Acupuncture is a method of encouraging the body to promote natural healing and improve function. This is done by inserting sterilized, stainless-steel needles (that are as fine as a human hair) into specific points located near or on the surface of the skin which have the ability to alter various biochemical and physiological conditions in order to treat a wide variety of illnesses.
Traditional Chinese Medicine views a person as an energy system in which body and mind are unified, each influencing and balancing the other. Unlike Western medicine which attempts to isolate and separate a disease from a person, Chinese Medicine emphasizes a holistic approach that treats the whole person.
Your practitioner will make a Chinese medical diagnosis based upon a thorough examination and consultation. The examination includes the assessment of the pulse and tongue. Once a diagnosis is made, your acupuncturist will choose the most appropriate acupuncture points for treatment.
Qi - The basic foundation for Oriental medicine is that there is a life energy flowing through the body which is called "Qi" (pronounced chee). This energy flows through the body on channels known as meridians that connect all of our major organs. According to Chinese medical theory, illness arises when the cyclical flow of Qi in the meridians becomes unbalanced or is blocked.
Acupuncture points are areas of designated electrical sensitivity that have been shown to be effective in the treatment of specific health problems. They have been mapped out by the Chinese over a period of over 2000 years.
How does acupuncture work?
The Eastern Explanation for how Acupunctures works is that the life energy flowing through the body which is termed Qi (pronounced chee) can be influenced and balanced by stimulating specific points on the body. These points are located along channels of energy known as meridians that connect all of our major organs. According to Chinese medical theory, illness arises when the cyclical flow of Qi in the meridians becomes unbalanced or is blocked.
Definition of Acupuncture
Acupuncture is the stimulation of specific points located near or on the surface of the skin which have the ability to alter various biochemical and physiological conditions in order to achieve the desired effect.
Explanation of How Acupuncture Works
Acupuncture points are areas of designated electrical sensitivity. Inserting needles at these points stimulates various sensory receptors that, in turn, stimulate nerves that transmit impulses to the hypothalamic-pituitary system at the base of the brain.
The hypothalamus-pituitary glands are responsible for releasing neurotransmitters and endorphins, the body's natural pain-killing hormones. It is estimated that endorphins are 200 times more potent than morphine. Endorphins also play a big role in the functioning of the hormonal system. This is why acupuncture works well for back pain and arthritis and also for P.M.S. and infertility.
The substances released as a result of acupuncture not only relax the whole body, they regulate serotonin in the brain which plays a role in human and animal disposition. This is why depression is often treated with acupuncture.
Some of the physiological effects observed throughout the body include increased circulation, decreased inflammation, relief from pain, relief of muscle spasms and increased T-cell count which stimulates the immune system.
Acupuncture is a very ancient form of healing which pre-dates recorded history. The philosophy is rooted in the Taoist tradition which goes back over 8000 years. The people of this time period would meditate and observe the flow of energy within and without. They also were keen to observe man's relations with nature and the universe. There were many sages of this period, but the most legendary was Fu Hsi, who lived in the Yellow River area of China approximately 8000 years ago. By observing nature, he formulated the first two symbols, a broken line and unbroken line. These symbols represented the two major forces in the universe – creation and reception - and how their interaction forms life. This duality was named yin-yang and they represent the backbone of Chinese Medicine theory and application. Fu Hsi then discovered that when yin-yang fuse, a creative action occurs, and this gives birth to a third aspect. Fu Hsi then pondered on how this triplicity occurs eight times and this led to the eight trigrams and then 64 hexagrams of the I-Ching (Book of Change). The I-Ching shaped the thinking for years to come and every influential book on Chinese Medicine is based upon its fundamental philosophy.
The primitive society of China is divided into two time periods- The Old Stone Age(10,000 years ago and beyond) and the New Stone Age (10,000-4000 years ago).During the Old Stone Age knives were made of stone and were used for certain medical procedures. During the New Stone Age, stones were refined into fine needles and served as instruments of healing. They were named bian stone - which means use of a sharp edged stone to treat disease. Many bian stone needles were excavated from ruins in China dating back to the New Stone Age.
The most significant milestone in the history of Acupuncture occurred during the period of Huang Di -The Yellow Emperor (2697-2597). In a famous dialogue between Huang Di and his physician Qi Bo, they discuss the whole spectrum of the Chinese Medical Arts. These conversations would later become the monumental text - The Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperors Classic of Internal Medicine). The Nei Jing is the earliest book written on Chinese Medicine. It was compiled around 305-204 B.C. and consists of two parts:
In approximately 1000 BC, during the Shang Dynasty, hieroglyphs showed evidence of Acupuncture and Moxibustion. Bronze needles were excavated from ruins, but the bian stones remained the main form of needle.
During the Warren States Era (421-221 B.C.) metal needles replaced the bian stones. Four gold needles and five silver needles were found in an ancient tomb dating back to 113B.C. The Miraculous Pivot names nine types of Acupuncture needles. The Historical Records notes many physicians practicing Acupuncture during this time. Another milestone for this period was the compilation of the Nan Jing (Book of Difficult Questions). The Nan Jing discusses five element theory, hara diagnosis, eight extra meridians, and other important topics.
From 260-265 A.D., the famous physician Huang Fu Mi, organized all of the ancient literature into his classic text - Systematic Classics of Acupuncture and Moxibustion. The text is twelve volumes and describes 349 Acupuncture points. It is organized according to the theory of: zang fu, Qi and blood, channels and collaterals, acupuncture points, and clinical application. This book is noted to be one of the most influential texts in the history of Chinese Medicine.
Acupuncture was very popular during the Jin, Northern, Southern, Dynasties (265-581A.D.). For generations the Xu Xi family were known as the experts in the art of Acupuncture. During this time period important texts and charts enhanced knowledge and application.
Acupuncture experienced great development during the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) Dynasties. Upon request from the Tang Government (627-649A.D.), the famous physician Zhen Quan revised the important Acupuncture texts and charts. Another famous physician of the time, Sun Simio, wrote Prescription with a Thousand Gold for Emergencies (650-692). This text includes data on Acupuncture from various scholars. During this period Acupuncture became a special branch of medicine and practitioners were named Acupuncturists. Acupuncture schools appeared, and Acupuncture education became part of the Imperial Medical Bureau.
During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the famous physician Wang Weiyi wrote, The Illustrated Manual on Points for Acupuncture and Moxibustion. This book included the description of 657 points. He also casted two bronze statues on which meridians and points were engraved for teaching purposes.
The Ming Dynasty (1568-1644) was the enlightening period for the advancement of Acupuncture. Many new developments included:
From the Qing Dynasty to the Opium Wars (1644-1840), herbal medicine became the main tool of physicians and Acupuncture was suppressed.
Following the Revolution of 1911, Western Medicine was introduced and Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology were suppressed. Due to the large population and need for medical care, Acupuncture and herbs remained popular among the folk people, and the "barefoot doctor" emerged.
Acupuncture was used exclusively during the Long March (1934-35) and despite harsh conditions it helped maintain the health of the army. This led Mao Zedong, the leader of the Communist Party, to see that Acupuncture remained an important element in China's medical system. In 1950 Chairman Mao officially united Traditional Chinese Medicine with Western Medicine, and acupuncture became established in many hospitals. In the same year Comrade Zhu De reinforced Traditional Chinese Medicine with his book New Acupuncture.
In the late 1950's to the 1960's Acupuncture research continued with - further study of the ancient texts, clinical effect on various diseases, acupuncture anesthesia, and acupuncture's effect on the internal organs.
From the 1970's to the present, Acupuncture continues to play an important role in China's medical system. China has taken the lead in researching all aspects of acupuncture's application and clinical effects. Although acupuncture has become modernized, it will never lose its connection to a philosophy established thousands of years ago.
About the Author:
Scott Suvow was introduced to Chinese Medicine in 1969 while studying Tai Chi Chuan with Grandmaster William Chen in New York City. The Tai Chi movements gave him first hand experience with the vital energy known as Qi. This unique experience reinforced his belief system in the whole spectrum of the Chinese Healing Arts. He has made it a life long study ever since. His teachers include Mantak Chia, Stephen Chang, Nancy and Michael Zeng, John Lindseth, Kezhuang Zhao, and other distinguished scholars. He is a graduate of the Tao of Healing Arts - School of Classical Chinese Herbology, and holds certification in Classical Chinese Herbology -Foundation of Tao- under the direction of Dr. Stephen Chang. He earned his Master of Oriental Medicine Degree at the International Institute of Chinese Medicine, Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is National Board Certified in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology (NCCAOM). He is licensed in New York and is in private practice in New York City. Scott employs a subtle approach to healing and modalities include Acupuncture, Acupressure-Tuina, Chinese Herbology, Bach Flower Essences, Chinese Medicine Food Therapy, and Internal Exercises.
Scott Suvow practices Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine in New York City and can be reached at:
920 Broadway @ 21St. 8th floor, New York, NY 10010
Phone - 212-683-9575; Email - scott(at)acupuncturecare.com
What Acupuncture Can Treat
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are extremely successful in the treatment of a multitude of conditions. Many people try Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine as a "last resort" to serious and complex medical problems and find that it can help them when other treatments could not.
Acupuncture is also often used as a preventative medicine. Many people see their acupuncturist only 2-4 times a year for a "tune up" or "balancing" treatment. This can prevent disease and promote health, energy and vitality.
Your acupuncturist will have to look at the onset of your condition and see what your constitutional diagnosis is to determine if Oriental Medicine can help you. Each case is unique and it would be difficult to determine how effective acupuncture will be for you without a full assessment. Please contact several licensed acupuncturists in your area for a consultation to find the best suited practitioner for you.
What problems are commonly treated with Acupuncture?
The most common ailments presented to an acupuncturist tend to be pain related conditions. For example; arthritis, back, neck, knee and shoulder pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and sciatica.
Traditional Chinese Medicine is a complete medical system that is capable of diagnosing and successfully treating a wide range of conditions including:
(This is by no means a complete list of what Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can treat.)
Eye, Ear, Nose, Throat Disorders
Gynecological / Genitourinary Disorders
Emotional and Psychological Disorders
Musculoskeletal and Neurological Disorders
Acupuncture Also Treats
How many treatments will I need?
Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to this question. The length, number and frequency of treatments will vary from person to person depending on the conditions being treated, your age and health, and how you respond to acupuncture. Acupuncture is a natural medicine that is assisting your body to make changes. This can be a gradual process.
A consultation with an experienced practitioner about you and your condition will offer the best guide for the length of treatment.
Generally, acute problems require less time and frequency of treatment. For example, an acute sprain may require only one or two treatments, whereas more chronic or severe ailments may require several (or several dozen) treatments.
How long will it take for the treatments to work?
A positive response to acupuncture treatments is generally seen after the first to fourth treatment. If you are being treated for a menstrual problem or infertility, give the treatments three menstrual cycles for your body to respond. You will schedule your appointments further and further apart after you have achieved optimal response.
How often should I be treated?
Again, this depends on what you are being treated for and your practitioner. It is common for treatments to be scheduled one or two times a week in the beginning to obtain optimal response and then once every other week. If you are not able to schedule appointments that frequently, your acupuncturist may prescribe Chinese herbs, dietary changes, exercises or pressure points for you to use at home.
Acupuncture is also often used as a preventative medicine. Many people see their acupuncturist only 2-4 times a year for a "tune up" or "balancing" treatment. This can prevent disease and promote health, energy and vitality.
Does acupuncture hurt?
Acupuncture needles are 25-50 times thinner than a hypodermic needle. They are so thin that several acupuncture needles can go into the middle of a hypodermic needle. There is little sensitivity to the insertion of acupuncture needles.
While some people feel nothing at all; others experience a brief moment of discomfort as the needle penetrates the skin that can be followed by a mild sensation of cramping, tingling, numbness, traveling warmth, or heaviness. The needles are left in place for twenty to forty minutes. Most people find the experience extremely relaxing and uplifting and even fall asleep for the duration of the treatment.
That being said, some conditions will respond better to a thicker gauge acupuncture needle. It is common to experience soreness during and after an acupuncture treatment. It is important to let your acupuncturist know immediately so that they can make you more comfortable. If you are sensitive to acupuncture or 'needle-phobic' your acupuncturist can use thinner needles and be gentler. Be sure to speak up and let the practitioner know how you are feeling!
How deep do acupuncture needles go?
Acupuncture points are located near or on the surface of the skin. Usually needles are inserted from 1/4 to 1 inch in depth. Depth of insertion will depend on nature of the condition being treated, the patients' size, age, and constitution, and upon the acupuncturists' style or school.
Are acupuncture needles ever inserted deeper that one inch?
Yes. For instance; there is a great acupuncture point for sciatica that is located on the buttocks. The needle is usually inserted three to four inches.
How Do I Choose an Acupuncturist?
Acupuncture works! But your experience with acupuncture will depend largely on the acupuncture provider that you choose.
You want to find an acupuncturist that best suits your needs. If you like and trust your practitioner, your encounter with acupuncture will be more positive.
You will also want to know about the acupuncturists training and experience and what to expect from the acupuncture treatment. The clearer you are about who it is that is treating you and exactly what the treatment entails, the more you will be able to relax during the acupuncture session and benefit from this ancient form of health care.
Determine your goals
Do you have a specific injury or complaint or do you want to try acupuncture to balance body, mind and spirit? Are you looking for a primary health care practitioner, or someone to work in conjunction with your current physician?
Here are some questions that you should ask when choosing an acupuncturist.
What Qualifications to look for when Choosing an Acupuncturist
Today acupuncture is an acknowledged and respected field of medicine. In most States, provinces and countries formal training and certification is required in order to practice.
The United States has set rigorous training standards for acupuncturists. Most states require a 3-5 year Masters degree in Oriental Medicine from an accredited acupuncture school and issue a written and practical state board exam before an acupuncturist can become licensed.
In the states that do not require licensing, choose an acupuncturist certified by the National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncturists. Its members have a degree in Oriental Medicine from an accredited school-or have worked as an apprentice acupuncturist for at least four years - and have passed both a written and practical exam. Acupuncturists who have passed this exam are entitled to add Dipl. Ac. (Diplomate of Acupuncture) or Dipl. O.M.. (Diplomate of Oriental Medicine) after their name.
Find out the Laws and Legislation governing acupuncture in your state
See what the initials (credentials) after an acupuncturists name st...
Acupuncture requirements for Western doctors are generally more lenient than for non-MD's. Choose a physician who also a licensed acupuncturist (L.Ac.). If there are none near you be sure that the M.D. or D.O. is a member of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture; it requires a minimum of 200 hours of training for membership.
Veterinary acupuncture is considered a surgical procedure that, legally, may ONLY be performed by a licensed doctor of veterinary medicine.
Ask About Treatment Styles
Acupuncture and Herbology encompass several distinctive styles. Korean acupuncture, for example, primarily uses points on the hand, while Japanese acupuncture calls for fewer and finer needles inserted at shallower depths.
There is no evidence that one particular style is more effective than another, but you should know what you are getting into.
Discuss Length of Treatment
Decide in advance what your expectations are and discuss them with your acupuncturist. A chronic illness may need several months of acupuncture treatment to have a noticeable effect. If you are not happy with your progress, think about changing acupuncturists or check with your western doctor for advice about other options.
What do the initials after the acupuncturists name stand for?
While more often than not, the abbreviation after an acupuncturists name is L.Ac. (Licensed Acupuncturist), there are many other certifications and degrees that practitioners will proudly list.
Information about credentials:
Here are a few of the most common abbreviations used and what they mean. If you know of a credential that you would like to see added to this list, please let us know.
A.B.T. - Asian Bodywork Therapist
Ac.D. - Acupuncture Doctor (Canada)
A.P. - Acupuncture Physician (Florida)
C.A., C.Ac. - Certified Acupuncturist
C.C.S.P. - Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician
C.H. - Chinese Herbalist
C.M.T. - Certified Massage Therapist
D.A. or D.Ac. - Doctor of Acupuncture (Rhode Island)
D.A.B.C.A. - Diplomate American Board of Chiropractic Acupuncture
D.A.B.M.A. - Diplomat American Board of Medical Acupuncture
D.A.O.M. - Doctorate in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
D.C. - Doctor of Chiropractic
D.C.M. - Doctor of Chinese Medicine
Dipl. Ac. - Diplomate in Acupuncture
Dipl. ABT - Diplomate in Asian Bodywork Therapy
Dipl. C.H. - Diplomate in Chinese Herbology
Dipl. O.M. - Diplomate in Oriental Medicine
D.N.B.A.O. - Diplomate, National Board of Acupuncture Orthopedics
D.O. – Doctor of Osteopathy
D.O.M. - Doctor of Oriental Medicine
D.T.C.M. - Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine
D.V.M. - Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
F.A.S.A. - Fellow, Acupuncture Society of America
F.I.A.M.A. - Fellow, International Academy of Medical Acupuncture
H.H.P. - Holistic Health Practitioner
I.A.C.A. - International Academy of Chiropractic Acupuncture
L.Ac. - Licensed Acupuncturist
L.M.T. - Licensed Massage Therapist
M.A.O.M. - Masters of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
M.D. - Medical Doctor
M.S.O.M. - Masters of Science in Oriental Medicine
M.T.O.M. - Masters of Traditional Oriental Medicine
O.M.D. - Oriental Medical Doctor
Ph.D. - Doctor of Philosophy
Q.M.E. - Qualified Medical Examiner
R.A. or R.Ac. - Registered Acupuncturist (Pennsylvania)
T.C.M.D. - Traditional Chinese Medical Doctor (Canada)
How much does an acupuncture treatment cost?
The cost of acupuncture treatments varies from practitioner to practitioner. You will have to consult with acupuncturists in your area for exact prices.
Generally fees range from $60-120 per session. The initial treatment is usually longer and more comprehensive and usually costs more.
While most practitioners have a set price per treatment, some offer a package price. This is common for treatments for smoking cessation and weight loss which require a commitment to multiple appointments.
If the treatment is billed to your insurance, you might notice that each technique used within a treatment is charged for in an ala carte fashion. These techniques could include massage therapy, cupping, electro stimulation and moxibustion.
What are some other treatment techniques besides needle insertion?
Electro-Acupuncture is the use of small electrical currents through the acupuncture needles. Electro-stimulation is often used in conjunction with acupuncture to enhance a treatment. Electro-acupuncture has been proven to decrease pain, accelerate tissue healing, and significantly reduce inflammation, edema and swelling.
Moxibustion is a technique in which a Chinese herb called mugwort or Artemisia Vulgaris is used to apply heat to an acupuncture point. It is used to treat certain debilitating conditions as well as arthritis and pain. Moxa is usually rolled into a stick the size of a cigar, lit, and held over specific areas of the body. Moxa can also be placed onto the handle of an acupuncture needle, allowing deeper penetration of heat. Learn more about Moxibustion
Cupping is a technique where a glass cup or bamboo jar is suctioned onto the body and allowed to sit for about ten minutes. This technique stimulates circulation, relieves swelling, and greatly enhances an acupuncture or Electro-acupuncture treatment. Cupping is used for many conditions including; back pain, shoulder pain, neck pain, common colds and influenza.
Tui Na is the traditional system of Chinese style physical therapy or massage. It is used in conjunction with acupuncture to enhance treatments in a variety of musculo-skeletal conditions.
Gua Sha is an East Asian healing technique in which the skin is rubbed with a round-edged instrument in downward strokes.. Gua means to scrape or rub. Sha is a reddish"millet-like" skin rash (aka petechiae). Sha is the term used to describe Blood stasis in the subcutaneous tissue before and after it is raised as petechiae. Gua Sha is used for many conditions including; back pain, shoulder pain, neck pain, common colds and influenza.
What are the different styles of acupuncture?
Acupuncture originated in China but has spread to Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Europe, and America. Different styles have developed over the centuries based on different opinions as to theory and technique.
Talk to your practitioner about his/her particular style and learn as much as possible about the treatment being proposed. While the basic theoretical principles of acupuncture remain the same, different styles of acupuncture differ greatly in technique and diagnosis. There is no evidence that one particular style is more effective than another, but you should know what you are getting into.
Traditional Chinese Acupuncture (TCM)
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is the most common form of acupuncture studied and practiced in the United States.
Japanese Style Acupuncture
Japanese style acupuncture takes a more subtle route than TCM. Fewer and thinner needles are used with less stimulation.
Korean Hand Acupuncture
Points in the hand correspond to areas of the body and to certain disharmonies.
Points in the ear correspond to areas of the body and to certain disharmonies. This system is commonly used for pain control and drug, alcohol, and nicotine addictions.
When a Western Medical Doctor performs Acupuncture; it is defined as Medical Acupuncture. Acupuncture requirements for Western doctors are generally more lenient than for non-MD's. Choose a physician who also a licensed acupuncturist (L.Ac.). If there are none near you be sure that the M.D. or D.O. is a member of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture; it requires a minimum of 200 hours of training for membership.
Today, veterinary acupuncture is an acknowledged and respected field of medicine which requires formal training and certification in order to practice.
In most States, provinces and countries, veterinary acupuncture is considered a surgical procedure that, legally, may ONLY be performed by a licensed doctor of veterinary medicine.
Look for a veterinarian with formal training in the practice of animal acupuncture. Acupuncture and Oriental medicine is an art and a science that takes years to master. While any licensed vet can stick needles into an animal, for a positive experience and results, find a veterinary acupuncturist with experience treating a similar condition (with acupuncture) to what your animal has.
Are there risks or side effects to acupuncture?
Usually not. Acupuncture is a very safe method of encouraging the body to promote natural healing and improve function.
Done properly, acupuncture rarely causes serious side effects. Many people feel a brief stinging sensation, like a pinprick, during insertion of the needles. Others experience a dull ache around the needle after it goes in.
Other problems documented by researchers resulted from mistakes made by the acupuncturists. For example, some have failed to refer their patients for other kinds of treatment that might be more effective for their illness. Others have spread serious infections by using needles that weren't sterile. A handful have injured patients by pushing a needle into a vital organ such as a lung. But overall, as the National Institutes of Health recently concluded, acupuncturists have an extremely good safety record.
A side effect that I have seen in my own practice is the original symptoms worsening for a few days after an acupuncture treatment. Sometimes other general changes in appetite, sleep, bowel or urination patterns, or emotional state may be triggered. These should not cause concern, as they are simply indications that the acupuncture is starting to work. My teacher explained it to me like this: Acupuncture is smoothing out blocked Qi (energy) that is stuck in areas of your body. When a garden hose gets a kink in it, the water stops flowing. When you straighten the hose, the built up pressure makes the water burst out in the beginning. This is what can happen when you first have acupuncture.
It is also common with the first one or two treatments to have a sensation of deep relaxation or even mild disorientation immediately following the treatment. These effects should wear off within 24-48 hours.
Please discuss what you have been experiencing with your acupuncturist. Your comfort is a priority. The more you communicate with the practitioner, the more he or she will be able to help you.
A few people have reported more serious reactions, such as dizziness, sweatiness, or nausea, according to a November 1999 issue of the Archives of Family Medicine. There have even been some cases reported where patients lost consciousness. However, these problems usually clear up on their own within a few minutes, without lasting harm to the patient.
While Acupuncture is an extremely safe form of physical medicine, here are some rarely seen contraindications and risks.
Precautions & Contraindications:
Risks: (Some of the risks mentioned below are EXTREMELY RARE!)