There are so many ideas and theories about what acupuncture it is. Some people you know swear by it, others are afraid of needles, and some still compute it to witchcraft due to a lack of understanding. It can be hard to know what’s true and why you should give acupuncture a try. Let us help settle your fears, provide a solid education about what acupuncture is, and get you ready for your first treatment!
A Brief History…
By now, you must have heard about just how old this ancient healing modality is, and we are here to tell you that thankfully, it is here to stay! Acupuncture is rumored to have a history that is anywhere from 2,000-4,000 years old (the actual start date is still debated and unknown). While very beneficial to the Chinese culture and its people, at around 1912 the expansion of western thought had infiltrated most of China and the people of China had almost completely given up on trying to keep up with their traditions in medicine. Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine were “shunned” from a very new scientific way of looking at the body, and by the time of World War II that art of acupuncture was close to cultural extinction. In fact, by 1929, an announcement was made by the Ministry of Health proposing the abolishment of traditional medicine all together.
Fast forward to the 1950’s, acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) had its place in the world once again with the first traditional medicine school complete with recognized curriculum. Included in this school was acupuncture. This medicine has truly stood the test of time. It has proven its place in a very western and scientific world for many years, and is now part of the future in medicine. (http://www.acupuncture.com/education/theory/historyacu.htm )
The practice of acupuncture includes the use of sterile, one-time-use filiform needles that range in length and gauge. A fun fact to know for the scared, needle-phobic person is that 30 acupuncture needles can fit into 1 hypodermic needle nurses use to draw blood (acupuncture needles are tiny!). Acupuncture points are part of a whole network that is your body. Points are strategically placed in different areas of the body based on a subjective and objective interview and intake. Skilled acupuncturists are also trained to observe the tongue shape, color, coat, and moisture to help with treatment plan and diagnosis, especially when treating internal issues such as digestion. Looking at the tongue tells acupuncturist’s information ranging from the condition of blood, internal temperature, pain location in the body, etc. Another way some acupuncturists come to a diagnosis is by feeling the radial pulse. The radial pulse tells a skilled practitioner what the energy of the body is doing by feeling for the pulse rate, quality, and depth. Some acupuncturists do not use the tongue or the pulse, or do not use both, and utilize signs and symptoms instead to help guide the treatment.
Acupuncture differs significantly from modern allopathic medicine in terms of treatment. Frequently in western medicine the office visits are short, to the point, and urgent for situations such a surgery or common sicknesses. Acupuncture is just as necessary but for different reasons and works in very different ways than modern medicine. Appointments typically last an hour but can be shorter or longer depending on the need of the patient and the way the practice or clinic is run. Your acupuncturist will typically ask you what your goals of treatment are, do an initial assessment, and give you a general treatment plan that will consist of frequency of treatments to commit to in order to achieve the desired results. Treatment plans can vary, they can change at any time, and they can be long term. Acupuncture was traditionally used for preventative medicine, so it is very likely that once you are back to 100%, your acupuncturist will ask you to come in for a continued wellness program that can consist of visits twice per month, or perhaps 1 time per month depending on individual situations.
A licensed acupuncturist is required to attain a state and national board certification in the state of Colorado. Typically, a student of acupuncture and Chinese Medicine goes through 3-4 years of graduate level schooling. This is a full-time accelerated program that goes year-round and most likely the student has completed of over 3,300 hours of academic and clinical experience upon graduation. Not only do graduates have to learn about thousands of years of Chinese Medicine and philosophy along with some Chinese language, but they are also required to take a long series of anatomy and physiology classes, kinesiology, pharmacology, clinical sciences, biology, biochemistry, and we cannot forget about all of those Chinese Herbs! Some acupuncture schools have programs that focus on both acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and the formulation of Chinese herbs, others have separated and shorter programs on either subject (herbology or acupuncture). Also, when you are in your last year of school in an acupuncture program, you are in the clinic throughout the week, treating under licensed supervisors and getting to put your book smarts into treatment of patients who come to a school clinic for treatment. So, as you can see, an acupuncturist has earned their way into modern day clinics and is a significant counterpart to allopathic treatment of today’s medicine. It is always important to do your research and check in with state authorities to make sure the acupuncturist you want to work with is board certified and has all necessary parts to legally practice in whichever state you are seeking treatment in, as with any physician or doctor. In conclusion, be sure to ask your acupuncturist what their favorite subject was in school, we guarantee it will be different with each acupuncturist!
What do I wear, and how should I prepare for my first treatment?
When receiving acupuncture, you will want to wear loose fitting, comfortable clothing. It’s important to have something in your stomach. A heavy meal is not required; however, you do want to have something in your stomach as some people can experience lightheadedness if they receive acupuncture on an empty stomach.
Minimal, but common side effects:
Do not be afraid! These side effects are nothing like what you hear on TV commercials! Sometimes with acupuncture treatment, a patient may experience some superficial bruising around different points. This happens sometimes because there’s a plethora of tiny veins at the surface of the skin that sometimes are unintentionally punctured while inserting the acupuncture needles. Most patients don’t feel or know that they have a bruise and most of the time this does not happen, but it is one small side effect that goes with the use of needles. Another common side effect is more energy! Do not be alarmed, this is your body’s natural way of utilizing energy. A lot of other patients experience better sleep, improved digestion, and less pain. It is important to always have the number to the clinic or the acupuncturist you saw for treatment, so you can call with any concerns you may have. If you are for any reason experiencing a hard time breathing, dizziness, or chest pain for any reason at all, it is important to get ahold of an urgent care doctor and call 911 in case of any emergency. This is general precaution with any medical treatment.
Last question to answer is How- how does acupuncture work?
This is still largely under debate within the western world. A lot of doctors explain the effects of acupuncture as related to the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The peripheral nervous system (PNS) consist of the autonomic nervous system and somatic nervous system, which has to do with voluntary movement. Our parasympathetic nervous system is our “rest and digest” mechanism and is part of the autonomic nervous system within the PNS. Similarly, our sympathetic nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system within the PNS, however, the sympathetic nervous system is our “fight or flight” impulses. A lot of the time, we live our life in a fight or flight, sympathetic way, not leaving much time for our nervous system to rest and digest. Acupuncture is thought to regulate this and coax our Peripheral nervous system into a restful place to calm the muscles and organ systems. In our face-paced world, this hypothesis about how acupuncture works makes a lot of sense and can be easily explained to the lay person in terms of how the energy in the body works. Another thought that some western physicians have is that acupuncture is working with our fascial system. The fascia is a matrix within the body made up of connective tissue and is what binds muscles together as well as organs together. It is hypothesized that the acupuncture points we use are at specific “binding” areas of the fascia, and by releasing the tension in these points, the affected area or organ is manipulated for a desired outcome based on techniques used. One last thought about how acupuncture works is that it impacts cellular respiration. Our cells are performing at every second of every day and require oxygen and various types of nutrients to be able to function properly and keep our bodies alive. It is thought that because the insertion of needles all over the body causes a mini histamine response within the body, that acupuncture increases the cells ability to convert biomechanical energy from nutrients, and help release waste products from the bloodstream, by stimulating the Lymphatic system. As you can see, there are many ideas about how this medicine works, and how it has worked over the course of thousands of years. The best way to make sense of this all is to schedule an appointment to experience acupuncture and Chinese Medicine for yourself. See how it can help you in your everyday life as well as with long-term health goals.