The Point Behind Acupuncture
Traditional Chinese Medicine: Traditional Chinese Medicine is a holistic healthcare practice dating back more than 2000 years. The practice takes a natural healing approach by stimulating the body’s own healing abilities with attention on the body and how it relates to the mind and spirit (Dr. Weil, n.d.). According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, Traditional Chinese Medicine aims to balance the patient’s body through work on their external environment, emotions, and lifestyle factors, including diet and exercise. Below are some of the balancing therapies practiced in Traditional Chinese Medicine:
- Acupuncture: the use of small needles inserted into the skin using specific patterns to stimulate different parts of the body.
- Cupping Therapy: the use of heated glass cups applied to the skin that creates suction to stimulate the flow of energy.
- Herbal Medicine: the use healing medicinal plants.
- Exercise: the use of lower intensity flow movements.
- Massage: soft issue manipulation.
Traditional Chinese Therapies: Dr. Weil, a physician and author, deeply embedded in alternative care practices, describes the objective of Traditional Chinese Medicine best:
“Traditional Chinese Medicine encompasses how the human body interacts with all aspects of life and the environment, including the seasons, weather, time of day, our diet and emotional states. It seems the key to health as the harmonious and balanced functioning of body, mind, and spirit, and holds that the balance of health depends on the unobstructed flow of qi (pronounced chee) or “life energy” through the body, along pathways known as meridians. Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners see disease because of disruptions in the circulation of qi” (Dr. Weil, n.d.).
There are many different treatment therapies practiced in Chinese medicine to achieve this balance described by Dr. Weil. Let’s take a look at some of them...
Making Your Introduction: Your first visit to an acupuncturist will most likely be a consultation. During this visit, your practitioner will want to get a thorough understanding of your pain, discomfort, and any other concerns to develop the best plan of action for your treatment.
This typically involves a casual conversation about your general health, including eating and sleeping habits, medical history, emotional wellbeing, as well as information about menstrual cycles and past pregnancies whenever relevant.
Some of the questions being asked may not seem relevant to your current concern, but this is intentional. Rather than just treating symptoms, Traditional Chinese Medicine examines overall health, and the information you provide will help your practitioner create a holistic picture of your health to create a comprehensive treatment plan (Dr. Weil, n.d.). Your consultation may also include an assessment, so let’s go over that as well...
Initial Assessment: Once you have had a chance to make introductions, including a discussion surrounding some of your medical history and current health concerns, your practitioner will take some time to do an assessment. This involves checking your pulse, maybe a look at your tongue for color and coating, and in some cases, a quick physical examination if your concerns warrant one. Once assessed, your practitioner can better recommend your personalized treatment to address your concerns. This treatment may also include some dietary or lifestyle
changes as well as some other Chinese Medicine therapies in addition to the acupuncture treatment.
Know Before You Go: For this initial appointment, as with all acupuncture related treatments, try to wear loose fitting clothing that allows for movement, and access to your upper arms and lower legs. Do not arrive with a full stomach that could make it hard to relax, but also do not have an empty stomach, as this could cause some post-acupuncture lightheadedness. And be sure to tell your practitioner if it is your first-time receiving acupuncture so that they can tailor the appointment to your first-time needs (Dr. Kirkham, n.d.).
Arrive to Your Appointment Prepared: You can expect your consultation to last anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour and a half, so come prepared for that. It is also a good idea to gather any information you might want to share, such as the date of your last menstrual cycle if your concern is cycle related. Or maybe it is a list of common foods in your diet if your concern is related to allergies or digestion. Another good tip is to make sure you do not schedule any strenuous activity prior to or after acupuncture. You want to enter your session as calm as possible, and afterward, you want to maintain the relaxed state achieved through your session. Acupuncture appointments following the consultation should be anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, and depending on the health concern, it may be recommended that you complete a series of treatments for the best results.
What to Expect: The thought of being poked with needles keeps many people away from acupuncture or causes anxiety for those with upcoming appointments, but rest assured, receiving acupuncture is fairly painless. Some people claim that they feel a little tinge of pain or electricity that subsides quickly once the needle is in, while others claim to feel nothing at all. To start your acupuncture session, your practitioner will typically meet with you first to discuss how you are feeling and to take your pulse. They will then decide the best course of treatment. You may be asked to remove all or partial clothing and to get comfortable on top of a massage-type table - the practitioner will leave the room for this. The needles used in acupuncture are one-time use, and your practitioner will open each packet as they set the needles into your skin. Once the needles are placed, you will be left alone to relax, sometimes with quiet, relaxing music. Your practitioner may come in at some point to check on you, or to adjust the needles already in place. Your only job is to relax and let the needles do their work.
What to Expect After Treatment: In general, people tend to feel relaxed after an acupuncture treatment. And the days following might even mean better sleep, digestion, and an overall sense of well-being. But some patients report having a deeper, more intense effect in the days following a session. This is because acupuncture can sometimes bring to the surface some things that have been accumulating in your system. New Leaf Natural Medicine lists the following as some initial reactions to treatment:
- Fatigue: acupuncture can bring on intense tiredness following treatment, or in the days after that.
- Emotional Discharge: acupuncture can cause increased expression of emotion both during and after treatment.
- Intensified Symptoms: acupuncture can cause symptoms to become more intense after a session. Due to this intensity of some of the reactions, sometimes people feel unsure about continuing treatment, but the effects are beneficial, and they are a necessary part of the process (New Leaf Medicine, n.d.).
It May Feel Worse Before It Feels Better: The sometimes-intense symptoms following acupuncture treatments are a part of the balancing process, whether it feels like that or not. Here is what is happening when you are experiencing these symptoms:
- Fatigue: the fatigue that sometimes follows an acupuncture treatment can feel like an undeserved hangover, but sleep is how your body heals, and the fatigue you are feeling is your body’s signal to slow down and let it do its work.
- Emotional Discharge: acupuncture works to harmonize the body, and in the process, it can sometimes reveal our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual sensitivities. However, that emotion rears its head, it is important to accept it rather than trying to push it back down. You are embarking on a journey to balance, and emotions are a part of that journey.
- Intensified Symptoms: acupuncture stimulates the body to help it heal faster, and as a result, it can intensify your symptoms as your body works through it. The increased intensity means that your body is healing.
(New Leaf Natural Medicine, n.d.).
What Does Acupuncture Treat: The organs are the focus of most Traditional Chinese Medicine treatments, including the kidneys, heart, spleen, liver, lung, gallbladder, small intestine, and large intestine. And the most common targeted treatments are for the following concerns: chronic pain, arthritis, fatigue, infertility, liver disease, headaches, indigestion, hormonal imbalances, high blood pressure, PMS or menopause symptoms, cancer recovery or chemotherapy. So maybe you are wondering just how acupuncture works. Stay with me...
Your Body’s Vital Energy: Before receiving acupuncture, it’s a good idea first to know how the treatment works to get the most benefit from the treatment — knowing means understanding the body’s Qi. In Chinese medicine, Qi (pronounced chee) is generally translated to mean “vital energy,” and it refers to the energy that runs through the meridians or energy channels in your body. If there is a pain, discomfort, or disease in the body, it is believed that the Qi is blocked, and when this occurs, the body is out of balance and more susceptible to pain and disease (Hafner, n.d.). The purpose of acupuncture is to restore balance and get the Qi flowing unobstructed throughout the body to recover health and wellbeing. Still not sure if acupuncture is right for you? Have any stress? Tension in your shoulders or neck?
Acupuncture for Stress Relief: One of the top concerns people out seek acupuncture is for stress-related issues. This includes headaches, tight shoulders, eye strain, anxiety, and depression. And as many of us know, if untreated the long-term effects of stress go beyond those tight shoulders and tension headaches, so many of us feel regularly. Acupuncturist Jeremy Riesenfeld of Transformational Acupuncture lists the effects of
chronic stress as follows:
-Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and personality disorders
-Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, high blood pressure, abnormal heart
rhythms, heart attacks, and stroke
-Obesity and other eating disorders
-Sexual dysfunction, such as impotence and premature ejaculation in men and loss of
sexual desire in both men and women
-Skin and hair problems, such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema, and permanent hair loss
-Gastrointestinal problems, such as GERD, gastritis, ulcerative colitis, and irritable colon
So… how does acupuncture help with stress?
Acupuncture Points for Stress Management: Here is a great video from Chrissie Natoli, a licensed acupuncturist, demonstrating a few points that your acupuncturist might target to help manage the effects of stress. This video is also a great way to get an idea of what to expect during an acupuncture session in terms of the body’s positioning and how needles are inserted into the skin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acKvsTuBU2E
Acupuncture for Better Sleep: Aside from stress, insomnia is another major concern for many acupuncture patients, and with countless over the counter and prescription sleep aids on the market, some habit-forming, acupuncture is a great alternative treatment for overcoming insomnia. The British Acupuncture Council states that the success of acupuncture for insomnia is possible. Rather than treating just insomnia with medication, acupuncture looks at a patient’s sleeping and waking habits for a holistic look at what caused insomnia to create an individualized treatment unique to the patient’s needs. How do you handle your sleepless nights?
What’s Electro-Acupuncture? In cases of chronic pain, or when a practitioner finds an accumulation of Qi, electro-acupuncture may be employed to get the Qi flowing. During an electro-acupuncture treatment, needles are applied using the traditional method, and then small clips are applied to two of the needles that run a light electric current between the select needles to stimulate a larger area (AcupunctureToday, n.d.). Electro-acupuncture might be used to treat:
Next, see electro-acupuncture in action...
Electro-Acupuncture Treatment: Below is a video demonstrating how electro-acupuncture is used by a practitioner on a patient to treat a swollen knee: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFnaFuSlAuY
I Feel Better, Now What? One common misconception when it comes to acupuncture is that you should only go when you need treatment for a specific health concern. But regular maintenance is a great way to ensure that you keep your Qi flowing, and your body and mind in good health. TCM Wellness Center for Acupuncture in Minneapolis likens acupuncture
maintenance to that of a car: “Once you have completed an initial or comprehensive acupuncture treatment plan, it is important to follow up with routine visits to maintain your new-found level of health. After all, if it was worth the investment to regain your health, then you owe it to yourself to maintain it. The key is to remain proactive and to stay one step ahead of potential problems before they have a chance to develop. It is far less costly to take your car to the mechanic for routine maintenance work than it is to wait for a breakdown” (TCM Wellness, n.d.). Of course, with our bodies and minds, we don’t have the option to do a trade-in when we breakdown, so maintenance is a wonderful, proactive measure when it comes to your health and wellness.
The Eastern and Western Medicine Approach: Many people find great benefit in the balance of Western and Eastern medicines combined when seeking treatment. This is good when maybe a certain medication is required that has side effects that cause pain or discomfort. Acupuncture can really be beneficial for helping to ease those pains or discomforts. The same goes when you are receiving acupuncture but feel that you should maybe consult your primary doctor as well. The belief in Chinese Medicine is that the patient should feel empowered by and good about the decisions they make for their health and wellness, so whatever that is for each individual is their choice.
Finding Your Acupuncturist: A great way to begin your search for a great acupuncturist near you is to use this online directory by state: http://www.asacu.org/find-a-practitioner/
Simply click on your state, and it will direct you to a list of practitioners in your area. One thing to keep in mind as you look through the list is to make sure the practitioner you choose targets your areas of concern. While many acupuncturists have a general practice, some are more specialized, and may only cater to say athletes, or they may focus solely on acne or facials. Do a little research by making a call or perusing the practitioner’s website before making your appointment. Another thing to consider is your insurance. Some insurances cover alternative care, such as acupuncture, so be sure to connect with your provider before beginning your search.
And You’re Off: Thank you so much for attending this event. I hope this experience has left you feeling ready to give acupuncture a try! Stick around for another minute as I have some other resources to share with you, should you be interested in some great reads.
For Further Reading: Below are the resources used to put this presentation together for you:
Acupuncture Today. (n.d.). “Electroacupuncture”. Retrieved from http://www.acupuncturetoday.com/abc/electroacupuncture.php, 4/10/2018.
American Society of Acupuncturists. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.asacu.org/find- a-practitioner/, 4/9/2018.
Axe, Dr. (n.d.). “Traditional Chinese Medicine Benefits, Herbs & Therapies”. Retrieved from https://draxe.com/traditional-chinese-medicine/, 4/9/2018.
British Acupuncture Council. (n.d.). “Ca Acupuncture Cure Insomnia?”. Retrieved from https://www.acupuncture.org.uk/public-content/public-ask-an-expert/ask-an-expert-neuro-and-psycho-logical/ask-an-expert-insomnia/4934-can-acupuncture-help-cure-insomnia.html, 4/10/2018. Chen, Xin. (2017).
“Acupuncture relieves Pain”. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjxkD29Z38s, 4/9/2018.
Fuentes, Sindy. (2012). “Acupuncture Facial Rejuvenation Part 1”. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nS3r2s1Ekzg, 4/10/2018.
Hafner, Christopher. (n.d.). “What is Qi?”. Retrieved from https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/traditional-chinese-medicine/what-qi-and-other-concepts, 4/9/2018.
Kirkham, Derek, Dr. (n.d.). “What is Acupuncture and How Does it Work?”. Retrieved from http://acupuncturistseattle.com/acupuncture-learning-center/what-is-acupuncture/, 4/9/2018.
Natoli, Chrissie. (2011). “Acupuncture Demo for Stress Management and Stress relief Therapy”. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acKvsTuBU2E, 4/9/2018.
New Leaf Natural medicine. (n.d.) “Post-Treatment Reaction to Acupuncture.” Retrieved from http://newleafnaturalmedicine.com/2013/post-treatment-reactions-to-acupuncture/, 4/10/2018.
Riesenfeld, Jeremy. (2016). “How Acupuncture Works for Stress, Anxiety and Depression: the Physiology”. Retrieved from https://www.dc-acupuncture.com/stress-emotional-health/how-acupuncture-works-for-stress-anxiety-and-depression-the-physiology, 4/9/2018.
Weil, Dr. (n.d.). “Acupuncture”. Retrieved from https://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/balanced-living/wellness-therapies/acupuncture/, 4/9/2018.
Weil, Dr. (n.d.). “Traditional Chinese Medicine”. Retrieved from https://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/balanced-living/wellness-therapies/traditional-chinese-medicine/, 4/9/2018.
Wylde, Charmain. (2010) “The Wonder of Chinese Medicine”. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQJFp5UIaOY, 4/9/2018.
Xu, Li, Dr. (2016). “Acupuncture for Knee Pain and Knee swelling”. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFnaFuSlAuY, 4/10/2018.