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Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine: FAQ

Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine: Frequent Questions

Q: What is acupuncture?

A: Acupuncture is a means of encouraging the body to enhance its natural healing and improve functioning. This is done by inserting very fine filaments, or applying heat or electrical stimulation to specific points on the body. Acupuncture is a part of traditional Chinese medicine, and can influence many areas of one's health including: the treatment of illness, the prevention of disease, and the promotion of health and well being.  It is used throughout the world in the treatment of many acute and chronic diseases, as well as for musculoskeletal pain and injury.

Q: How does acupuncture work?

A: The traditional Chinese medical explanation is that channels of energy run through specific routes through the body and over its surface. The channels are like rivers flowing through the body to irrigate and nourish the tissues. An obstruction in the movement of these energy rivers is like a dam that backs up the flow in one part of the body and restricts it in others. The channels can be influenced by stimulating the acupuncture points; when a suitable combination of points is used regular flow can be reestablished. Acupuncture can therefore help the body's internal organs to correct imbalances in their digestion, absorption, and energy production activities, and in the circulation of their energy through the channels.

Western medicine does not yet fully recognize these channels though much research has been done to delineate how acupuncture works. While this work ongoing, many impressive research studies have been done documenting the effectiveness of acupuncture's in the treatment of gastrointestinal, immunological, dermatological, pain management, as well as gyecological and fertility issues.

Q: Does it hurt?

A: People experience acupuncture in different ways. Most people feel little to no discomfort as the filaments are placed. Once the practitioner has obtained the correct stimulation of the filament, the person may feel their body's energy (Qi) respond. This may feel like a mild sensation of heat or cold, achiness, cramping, tingling, or electrical sensation. These are signs that your body is beginning to respond to acupuncture.


Q: Are the filaments clean?

A: All American acupuncturists are required to use sterilized, disposable filaments.


Q: What are the criteria for a good acupuncturist?

A: The minimum requirements for an acupuncturist is that they should have attained a degree from an accredited school for Oriental Medicine. This degree is a 4 year undertaking. In addition, the practitioner should be Nationally Board Certified (NCCAOM) in acupuncture. This schooling is very important, as good treatment should not rely upon a ‘cookbook' approach to one's problem, but rather uses the sophisticated principles and strategies inherent in this ancient healing method to treat each individual in an individual manner {for more on this, see "Beware of Medical Acupuncture"}. Several states, including Illinois, still allow individuals to use acupuncture who have not been through this intensive schooling and certified by the NCCAOM. Often those practitioners have only completed a short course in acupuncture that teaches only a few basic recipes for treatments. Always ask if the pratitioner is 'Nationally Board Certified by the NCCAOM'.

Q: Are there any side effects to the treatment?

A: As energy is redirected in the body, natural chemicals and hormones are stimulated and healing begins. Rarely, with the first treatment, the original symptoms worsen for a few days, or changes in appetite, sleep, bowel or urination patterns, or emotional state may be triggered. There is no need to be concerned, as these are signs that the acupuncture is beginning to work. Much more commonly people leave the treatment with a sense of deep relaxation. This is generally a welcome relief from a stressful life!

Q: What other techniques may be used?

A: A properly trained acupuncturist has many other techniques, besides the use acupuncture filaments, which could be used to speed up healing. These may include other external healing methods such as cupping, guasha, moxabustion, and herbal liniments and poultices. These techniques will be explained if they are to be used.

Acupuncture is one of several parts of traditional Chinese medicine. Another extremely important branch is herbology. Depending upon one's health issues, an acupuncturist may suggest an herbal formula to enhance the healing process. This formula will usually be in the form of a pill or a powder which is comprised of between 9 and 30 herbs. Chinese herbology, like acupuncture, is a very sophisticated process and not only takes into consideration the symptom or disease, but also the person's constitution. When properly done, Chinese herbology is remarkably effective and without side effects.