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How does acupuncture work?

The ancient Chinese made a link between specific hypersensitive points on the skin and specific illnesses or organ dysfunctions. When these points were stimulated, they discovered that the illness or problem corresponding to the hypersensitive pattern would be relieved. From these correlations between the inner and outer states of man emerged the external treatments of massage and needle stimulation and the growth of a comprehensive medical science.

The art of acupuncture rests on the understanding of the human being as a complex organization of energy that forms and sustains our physical, mental, and emotional bodies. This life energy, identified and measured today as bio-electromagnetism, flows along well delineated pathways. Some individuals perceive the pathways (also called meridians or channels) during acupuncture treatment.

We experience optimal health when our energy flow is ample and freely flowing, thus enlivening all organs and tissues. At certain points along the pathways, there is less electrical resistance, where it is possible to adjust this flow. These points are known as acupuncture points. Needles, heat, finger pressure, and electrical micro-current are the most common methods of stimulating these points.

Acupuncture points have very specific functions: They improve digestion, increase white or red blood cell production, release pain, relax tension, increase energy and circulation, to name a few. When the energy within an organ or an associated pathway is blocked, insufficient or excessive, pain or dysfunction is the result. Stimulating the correct points with the appropriate technique balances the energy flow so that health is restored.

What problems can be treated?

Acupuncture addresses most pain and illness. Most commonly treated are back pain, headaches, muscle spasms, tendonitis, arthritis, allergies and other immune system dysfunctions, menstrual disorders, PMS, menopause symptoms, digestive problems fatigue, insomnia, asthma, depression, high blood pressure, and other stress-related disorders. Also responding well are bladder and gall bladder disorders, diarrhea, irregularities in the heartbeat, vision and hearing problems, facial paralysis, rheumatism, circulatory problems, post-operative pain, and addictive behaviors. This is a partial list.

Does acupuncture hurt?

First-time patients typically emerge from treatment with “I can’t get over it. I hardly felt the needles at all.” Acupuncture needles are as fine as one or two strands of hair and cannot deliver the same sensation as a shot you would get at your doctor’s office. From patient to patient and from point to point, however, reactions do vary, from completely painless to very sensitive, with most falling somewhere in the middle.

Few reject acupuncture on the basis of any temporary discomfort. For those who are unusually sensitive or who have an aversion to needles, alternative methods, like massage and herbal therapy, can be utilized.

The acupuncturist’s level of skill, precision, and technique makes for a big difference in the patient’s experience of needle treatment.

What takes place during an acupuncture session?

As each needle is inserted, the acupuncturist will rotate or otherwise manipulate the needle in order to elicit one of these responses: numbness, soreness, pressure, heaviness, or tightness around the point or a darting, electrical-like impulse from the point extending along the energy pathway. This acupuncture sensation is directly related to the healing result. If no response is achieved, it means that the energy has not yet moved to the point or to its pathway. Therefore, the desired result will not take place.

Once each point has achieved sensation, the patient is asked to rest for a period with the needles in place. During this quiet phase, patients often fall asleep, and then awaken feeling deeply relaxed and refreshed. Acupuncture relaxes the nervous system, which is why most people enjoy receiving treatment.

Does acupuncture cause bleeding?

Since the needles are very fine in diameter, acupuncture generally does not cause bleeding. If a small capillary is punctured—and capillaries are everywhere—it may cause a tiny spot of blood to emerge. Similarly, slight bruising may occur, particularly in those who blood vessels are fragile. These are mild reactions and no cause for concern.

Traditionally, in cases of blood stasis, Chinese physicians purposely draw out a small quantity of blood with a lancet. This is a therapy that brings an immediate sense of relief to the patient, and it is not particularly painful. At Song Ho Health Center, we use sterilized, disposable lancets.

How safe are the needles?

Acupuncture needles are very safe! At our center, we use sterilized, disposable needles that are individually sealed, used once, and safely discarded. The area to be treated is first cleansed with alcohol, making a sterile field for the needles to enter.

Are there any side effects?

Acupuncture restores the body’s natural, healthy function without side effects. Chinese medicine sees and treats the person as a connected whole, not as isolated symptoms or as a disease. Thus, it does not allow aggressive treatment of one symptom or part of the body while forgetting the effects on the whole person!

With acupuncture, the body’s inherent healing powers are awakened. The goal of acupuncture is to stimulate the body to heal itself.

Patients usually discover an overall increase in well-being, particularly relief of tension and increase of vitality. Symptoms for which the patient was not seeking treatment and perhaps failed to report often disappear as well. In some instances, there will be a brief and temporary worsening of symptoms, followed by a reduction or disappearance of symptoms. This reaction is normal and positive, showing that the root of the problem is being purged from the body.

How does the acupuncturist know where the energy imbalances are?

The acupuncturist evaluates a patient’s condition through his or her medical history and current symptoms, through visual examination, particularly of eyes, tongue, and skin, and finally through reading the pulses.

Pulse diagnosis is a sophisticated diagnostic art that draws on an exquisite sensitivity on the part on the practitioner. There are nine positions at each wrist, each yielding information about an organ and its related functions, as well as blood flow and quality, the nature, cause, and state of an acute or chronic illness, and more. At each visit, the acupuncturist may take the pulses to discern state of the patient’s energy system and to formulate the day’s treatment plan.

How many treatments are needed and how often?

Frequency and number depend on how long the person’s condition existed before starting acupuncture, whether or not the patient has had long-term drug therapy and/or surgery, and on the overall depth of the problem. Coming for treatment in the beginning stages of illness and having avoided more intrusive methods reduce the length of the treatment period. Also, patients differ in their responsiveness to acupuncture.

Some conditions, such as muscle spasms, can respond quickly, sometimes in as little as one or two visits, even if the condition has been chronic. Over the years, Chinese practitioners have found that a certain number of treatments are optimal for certain conditions, however it still varies with each individual.

An acute ailment like the flu usually needs only one treatment. Patients with chronic problems like arthritis or asthma will need to come weekly over a period of six weeks to several months. One thing is for sure—you won’t have to guess whether or not acupuncture is working. For most people, a positive response is felt early on in the treatment.

Weekly treatments are the norm, but there are conditions requiring more frequent visits, like severe pain and stroke. Acupuncture therapy has more chance of success when the patient seeks treatment as soon as possible after an illness or injury, follows the course of treatment faithfully, and makes appropriate dietary and lifestyle changes to support the healing process.

Do you use any other methods of treatment?

In China, “acupuncture” has a broader meaning than its English translation implies. First, acupuncture is part of a comprehensive medical science that includes herbal therapy, dietary adjustments, and exercise, all of which are utilized at the Song Ho Health Center. Patient education, too, is an important part of any treatment at the center. Self-care and self-knowledge are significantly factors in maintaining long-term health.

When you come for acupuncture, Li may employ massage, cupping (a suction technique), or moxa (heat application), or numerous other modalities that amplify and expedite healing. Herbal medicines are frequently given so that treatment goals are supported between visits. When indicated, a combination of different treatment methods brings superior results. In addition, by reducing the total number of visits required, it proves more economical.

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