Acupuncture is the insertion of thin needles through the skin at therapeutically strategic locations. Acupuncture has been used in China for at least 5000 years; and, the oldest books on this procedure and the ancient medical understanding that informs its use date from around 2000 years ago. Acupuncture is the world’s oldest, continuously performed, and safest medical procedure. It is prehistoric and historic. Acupuncture origins precede written texts. Archeological digs in China have found acupuncture needles that date 5000 years back; and an intact corpse found in the Italian Alps several years ago showed tattoo markings denoting acupuncture points – again, 5000 years old.Yet, there is also a written medical record in China going back about 2000 years to the first compilation of theories and procedures, titled The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine. From then until now, there has been a rich and continuously mined medical history of experience and speculation that is still the basis for treatment and discovery.
There is not one acupuncture but many different schools of thought that inform treatment. On mainland China, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) dominates how acupuncture is performed in clinics and hospitals and is the most common kind of Chinese medical theory taught in the U.S.A. There is Japanese acupuncture from Japan; Korean acupuncture from Korea; French-Vietnamese acupuncture that is used in France by M.D.s and is also taught in the U.S.A. to American doctors and is called “Classical” when taught to non-M.D. acupuncturists in the U.S.A.; Five Element acupuncture that originated with Dr. Worsley in England is also taught here as well. The majority of acupuncturists in America learn TCM and national board exams follow the theory and practice of TCM. There are also teachers and practitioners who follow none of these particular schools but were taught from how their teachers taught them in traditions going back many generations, sometimes within families: Taoist acupuncture, Hong Kong style acupuncture and others.
Each way of doing acupuncture, TCM, Japanese, Korean, “Classical,” Five Element, Taoist, Hong Kong and others have their own strengths and weaknesses. And you will find that there are not a few acupuncturists of some years of experience who use ideas and treatments from any number of schools.
When I went to New England School of Acupuncture — the first acupuncture school in the U.S.A. — thirty years ago in Watertown, Massachusetts, I was schooled in TCM and Dr. Tin Yau So’s Hong Kong style of Chinese Medicine. I was also exposed to several of the other points of view of Chinese Medicine as well, especially Japanese. Over the next several decades, I have attended innumerable workshops and read and studied many other styles of practice. I am an eclectic.
I do what I believe works the best from all the different ways of acupuncture that I have learned.
For those considering acupuncture as a treatment option, a common question is what happens during a treatment?
To begin, we talk first, sometimes for 15 minutes, sometimes for as long as 1½ hours. This is the initial evaluation.
If your problem is a simple sore knee from an old basketball injury or an elbow that aches day and night after tennis or a hand that is numb from too many hours on the computer, and it is clear that the ache or pain is not part of a greater problem — a swollen achy big toe that might be a symptom of gout or swollen and painful joints that suggest any number of rheumatologic problems — then the evaluation is short. If the problem is internal, whether menstrual cramps or migraine headaches, irritable bowels or insomnia, anxiety or depression, then the initial interview is far longer. In either case, many questions are asked, observations made and all of it processed through the diagnostic system of Chinese Medicine.
Then comes the acupuncture. Generally, acupuncture needles are placed at points in the body and then left in place for 20-30 minutes. The needles are pre-packaged, pre-sterilized and disposable. They are only used once. For pain problems, most patients feel some relief, although rarely complete relief, after one session. For internal problems, most patients feel very relaxed after a session. (Considering that needles have been intrusively inserted through your skin, that is an interesting effect.)
The office itself is quiet and comfortable. And music of your choice may be played for your relaxation. The needles are painlessly removed and you are asked how you feel as you get ready to depart and you are scheduled for your next session.
Will I feel better right away? Generally, it is two steps forward and one step back. That is, while there is immediate relief, within a day or two that relief diminishes to a degree, but if the treatment has been effective, the patient does not slip all the way back. The difference between two steps and one step is the measure of permanent relief. In subsequent sessions, that one step at a time adds up until the problem is gone.
Some, however, experience one step back and then two steps forward. This is the minority position, but not at all unusual. That is, the patient feels a bit worse after the treatment, but some time later gets considerable relief, in some cases even more relief than the patients who get better right away.
If there is no overall relief, that is, two steps forward are followed by two back, this is not a good sign and it could be that acupuncture can offer only temporary amelioration of symptoms and not cure. On the other hand, sometimes, it will take several sessions to see even preliminary results. As a rule of thumb, if there is no relief from a simple pain problem in three sessions it is doubtful whether further treatment will help.
However, with internal issues, there is great variability in the number of sessions before substantive results show up. Some conditions show results quicker than others. Migraine headaches, menopausal symptoms, allergies and anxiety should show at least slight partial relief immediately. Skin problems, eczema and psoriasis, or severe menstrual problems like endometriosis or uterine fibroids and other problems can take months even to show the slightest promise.
And for many internal problems Chinese herbs are the preferred or a necessary supplementary therapy.
Acupuncture therapy in the modern clinic is used for a variety of medical problems but most effectively for:
Aches and pains of the muscles, tendons and joints:
½ of any general acupuncture practice is the treatment of ordinary and debilitating aches and pains. Shoulder pain, neck pain, lower to middle to upper back pain, tennis elbow, carpal tunnel and wrist and hand pains, knees, ankles, sciatic nerve pain, when the pain is in the muscles, tendons and around or in the joints, acupuncture is very often effective and highly efficient. Relief can be quick and long lasting.
When there is structural damage, as in a herniated disc of the spine, a ruptured Achilles tendon, and the like, or the calcium deposits left by rheumatoid arthritis or the brittle and porous condition of osteoarthritis, acupuncture may be able to more or less temporarily help with pain, but it cannot repair the ripped tendon or porous bone.
Acupuncture treats pain and inflammation well, but it is the body or the surgeon or some other method that repairs.
By any measure, acupuncture is the world’s best treatment for migraine headaches. Again, where the problem is any underlying structural problem like a herniated neck disc or severe disease process like a brain tumor, other therapies are more appropriate. However, many studies have confirmed that acupuncture is far superior to any available medication in both temporarily or permanently giving relief or curing migraine headaches.
Allergies and asthma:
As acupuncture is an especially good therapy for inflammation, it is also an especially good therapy for respiratory allergies and mild to moderate asthma. For severe asthma, emphysema, cystic fibrosis and other serious lung disease, acupuncture is only marginally effective at best, sometimes not at all.
Relief can be either temporary or long lasting and some cases of allergy or asthma can be cured with acupuncture.
Although it is the insertion of needles penetrating the skin, nonetheless, acupuncture is calming and relaxing. Acupuncture can be effective alone or it is especially effective in conjunction with Chinese herbs. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs are non-addictive and do not lead to any kind of dependency on the therapy as with some medications.
Nervous stress and its related problems:
Like treating insomnia, acupuncture that is relaxing and calming is used extensively for stress that has become internalized in the individual’s mind and body. Work stress or family stress or relationship stress or any number or kinds of stress are treated and helped in many acupuncture clinics all the time. It is most likely the second most common kind of complaint that acupuncturists treat.
Of course, stress can lead to a variety of common complaints like acid reflux disease or headaches or insomnia or fatigue and depression or chronic anxiety or dizziness or menstrual pain or …. the list is fairly endless. But with acupuncture relaxation, these problems may disappear.
A variety of problems:
When all else fails, when other therapies have not relieved the problem, many try acupuncture for a variety of problems rare and common. Acupuncture is very good at helping some of these problems and sometimes not. Acupuncture appears to be a good therapy some of the time for autoimmune illnesses, e.g. lupus, etc. Since it is a good therapy for inflammatory problems, where chronic inflammation is the problem, acupuncture may be effective.
Where deterioration of the body or the absence of a particular neurotransmitter is at issue as in Parkinson’s disease or MS, again, acupuncture may give some relief from some symptoms but it cannot stop the disease process.
CONTACT THE ACUPUNCTURIST TO SEE IF ACUPUNCTURE MAY BE APPROPRIATE FOR YOU.