Acupuncture 101

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture and Traditional East Asian Medicine (herbal science) is an ancient form of healthcare that originated in China at least 2,500 years ago. It has been practiced throughout the Asian world for many centuries. Acupuncture has been accepted into the Western mainstream culture since the 1970’s and is currently soaring in popularity throughout many parts of the Western hemisphere. Through the use of extremely fine needles, acupuncture works by manipulating blood flow in the body, bringing oxygen, nutrients, hormones, and immune factors to every cell in the body.  Acupuncture theory suggests that there are 12 main vessels we can manipulate. These vessels correspond to the major internal organs of the body. For instance, there is a liver vessel, a heart vessel, and so on. In each of these vessel, the blood flow can become stagnant or deficient, which can cause a variety of symptoms including pain, inflammation, headaches, high blood pressure, depression, and menstrual imbalances. In addition, when blood flow is not sufficient to an organ system, it means that system will not be able to perform its necessary duties. For instance, chronic diarrhea and fatigue can easily be caused by deficient functioning of the spleen/stomach system in East Asian Medicine.

Acupuncture therapy typically involves inserting needles into several acupoints, which are specific locations on the the body where we can influence blood flow. By manipulating the flow of blood in a given vessel, stagnant blood flow can be moved and deficient blood flow can be tonified. As a result, the symptoms that correspond to these underlying imbalances will naturally improve. There are 365 acupoints on the 12 vessels, along with numerous ’extra points’ that are located throughout the body. There are also microsystems such as the ear, eye, nose, head, and hand. Some acupuncturists will only use these specific systems.

From a Western biomedical perspective, acupuncture has been proven to release the neurotransmitter serotonin and beta-endorphins, opiate-like substances made by the brain. Serotonin balance is essential for emotional and mental health and has been linked to healthy eating patterns, sleeping patterns, and the degree of pain in the body. Beta-endorphins are analgesic and anti-inflammatory and are responsible for the ’runner’s high’, which is why acupuncture can induce similar sensations.

Does Acupuncture hurt? What if I don’t want needles?

Acupuncture should be a relatively pain-free experience. There are times where the initial insertion will be felt by the patient, but there is never an occasion where the patient should be in pain through the duration of the treatment. Acupuncture can cause dull achiness, heaviness, tingling, heat, and increased sensation around the area needled. Almost always, these sensations are accompanied by a deep quality of relaxation and tranquility. Acupuncture should be a relaxing experience. In fact, this is one of its therapeutic benefits. I have had many patients who felt so relaxed after treatment that they had to drink some water and ’get their bearings’ before they were could leave the office. This deep relaxation tends to stay with the patient longer through successive treatments. Look for this as a measurable sign of progress. However, for very sensitive or needle shy folks. we can use acupressure, shonishin (children’s acupuncture with various tools to stimulate the surface skin), cupping, nutrition, herbal medicine, or moxabustion instead of needles. Used well, these therapies will have the same good effect. Many patients feel an initial apprehension, but are shocked by how little they feel upon needle insertion.

What should I look for in an acupuncturist?

Unfortunately there are many acupuncturists who only practice on a part-time basis and treat Chinese medicine like a hobby. You should seek out the services of someone who has extensive experience in treating your condition and your practitioner should have a deep commitment to continued education and practice.

What does a treatment plan entail?

Acupuncture works best when done rather frequently and over a period of time. We change your blood flow, some healing happens, then blood flow reverts to its previous pattern.  Most patients that come for chronic health problems can plan on treatment twice a week or more if needed, for 4 treatments. At this time, we will assess progress and formulate a more long term plan after we see how you respond. Within that period of time, symptoms are showing signs of definite improvement and that general health is markedly better. If a condition has accumulated over a period of years, it is only natural that it will take some time to unravel and to heal completely. While no therapy can help everyone, my clinical experience has been that approximately 80% of my patients undergo noticeably positive changes through their course of treatment.

What can acupuncture treat?

At WPA, we treat just about everything from infants to the elderly.

We have had great success in treating a variety of health concerns:

Anxiety and Depression
We have helped many people with anxiety and depression get off of antidepressants. We enjoy working with this population because many people with anxiety or depression simply aren’t aware that there are alternatives to drugs and talk therapy. Nutrition, exercise, mindfulness techniques, acupuncture, and herbs can offer an incredible support system for healing these conditions.

Gynecological Issues
PMS, menstrual cramps, irregular cycles, infertility, and menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats, endometriosis, PCOS, etc, all respond well to acupuncture and Traditional East Asian Medicine.

All kinds of pain such as headaches, back pain, neck pain, sprains, strains, basically any musculoskelatal pain or injury.  Even broken bones heal reliably faster with Traditional East Asian Medicine and require less or no pharmaceutical pain medication.

Constipation/Diarrhea/Irratable Bowel Syndrome
Acupuncture and herbs can work miracles for people suffering with these symptoms.

Acupuncture alone can be very effective. With herbs and stress reduction techniques, the healing process is even more powerful.

Communicable Diseases:
Acupuncture and especially Traditional East Asian Medicine are amazing at healing communicable diseases (colds, flu, RSV, CMV, COVID, etc) much faster and help you be more comfortable during your illness as well. Clearing phlegm, easing coughs, easing fever & chills, etc.

Other symptoms/disorders that I have successfully treated with acupuncture:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Allergies
  • Colds and flus
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Addictions
  • Thyroid problems
  • And the list goes on…..
Are there different styles of Acupuncture?

There are many styles of acupuncture and each country of origin has their own ‘style’ from gentle Japanese acupuncture, to intense Chinese styles, private treatment rooms, community treatment rooms, and everything in between.

We diagnose each patient by tongue, pulse, and by palpating the abdomen. We want you to get back to normal with all of these factors or as close as we can get you and you are no longer progressing.  At that point, you are at your personal ‘baseline’ and it is all about maintaining your health with diet & lifestyle, the ones that work best for your particular body. Then, you can use acupuncture and Traditional East Asian Medicine however you prefer, whether that means coming in for treatment only when things happen or ‘go wrong’, or 1-2 times per month to catch things before they become giant problems, de – stress, and delay the process of aging.

So, if you have never tried acupuncture, you are in for a treat. Ask your friends who they see, or try a few practitioners to see who will be close enough to be able to get treatment without having to drive a long time to get there and back.

Be well, and enjoy vibrant health!

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