What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a treatment based on  Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a system of healing that dates back  thousands of years. At the core of TCM is the notion that a type of  life-force, or energy, known as qi (pronounced "chee") flows through  channels in the body called "meridians." Each meridian connects to one  specific organ, or group of organs, that governs particular bodily  functions. When too little or too much qi exists in a meridian or when  the qi stagnates or is blocked, illness results. Acupuncture treatment  consists of inserting thin stainless-steel needles at various points on  the body, known as "gateways," to unblock or rebalance the flow of qi. 

What does an acupuncturist do?

In addition to asking questions,  the acupuncturist may want to take your pulse at several points along  the wrist and look at your tongue to observe its shape, color, and  coating. He or she may also observe the color and texture of your skin,  your posture, and other physical characteristics that offer clues to  your health. The acupuncturist then asks you to lie down on a padded  examining table, and he or she inserts the needles, twirling or gently  jiggling each as it goes in. You may not feel the needles at all, or you  may feel a twitch or a quick twinge of pain that subsides as soon as  the needle is completely in. Once the needles are all in place, you rest  for 30 minutes to an hour. During this time, you'll probably feel  relaxed and sleepy and may even doze off. At the end of the session,  the  acupuncturist quickly removes the needles, which is painless.

For  certain conditions, acupuncture is more effective when the needles are  heated using a technique known as "moxibustion." The acupuncturist  lights a small bunch of the dried herb moxa (mugwort) and holds it above  the needles. The herb, which burns slowly and gives off a little smoke  and a pleasant, incense-like smell, never directly touches the body.  Another variation is electrical acupuncture. This technique consists of  hooking up electrical wires to the needles and running a weak current  through them, which may cause no sensation at all or a mild tingling.  Acupuncturists trained in Chinese herbal preparations may prescribe  these along with acupuncture. 


What is acupuncture good for?

Acupuncture is effective for pain  relief and for post-surgery and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting. In  addition, both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National  Institutes of Health (NIH) recognize that acupuncture can be a helpful  part of a treatment plan for many illnesses. A partial list includes:  addiction, asthma, bronchitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, constipation,  diarrhea, facial tics, headaches, irregular periods, menopausal  symptoms, menstrual cramps, osteoarthritis, sciatica, sinusitis, spastic  colon, stroke rehabilitation, tendinitis, tennis elbow, and urinary  problems. You can safely combine acupuncture with prescription drugs and  other conventional treatments, but it's important for your primary care  physician to be aware of and to monitor your acupuncture treatment.  Some physicians and practitioners may avoid treating during pregnancy. 

How many treatments do I need?

The number of acupuncture  treatments you need depends on the complexity of your illness, whether  it's a chronic or recent condition, and your general health. For  example, you may need only one treatment for a recent wrist sprain,  whereas for a long-standing, chronic illness you may need treatments  once or twice a week for several months to get good results.