Frequently Asked Questions in Acupuncture

Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on an energetic model rather than the biochemical model of Western medicine. The ancient Chinese recognized the vital energy inherent in all living things. This energy is called Qi (pronounced chee).

Over thousands of years of practice, physicians have discovered a system of cyclic energy flowing in the human body along specific pathways called meridians. Each meridian is associated with a particular physiological system and internal organ.

Just as water flowing through a landscape tends to seek the path of least resistance, so Qi flows through the body. The flow of Qi follows the folds and creases of the body's landscape. It follows the divisions between muscles and the clefts between muscles and bones, collecting in the small hollows and depressions of the body to form pools of Qi.

These pools of Qi are places where Qi is concentrated and more accessible. They are the acupuncture points, where Qi can be accessed and manipulated through the use of finger pressure (acupressure), massage techniques (tuina; literally pinch and pull), dermal friction (gua sha), cupping, moxibustion (a form of heat therapy), and, of course, acupuncture.

When the Qi in the pathways becomes obstructed, deficient, excessive, or imbalanced, disease occurs. The meridians communicate with the surface of the body at specific locations called acupuncture points. Needles inserted in these points influence the Qi that flows to internal organs. Acupuncture can also affect specific areas of pain associated with injury or trauma.

A needle inserted near the area of overstrained muscle or tendon will increase the flow of Qi to that area, which reduces pain and accelerates the healing process. Using a system of pulse and tongue diagnosis, along with findings from other signs and symptoms, the flow of the meridian system is determined. A treatment plan is then formulated to help the body to achieve a balanced state of health.

Acupuncture is very safe; there have been three surveys in the last six years in the UK which have shown that acupuncture is amongst the safest therapies in use today. Out of 68,000 recorded treatments in two of the 2001 surveys, 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.

The needles used are extremely safe, because they are sterile, individually packaged, and disposable. As a licensed acupuncturist I have had extensive training in anatomy so as to avoid inserting a needle in a place that can cause damage. This clinic only uses sterile, single-use, disposable needles.

I am dedicated to making your acupuncture treatment as comfortable as it is effective. Most people barely feel a thing when needles are inserted. Some people feel a slight pinch, similar to a mosquito or gnat bite.

Most patients find the treatments very relaxing and many fall asleep during the treatment. Acupuncture may include a variety of non-needle techniques, such as heat treatment (called moxibustion), cupping, acu-pressure, and herbal applications.

The number of treatments will depend on the nature of the complaint, its severity, and how long it has been present. Typically acupuncture treatments are given once a week. If the condition is acute and painful, treatments may be needed 2-3 times per week until the condition starts to come under control. On average, a typical course of treatment requires 10-12 treatments over 2-4 months. The exact duration of treatment depends on the condition, your basic level of health, and how well you respond to acupuncture.

Through Traditional Chinese Medicine, a patient will become more aware of his or her own body, thus increasing its ability to maintain well-being. After achieving the results they are looking for, many people come in once every 2-3 months for a seasonal tune-up.

Chinese and Western medicine complement each other and can be integrated to offer optimal health care. In cases where medical circumstances can be dealt with more effectively by Western medicine, I will recommend that you contact a physician.

During your first office visit, we spend a lot of time getting a complete picture of your health and lifestyle. I examine the condition of your tongue (is it cracked, coated, excessively pink? purple? etc.), and check your pulse on both wrists (the quality of your pulse gives information about possible imbalances). I'll also ask questions about your emotional state and specific symptoms you may have.

This is done because unlike Western medicine, TCM treats the whole person instead of focusing on the symptoms of your condition. The first visit (with diagnosis) lasts approximately an hour including an acupuncture treatment. Your subsequent visits will be shorter - usually about half an hour long. Well make a brief review of your progress followed by an acupuncture treatment.

Chinese medicine is a medical theory, not a belief system. Acupuncture works whether you believe in it or not. Of course, having a positive attitude that you will indeed feel better is important to healing in general. Good results are seen in the majority of cases. When all other treatment methods have failed, this indicates a systematic imbalance - exactly what acupuncture excels at treating.

Acupuncture is widely used on animals, including horses, dogs and cats. Animals respond incredibly well to acupuncture without understanding or believing any of it!

You should try not to have a large meal within an hour of your appointment as the process of digestion will alter the pattern of your pulse. You should also avoid alcohol and food or drinks which colour your tongue, such as coffee, immediately prior to treatment.

You may feel rather relaxed and calm. If the treatment has been particularly strong you could feel quite tired or drowsy for a few hours, so plan to take it easy after your treatment.

Most patients report they feel energized and a sense of well being afterwards. Occasionally there may be a short-term flair-up of your symptoms as your Qi clears and resettles itself.

If you are receiving treatment from your doctor then it is sensible 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.

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.

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