The National Institute of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has prepared an introduction to acupuncture that you can download in pdf here.  I find that many of my first time patients usually ask about the types of conditions treated with acupuncture and have one or more of these frequently asked questions:

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a complete medical system used to prevent disease, treat illness, and improve well-being.  It primarily involves the insertion of very fine, sterile and disposable needles into specific points along well-defined pathways known as meridians.  

How Does Acupuncture Work?

Recently, science has determined that human beings are complex bioelectric systems.  This understanding has been the foundation of acupuncture practice for several thousand years.  The Chinese found that energy circulates throughout the body along the above-mentioned meridians.  Points on the skin along these pathways are energetically connected to specific organs, body structures and systems.  If this energy circulation is disrupted, optimum function is affected resulting in pain or illness.  Acupuncture points are stimulated to balance the circulation of energy, which influences the health of the entire being.

Scientific research in the United States, Europe, Japan and China has shown that acupuncture results in a release of the body’s natural pain relieving substances – the endorphins.  It also stimulates the release of the neurotransmitter and mood-elevator serotonin.  Acupuncture encourages increased blood flow to affected areas and is very helpful in treating pain and stress-related conditions, including anxiety and depression.

What is Oriental Medicine?

Oriental Medicine, also known as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), is the culmination of 3,000 years of knowledge gathered and passed down in writing by the best-educated and brightest scholars in Chinese history.  Oriental medicine includes a set of systematic techniques and methods, including acupuncture, herbal medicine, acupressure, qigong, and oriental massage.  Expansion of this knowledge continues today with modern biomedical research.  In modern China, traditional medicine is practiced alongside Western medicine in most hospitals, as the two forms of medicine compliment each other.  

What is a Treatment Like?

The treatments are very relaxing.  Many individuals are surprised at how comfortable they are during the treatment and how easily the needles are placed.  The needles are extremely thin and specifically designed to be virtually painless.  The pre-sterilized needles are left in for 20 – 30 minutes and are discarded after only one use.  The lights are turned down low and music is provided to enhance relaxation.

Does it hurt?

No.  At insertion of the needle, the patient may feel some tingling or an electric sensation, either around the needle or traveling up or down the affected acupuncture meridian.  After the needles are in, however, a patient most often feels relaxed and some people even fall asleep during treatment.

How Soon Will I See a Difference in My Condition?

Good health is not simply the absence of symptoms. In fact, by the time most symptoms surface, the body has already been out of balance for some time, and they surface to get our attention.  There are some conditions for which the patient can expect a quick and complete recovery. For others exhibiting symptoms for an extended period of time, treatment is a process.

In fact, acupuncture is best thought of as a healing process, as each patient responds differently.  Some acute problems will improve with just one or two treatments, while other problems of a chronic nature require a longer course of therapy.  Only after individual evaluation can your acupuncturist give you a more specific answer.


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