Acupuncture is a form of medicine that has been practiced for more than 2500 years. Part science and part art, acupuncture un-does sickness by directing the body’s natural energies away from patterns of pain and disease, toward their original states of good health.
In the Chinese tradition that gave birth to acupuncture, the human body is viewed as a part of the natural world; it follows patterns that are as regular as the cycles of the seasons and the rhythms of night and day. The body’s vital energy, called qi (pronounced “chee”), flows through these cycles and seasons maintaining good health, abundant energy, and buoyant moods. When the flow of body energy is disrupted, pain, illness, or emotional disturbances can arise.
Acupuncturists work with bodily qi to keep it flowing smoothly, thereby creating and supporting good health. Using a variety of techniques including needles, moxibustion, and herbal medicine, acupuncturists influence the movement and quality of qi to relieve pain, treat disease, and alter physical conditions. Rather than masking pain or other symptoms, acupuncture works by changing them.
To understand and manipulate the flow of qi in the human body, acupuncturists use detailed maps of body energy which chart the lines of qi (called meridians or channels) and the individual points on them through which qi can be accessed. Needles used in acupuncture are made of stainless steel. They are extremely thin (not much thicker than a human hair), and are sterile and disposed of after each use. During treatment, needles are inserted shallowly just under the skin at points on the body where qi is stuck or diminished.
Through a complex series of interactions, the body learns to regulate its energy flow in response to the needles. Over time, the body conforms its energy flows to healthier, more stable patterns. As a result, areas of pain hurt less intensely and less frequently, symptoms grow less severe, stress and fatigue begin to abate, and so on.
A standard acupuncture treatment may use as few as two needles or as many as forty, depending on the condition being treated, the constitution of the patient, and the judgment of the acupuncturist.
Do I need to believe in “Qi” to get results?
No, you don’t need to subscribe to any belief system in order to experience measurable, positive results from treatment. Horses, dogs, and cats heal with acupuncture, and they certainly don’t believe in qi!
What does scientific research have to say about how acupuncture works?
Modern research is ongoing, but so far, it has shown that acupuncture can influence the body’s chemical balances by stimulating endorphins and regulating hormones. Acupuncture also demonstrably regulates natural immune responses and promotes healthy tissue organization.
Is acupuncture safe?
Yes, acupuncture is quite safe when performed by a trained and licensed acupuncturist using sterile, single-use needles. From the NIH Consensus Statement on Acupuncture:
“One of the advantages of acupuncture is that the incidence of adverse effects is substantially lower than that of many drugs or other accepted medical procedures used for the same conditions. As an example, musculoskeletal conditions, such as fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, and tennis elbow, or epicondylitis, are conditions for which acupuncture may be beneficial. These painful conditions are often treated with, among other things, anti-inflammatory medications (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.) or with steroid injections. Both medical interventions have a potential for deleterious side effects but are still widely used and are considered acceptable treatments. The evidence supporting these therapies is no better than that for acupuncture.”
What does acupuncture feel like?
Acupuncture is usually painless because the needles are extremely fine and are inserted very quickly. Some people feel a momentary “mosquito bite” sensation upon needle insertion, and then a tingling or heavy sensation at the insertion sites. Other people don’t feel anything except a pleasant sense of relaxation.
(Above, from top down: match tip, hypodermic needle, acupuncture needle)
What kind of training do acupuncturists receive?
Acupuncturists receive a minimum of 3 years of full-time graduate level training, including extensive clinical training and course work in both Oriental medicine and biomedicine. To become a Licensed Acupuncturist in New York State, passage of a national board certification exam is required. Medical doctors and dentists are permitted to practice acupuncture after taking an abbreviated 300-hour training, which leads to the title C.Ac. (Certified Acupuncturist).
How many treatments will I need?
This depends on a number of factors, including the severity and duration of the problem, as well as its complexity. An issue that has been troublesome for many years tends to require more treatments than a recent problem. Initial improvements for long-standing problems may be more temporary. As treatments progress further, improvements become more sustained. That being said, we usually see some improvement in most conditions within three to four acupuncture treatments. Most menstrual or hormonal conditions require a least three months of treatment to track changes.