in?
3. What will my treatment cost?
After reviewing your health history, goals, and completing a thorough examination, our acupuncturist will discuss recommendations and notify you if your condition requires care with other providers. We will provide the best treatment and wellness program for your needs.
At the conclusion of this initial appointment, you can choose to experience your first treatment. Treatment is interactive, so you can ask questions anytime.
Prior to leaving, the doctor will suggest a wellness program to incorporate outside of treatment. If you are in pain when you first come into our office this may include: ice or heat application instructions, certain activities or positions to avoid, and at home exercises and/or stretches. If you desire, our wellness team will work with you also to create healthy habits and routines for your lifestyle. Every person is unique, therefore everyone requires a customized wellness plan.
Can children receive acupuncture?
Yes, children can receive acupuncture and often respond very well. However, in cases where the children are uneasy about the needles, a practitioner may choose to use an acupressure treatment (massage of the acupuncture points), as opposed to acupuncture.
Do insurance companies cover acupuncture treatment?
Many insurance companies provide coverage for acupuncture. Be sure to check with your plan administrator for details.