What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is an art that first appeared in China between two and three thousand years ago. The treatment process, as most are aware, involves the insertion of very fine needles into specific points on the body to achieve a therapeutic effect. Acupuncture may also involve the application of pressure (acupressure) to points, either instead of needles, or in addition to them. The process may also involve the burning of moxa (the herb, mugwort, or artemis vulgaris to be botanically accurate) on the needle handles or directly on the points. Acupuncturists also sometimes use cups over acupuncture points or areas of blood or energetic accumulation. There is also a technique called Gua Sha that involves gentle to deep scraping of areas of pain and congestion with a smooth tool to relieve pain and local discomfort. Acupuncturists may also use a TENS (transcutaneous electro-neural stimulation) device for pain relief and reduction of muscle spasm. For more, please see the next question.
How does acupuncture work?
Much of the effect of acupuncture has been shrouded in mystery for centuries. Acupuncture treatment by its very nature doesn’t easily lend itself to double-blind controlled studies of treatment protocols. Despite this, outcome studies do produce interesting results that do show what acupuncture can do, but little about how it works. Biochemical studies suggest that acupuncture causes increased secretion of endorphins and enkephalins – the body’s own anti-inflammatories and mood enhancers. Similar studies suggest that acupuncture also improves the function of the system’s neurotransmitters, which are essentially how the body’s systems communicate. Something that comes even closer to answering the question is a study done some years ago be a Korean-American physicist. He was visiting family in Korea, and hurt his back on a hiking outing. On his return to the US, he had to be helped off the plane. At a family member’s suggestion, he sought help from an acupuncturist. The positive result he got piqued his curiosity, so he designed a study to try to get some idea of what was going on. Using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), he worked with medical people to scan the brains of volunteers in real time. With the fMRI scanning the volunteers’ visual cortexes, the testers then flashed lights in their eyes to see what part of the brain would become active. They then had professional acupuncturists insert needles in acupuncture needles in points on the bladder channel on the lateral border of the volunteers’ feet that the ancient Chinese Medicine texts state are useful for treating eye disorders. They found that this needling caused the same parts of the visual cortex to become activated. It doesn’t “prove” anything, but suggests that the brain possibly acts mediator between the needle sites and the affected area targeted for treatment. How the ancients discovered this will likely remain a great mystery.
Does Acupuncture Hurt?
The short answer is, generally, No. There is sensation associated with the insertion of the needles- usually a small pin-prick that fades quickly. Sometimes there is no sensation at all. But, when treating certain painful areas, the needles may need to be stimulated slightly, and the sensation may become stronger. Not always unpleasant, the sensation may come across as warmth, a dull ache, a grabbing sensation around the needle, or even a slightly numb feeling. It is very rare to have a patient complain of a painful treatment, or even a painful needle. Occasionally, the reduction of a spasmed painful muscle area can produce a strong temporary discomfort. Treatments to help with rebalancing the body’s systems often produce little or no unpleasant sensations.
What conditions are commonly treated by acupuncture?
Truthfully, almost anything your family doctor can treat can be helped with acupuncture. When asked, most members of the public will respond that acupuncture is for treating pain. And they are right, but it is only a part of the story. Most people with health problems are under a lot of stress. Indeed, stress may well have been a major contributor to their ailments. Acupuncture shines at stress relief. And while acupuncture doesn’t cure diseases as such, the fact that it helps the patients’ system regain a healthy state of balance contributes to the patients’ own innate abilities for self-healing. And as every person is different, acupuncture treatments are tailored to the individual.
How many treatments does it take?
This is the most difficult question to answer. Some acute conditions respond to the first or second session, and they’re done. This speedy response also can happen with chronic conditions. More often, a series of treatments are needed to resolve the problem. In this practice, we look for some noticeable subjective changes to occur within the first three sessions. If there is no change, it may be one of those situations that needs another method of therapy to be helped. We work closely with each individual to decide when and how well the treatment process is evolving.
Why can’t it cure my symptoms in one treatment?
Again, this is a tough question. It has sometimes been seen that a condition resolves with one treatment. But remember that this is a therapeutic rather than a curative process. Most disease and disharmonies develop over long periods of time. Sometimes the beginning of a disease process can be traced back to one’s childhood. The conditioning of a lifetime, or a few years’ time often takes some time to apply the appropriate corrective measures. Most people find relief develops with time and regular intervention.
Are there side effects to acupuncture?
Not to sound facetious, but the most common side effect to acupuncture treatment is relaxation. Most people find the process very soothing and quieting. The “side effects” can be- some leaking of a few drops of capillary blood at the needle sites; some bruising at the needle sites; some mild light-headedness after the treatment. But these are not common. And it should be noted that on very rare occasions, symptoms may briefly get worse before they improve. This is almost always short-term and is seen to be a part of the healing process called a “healing crisis”. If there remain any concerns about side effects, these should be taken up with a practitioner.
Does insurance cover acupuncture?
Some insurance companies do cover acupuncture; for example, some Medicare supplemental policies for seniors have it as part of their plans. Also, some unions cover their members. Generally, however, Medicare Parts A and B do not cover acupuncture, nor does Medicaid. It is up to the patient to make a determination as to whether they have coverage, and to provide proof of coverage. We are happy to provide a billing form to the patient who can then submit this to the insurance company. Even when not reimbursed by the insurance company, acupuncture treatments may sometimes be applied to one’s deductibles. Please discuss this with the us when you call.
How much does acupuncture cost?
Acupuncture is generally considered to be a low to moderate cost therapy. A visit generally costs less than a third of what a visit to the doctor costs. In this practice, the time set aside for your visit, 40-60 minutes, is totally dedicated to you. And fee adjustments are available to those in need. There are small variations in cost determined by what is being treated and the applicable modalities used. Fees can be tailored to individual needs. Please discuss your concerns with us.