Q. What is Acupuncture?
A. Pursuant to section 4927 (e) of the Business and Professions
Code of California, acupuncture means the stimulation of a certain point or points on or near the surface of the body by the insertion of needles to prevent or modify the perception of pain or to normalize physiological functions, including pain control, for the treatment of certain diseases or dysfunctions of the body and includes the techniques of electroacupuncture, cupping, and moxibustion.
The practice of acupuncture, according to Business and Professions Code section 4937 (b), is to perform or prescribe the use of oriental massage, acupressure, breathing techniques, exercise, or nutrition, including the incorporation of drugless substances and herbs as dietary supplements to promote health.
Acupuncture is a primary health care modality that has flourished in Asia for at least 2,500 years and is used widely throughout Europe. Acupuncture is considered one of the newest primary health care professions in the United States. The benefits of acupuncture have become widely recognized and integrated with mainstream healthcare.
Far more than a technique of inserting tiny threadlike needles along meridian lines of the body, acupuncture’s complex system of diagnostic methods take into consideration the person as a whole, not just isolated symptoms. Acupuncture is practiced based on discerning the bodies?"pattern of disharmony" and treating accordingly. Modern acupuncture utilizes other modalities as well, such as herbal medicine and moxibustion, exercise and nutrition.
Acupuncture treats and strengthens the physical condition and controls pain. The aim, as practiced in oriental medicine, is not necessarily to eliminate or alleviate symptoms. The objective, rather, is to increase both the ability to function and the quality of life.
Q. What is Oriental Medicine?
A. Oriental medicine is a traditional medicine that is based upon Oriental philosophy. In the process of defending against diseases for thousands of years, herbal medicine has been developed and systemized based upon theoretical principles as a means of both the prevention and treatment of illness and disease.
The restoration of harmony is integral to Chinese herbal medicine. Harmonious balance is expressed in terms of the two complementary forces-yin and yang; and the five elements-fire, earth, metal, water, and wood. The five elements are of particular importance to the Chinese herbalist; they give rise to the five tastes by which all medicinal plants are evaluated. Fire gives rise to bitterness, earth to sweetness, metal to acridity, water to saltiness, and wood to sourness. Each taste is said to have a particular medicinal action; bitter-tasting herbs drain and dry; sweet herbs tonify and may reduce pain, acrid herbs disperse; salty herbs nourish the kidneys; sour herbs nourish the yin and astringe, preventing unwanted loss of body fluids or qi. Herbs that have none of these tastes are described as bland, a quality that indicates that the plant may have a diuretic effect. The taste of a plant can also indicate the organ to which it has a natural affinity. Besides defining particular herbal tastes, the Chinese ascribe different temperatures to herbs-hot, warm, neutral, cool, and cold.
Each individual herb has different properties such as taste and temperature, and enters different organs in the body. When the herbs are combined, through mutual harmony, the treatment effect is increased and the side effects reduced. A usual prescription or formula can consist of multiple herbs.
After a diagnosis is made, herbs are selected and combined, or a well-known traditional formula is prescribed. The formula is adjusted to fit the patient’s symptoms and diagnosis. The formula brings about the treatment effect by regulating qi (Energy), blood and body fluids, which are fundamental substances that form the body.
Since Oriental herbal medicine is also based upon yin-yang and the five elements theory, when it is used in conjunction with acupuncture, it gives total harmony and balance to the whole body, effecting maximum treatment.
Q. How Does Acupuncture Work?
A. Acupuncture is a therapy that uses natural laws and energetics with the application of needles and pressure to specific points on the body. Acupuncture is based on the belief that health is determined by a balanced flow of qi (also referred to as chi), the vital life energy present in all living organisms. According to acupuncture theory, qi circulates in the body along twelve major energy pathways, called meridians, each linked to specific internal organs and organ systems. The "vital energy" in humans is believed to flow along meridians that have their root in the internal organs. On the surface of the twelve main meridinal pathways are up to 365 main acupuncture points where needles are inserted to restore the proper balance of energy.
The acupoints within the meridial system can be stimulated to enhance the flow of qi. When acupuncture needles are inserted into these acupoints (just under the skin), they help correct and rebalance the flow of energy and consequently relieve pain and/or restore health. These acupoints are grouped along specific pathways or meridians that cross the body. The flow of energy through these pathways helps to maintain good health. When the flow of energy is blocked for any reason, there is disruption of health, resulting in pain and illness. By stimulating appropriate acupuncture points along these meridians, the energy is released and regulated, and health may be restored.
Acupuncture can play a vital role as an adjunctive therapy due to how effective the meridian system is as a means of proper diagnosis. Because the meridians influence every cell in the body and pass through every organ and organ system, acupuncture provides health practitioners with an accurate means of determining health deficiencies, as well as a method of reestablishing balance.
Additionally, studies indicate that acupuncture influences the central and peripheral nervous system. Experience shows it can be particularly effective in pain control. Among a host of factors, acupuncture affects sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels in the blood, the functioning of the gastrointestinal system, and the activity of the endocrine system. Acupuncture works with the body, harmonizing and balancing energy. It improves circulation, releases endorphins to control pain, and allows the body to heal itself more quickly and more completely.
Q. What conditions does acupuncture treat?
A. There are numerous conditions that acupuncture can treat, including migraines, sinusitis, the common cold, tonsillitis, asthma, inflammation of the eyes, addictions, myophia, duodenal ulcer (damaged mucous membrane in a portion of the small intestine) and other gastrointestinal disorders, trigeminal neuralgia ( a severe facial pain), Meniere’s disease (ringing in the ears coupled with dizziness), tennis elbow, paralysis from stroke, speech aphasia (loss of language abilities due to brain damage), sciatica, and osteoarthritis. Acupuncture has also been found to be very effective in the treatment of a variety of rheumatoid conditions, pain management, various addictions, mental disorders, and AIDS.
Q. Who can perform acupuncture?
A. Acupuncturists who maintain a valid license issued by the Acupuncture Board and physicians licensed by the Medical Board of California. A dentist or podiatrist licensed in California may also practice acupuncture, within the scope of their respective licenses if they have completed the necessary training required by their respective licensing board.
Q. Is it safe?
A. This is a very common question among those who have never experienced an acupuncture treatment. The answer relies 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 and there is no danger whatsoever. The importance of seeking an appropriately trained practitioner cannot be overstated.
Q. What Should You Expect During Treatment?
A. An important method of diagnosis used by acupuncturists involves analyzing the pulses of a patient. Six pulses are felt on each wrist, corresponding to the major body organs and functions. Each pulse is located at a specific position on the wrists, and each one is believed to tell the exact state of the different organs or functions. Other diagnostic methods include questioning the patient regarding symptoms and living habits, careful observation of the patient’s tongue, facial and body coloring as well as observation of skin texture and temperature distribution on different body areas.
Selected points are cleaned with cotton, dipped in alcohol, and sterilized needles are inserted along the appropriate meridians. Acupuncture needles are of different lengths and gauges, but are generally hair-thin, solid, and made of stainless steel. Although it is not mandatory, most acupuncturists, in order to protect both the acupuncturist and patients from blood borne pathogens, use presterilized, disposable needles. The part of the body into which the needles are put will often appear to bear no relation to the site of disease or symptoms. The depth of the needle insertion varies, depending on the points being used. Most needles are inserted just below the skin’s surface, but some may go from a depth of a quarter inch to as much as three inches. In most cases the needle insertion can hardly be felt by the patient. Usually there is only a brief sensation as the needle is inserted, and it is rarely painful. Once the needles are in place, they generally cannot be felt.
Sometimes an electrical current is used to further enhance the stimulation of the acupuncture points. Individual wires are clipped to one or more of the needles. The acupuncturist adjusts electrical current to the level where the patient is able to feel a slight tingling sensation. The needles may also be manipulated in twirling or push-pull movements. Moxibustion can also be used in conjunction with acupuncture. It may consist of rolling a ball of dried herb (mugwort) around the needle’s shaft and lighting it so that the needle is warmed. This has the effect of reinforcing the needle’s action. Another method is to pass a burning moxa stick back and forth over the appropriate body area just close enough to give a comfortable heat. Moxibustion is generally used only for a few minutes and only for certain types of physical disorders.
The needles typically stay in place for about half an hour. For some conditions, however, they may be in place for only a few minutes or for up to an hour. Afterwards, the acupuncturist removes the needles, and swabs the insertion point with cotton dipped in alcohol.
Acupuncturists may use one or all the above techniques to restore the free flow of energy in patients to prevent, and or treat illness, or relieve pain.
Q. Does it hurt?
A. Many patients find the treatment very relaxing, which brings on a feeling of well-being. Often patients are surprised at how comfortable they are during treatment and how easily the needles are placed. Some people even go to sleep during treatment. A patient may feel a slight sensation upon entry and then pressure or a "dull" or "surging" reaction when the needle reaches the "qi" or correct point.
Q. Can children receive acupuncture?
A. Yes, children can receive acupuncture and often have excellent results with this treatment. However, in cases where the children are uneasy about the needles, a practitioner may choose to use an acupressure treatment (massage of the acupoints), as opposed to acupuncture.
Q. Do I need a referral from my regular doctor to see an acupuncturist and will my insurance cover acupuncture treatment?
A. An acupuncturist is considered a primary care provider and a referral may or may not be required for insurance purposes. Many insurance companies do cover acupuncture treatment. For more information on insurance requirements, please contact either your insurance company or