How Acupuncture Works

Medical terms in green are defined at the end of this article.

Acupuncture works with the energy known as Qi, to promote the body’s ability to heal itself.   Qi is accessed through superficial points along meridians that connect all parts of the body and organ systems.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) uses a holistic approach, and diagnosis is based on information gathered from many sources: tongue and pulse signs, the patient’s appearance and demeanor, questions about the functioning of the body and the state of mind/spirit, lab work, personal and family history, diet, lifestyle, constitution and energy level.  All information gathered helps the practitioner determine patterns of disharmony and develop a treatment plan.

When acupuncture is chosen as the appropriate course, then fine, flexible needles are painlessly inserted into specific points on the body, ears or face.  The needles increase the flow of Qi in areas it is blocked, improving circulation and the functioning of the organs and systems, reducing pain as well.

Needles are sterile, used only once, then discarded in a biohazard container.

Treatments often include other modalities, such as massage, color and sound therapy, heat or cold therapy, herbal topicals, microcurrent stimulation, moxibustion, cupping or magnets.  Patients may further participate in the healing process with prescribed herbal medicines, foods, tea, dietary supplements, and energetic practices like qi gong or yoga.

Advantages of TCM

One of the real advantages of acupuncture is the lack of negative side effects.  California acupuncturists are licensed as primary health care providers who interface with Western medical doctors as well as alternative therapy practitioners.

Acupuncture and herbal medicine may

  • be part of your comprehensive health care /maintenance program
  • provide an alternative to surgery
  • provide an alternative to drugs with mild to debilitating side effects
  • build up the body’s resources prior to surgery or chemotherapy
  • provide recovery support following childbirth, extended illness, detox, surgery or chemotherapy.

What it Feels Like

Most people find treatments to be painless and very relaxing.  Some patients experience sensations of tingling, heaviness, warmth or activity around or at the points of insertion.   Japanese technique needling is especially gentle and may be used in lieu of Chinese method for sensitive patients.

Length of Treatment

A treatment plan is unique to a patient’s situation, including the type of problem, its severity and duration, and the patient’s physical state.

For most acute conditions, one may expect marked results within two to eight treatments. An average treatment lasts between 20 and 40 minutes and patients are treated from one to three times per week depending upon the nature of the problem.

Read about what acupuncture can treat

Definition of Medical Terms

Qi (chee):  Energy or life force.  Pain and ill health result when the flow of Qi through the body is blocked or disrupted, whether due to disease, injury, medication (side effect), stress, emotions, lack of rest or nutrition, or overwork.

Meridians:  Pathways along which Qi travels.  Also known as channels, these pathways network every part of the body and every organ.  Specific meridians and points are chosen according to their influence on a particular physiological function and as taught over the centuries via the ancient Chinese texts.

Microcurrent:  The application of very weak (DC) electrical current using an approved device connected by wires to certain acupuncture needles (electroacupuncture) or superficially to pads on the skin (TENS).  The most common use is with musculoskeletal pain, facial rejuvenation, or areas with reduced circulation (slow to heal).   Patients usually experience a sensation of tingling or twitching in the activated area.

Moxibustion:  The smoldering of moxa (mugwort) over points or meridians.  The properties of the moxa (moving, heating) exert influence locally and systemically.

Cupping:  Clean glass or plastic “cups” are placed on intact skin then vacuum pressure is applied to draw the tissue up into the cup.  The result is to increase the healing response and circulation and to break up stagnation of blood and Qi.  Some discoloration or bruising may occur but usually resolves within a few days.

Qi gong:  Means “cosmic breath mastery” and is a set of gentle movements and breath work designed to incorporate the pure universal energy flowing all around us into our own energy pool.   Today it is utilized as an essential therapeutic tool in many Asian countries and worldwide to improve and maintain a healthy body.  Qi gong is related to Tai qi and other martial arts practices.

Acute condition:  Of fairly recent onset or normally limited in duration.  Some conditions are regarded as chronic after one to three months.  Taking action early into the disease process usually produces better results than waiting to treat long-standing or compounded dysfunctions.  Chronic imbalances require more time to treat.

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