Frequently Asked Questions

Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine

Click on questions to reveal answers.

What’s the difference between an MD or chiropractor who does acupuncture and a licensed acupuncturist?

There can be a great deal of difference in education and clinical experience. For a general comparison, see chart of requirements among various practitioners who offer acupuncture services.

Why use acupuncture and oriental medicine?

In addition to being effective for many acute and chronic common illnesses, Oriental Medicine has much to offer those who wish to raise the quality of health and vitality. Practitioners of Oriental Medicine operate with prevention in mind, attempting to correct small energetic imbalances before they become big health problems. Current health trends emphasizing exercise, proper nutrition, stress reduction and immune system strengthening all validate the life-styles and methods that have always been promoted by practitioners and advocates of acupuncture/Oriental Medicine.

Why should I use chinese herbs?

Most drugs are synthetic constructions of plants. The cost for FDA approval of any medicinal substance, natural or chemical, is millions of dollars. The down side of synthesizing plants to form drugs is in the loss of the synergistic relationship the “active ingredient” had with the entire plant. Those active ingredients alone can cause side effects that would have been balanced by the other parts of the plant.

The brilliance of herbs is in the specificity. A well-trained herbalist can combine individual herbs together to suit particular health needs in a safe and effective way.

How does acupuncture work?

Though it seems mysterious, acupuncture has a scientific explanation and does not require a patient’s belief in order to work.

The brain is signaled when the needle is positioned. The brain responds by increasing blood cell counts and various other immune system elements, and lastly, by activating neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters (or messenger molecules) are responsible for sending information to all cells in order for the body to function.

Endorphins and enkephalins are well known neurotransmitters that stop pain and increase a feeling of well-being. Acupuncture causes the release of these natural, morphine-like substances from the brain.

Aside from the well-studied effect on pain, researchers are still exploring exactly how acupuncture aids the immune system. We know that certain blood counts and immune enhancing chemicals stay elevated for at least 3 days following an acupuncture treatment.

Modern research has described other various physiological shifts following acupuncture as well, such as beneficial changes in the body’s anti- inflammatory agents and hormonal activity.

Is acupuncture safe?

If performed by a qualified, conscientious practitioner, yes. Licensed Acupuncturists know the human anatomy well, and insert needles in a safe fashion. The instruments used to penetrate the skin are either pre-sterilized and disposable after a single use, or disinfected and sterilized in an autoclave, as surgical and dental instruments are, after each use. Today, most practitioners use the pre-sterilized needles.

Licensed acupuncturists are well aware of the concern over infectious diseases, and take every measure to insure cleanliness as all health care professional do. Bleeding rarely occurs, unless done so on purpose in specific situations. Even then the amount is minimal and not dangerous.

Don’t the needles hurt?

Most people who have had acupuncture would describe it as virtually painless or far less painful than plucking out a hair. The sensations that follow range from nothing at all, to mild tingling, to slight numbness/achiness, to electrical pulsations in areas distant from the site of insertion. All these sensations usually subside once the needles are removed.

The needles used for acupuncture are much smaller than the standard hypodermic needle (only 2 times the width of a single hair), do not draw blood and are solid, not hollow.

Most patients are surprised to discover that treatments involve little or no pain, and are usually quite relaxing.

What is an acupuncture treatment like?

Most patients would say, “relaxing.” Usually patients leave in less discomfort and are more functional than when they walked in. Sometimes the effects are too subtle to perceive, especially in the beginning of treatment. Over time, improvements become more and more apparent.

How quickly will I respond to acupuncture?

Everyone is different. Acute problems like a sore throat, sinus congestion, pain can be resolved in a single session — even during the session. With chronic problems, significant results will more likely occur within 4-6 treatments. The total number of treatments needed depends upon:

the severity of the person’s condition
how long the condition has existed
the overall state of health, energy and motivation of the patient
the patient’s participation in the healing processing (e.g., changing eating habits, making lifestyle changes, etc.)

How long is an acupuncture visit?

Usually the first visit is the longest in order to allow for a complete history taking and exam – typically one and one-half hours. Follow-up visits are shorter, usually 30 to 45 minutes, depending on patient needs. Sometimes other therapies, such as moxibustion, acupressure/massage and exercises are incorporated with the acupuncture treatment.

What does the examination/consultation involve?

An exam/consultation includes the practitioner taking a comprehensive medical history, questioning the patient about his/her chief complaints and making observations about the patient such as, the appearance of the face and body build, the shape and color of the tongue, the quality of the pulses, the feel of diagnostic areas such as the abdomen and back. The acupuncturist may also test for weaknesses along the “meridians” and weaknesses in the muscles. From this information, a Chinese diagnosis can be made.

What should I ask the practitioner I’m considering?

Always ask any practitioner about the extent of his or her training. In most states, acupuncturists are considered independent or primary care providers. This responsibility requires extensive training. In seeking a qualified herbalist, it is advisable to look for a practitioner who is comprehensively trained in Chinese herbal medicine. Some states, such as California, require that all licensed acupuncturists be trained and tested in Chinese herbal medicine. Others do not.

Have the practitioner explain the differences between Oriental Medicine and Western Medicine in easy to understand terms.

Oriental medicine has its limitations just as Western Medicine does. Look for practitioners who know their limitations and have referral networks to take care of health needs in ways they cannot.

Although it is difficult to forecast response to treatments, ask about the signs and changes that the practitioner looks for to confirm that treatments
are progressing.

Inquire about what therapies will be used and why. Practitioners should be able to explain any procedure they perform.

What are the limits of oriental medicine and acupuncture?

Oriental Medicine and acupuncture are powerful healing tools, but they are not panaceas nor the solution to every health care problem. Both Western and Oriental Medicine have their respective strengths and weaknesses, which is why in modern China, the two systems are used together. When appropriately combined, the patient is well served.

Generally speaking, acute, life-threatening conditions are best handled by Western medical doctors. Routine health problems and chronic conditions, for which drug therapy and surgery have not been effective, often benefit from Acupuncture / Oriental Medicine.

Are there side effects to acupuncture?

When performed by a properly trained and licensed practitioner, acupuncture is safe and effective, free from adverse or addictive side effects. Quite often, a sense of relaxation and well-being occurs during and after treatments. While undergoing therapy for one ailment, other problems may resolve concurrently. This is a common side benefit that again demonstrates the value of balancing the quality and quantity of “vital energy” within the entire person.

Are there side effects to using Chinese herbal medicine?

A single herb has potential for side effects because it may have a particular action on the whole body that isn’t desired. However, an herbal formula carefully designed by a well-trained practitioner rarely has side effects because its various influences on different body systems have been balanced by the other herbs and thus each body part receives a particular and desired effect.

The most common side effect from using herbal therapy is stomach upset, which is easily remedied by taking the herbal formula with meals.

What is the difference between complementary medicine and alternative medicine?

An alternative medicine means that it is a system within itself and complete. For the most part one can use the alternative medical system for almost all their healthcare needs. A complementary modality works in conjunction with another medicine. Complementary medicine is in fact, not medicine, but a collection of modalities. A complementary modality completes the overall needed therapy. It doesn’t stand alone as a complete medical system.

Examples of alternative medical systems are allopathic (Western) medicine, Chinese (Oriental) medicine and ayurvedic medicine. Examples of complementary modalities would be chiropractic, physical therapy, massage, energetic healing, etc. However, the conotations of these terms, complementary medicine and alternative medicine, are different. Anything other than allopathic medicine has been classified as an alternative medicine. As a result, Chinese medicine — a complete medical system, and therefore, an alternative medicine — is placed in a category with massage, bodywork, etc., which are modalities, not medical systems, and are not complete. By placing Chinese medicine in the same category as these modalities, the depth and breadth of this ancient medicine may go unrecognized.

In actuality there is no one system that meets all health needs. However, one can choose to complement one approach with another. An example would be to opt for the necessary surgical procedure but assist the healing process with acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy. Sometimes pharmeceutical drugs are an absolute necessity but a qualified Chinese herbalist can help ameliorate the side effects of the drugs with herbal medicine.

In China, allopathic medicine and Chinese medicine work side by side in the hospitals, complementing each other and coming together as two very powerful medical systems that can meet the health needs of their patients in the most complete fashion. Hopefully, we’ll see this combination of alternative medicines working together in U.S. hospitals some day.