What is Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine?
The term Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) refers to the philosophy or theories that guide the work of acupuncturists and Chinese herbalists. The theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine were developed over 3,000 years ago in China and TCM’s usage quickly spread across Asia into countries such as Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, and India. Today TCM is practiced all over the world in such places as England, France, Germany, Spain, Russia, North America, South America and Africa. It is one of the most frequently used medical therapies in the world.
According to TCM there are fourteen major channels, or meridians, that run throughout the body. An energy we call Qi (chee) flows through these channels similarly to the way blood flows through arteries and veins. Every cell, every organ, every inch of your body needs Qi to circulate through it. Qi feeds our bodily systems and regulates its functions. Qi flows through the channels constantly and at a certain rate and speed.
I like to think of Qi not as some mysterious substance but rather the sum total of all materials that circulate through the body like blood, hormones, nerve signals, lymph, etc. If these combinations of substances (Qi) flow smoothly and consistently, then we experience good health and our bodies heal. If Qi is slowed, quickened, interrupted, altered, or stopped there is a resulting disharmony which causes pain or leaves the window open for disease or dysfunction.
Practitioners mainly use acupuncture and herbal medicine to correct and adjust this flow. Other common methods include massage, moxibustion (heat therapy), and a technique called cupping.
What is Acupuncture?
The literal translation is to “puncture the skin”. In a TCM practitioner’s repertoire, acupuncture is most often the main form of treatment. Acupuncturists use hair thin needles to stimulate very specific points on the body. These points are chosen according to the patients’ symptoms, and they stimulate the body’s ability to heal.
What is Chinese Herbal Medicine?
Chinese herbal medicine has an even longer history than acupuncture. The first herbal manual was written in the 5th century B.C. Herbal medicine is the practice of prescribing combinations of herbs to relieve specific complaints. TCM practitioners most often use the leaves, roots or flowers of plants but also incorporate minerals and other natural materials in an effort to treat the patient.
Many Chinese herbal formulas have been tried, tested, and documented over thousands of years. A well-designed herbal formula is specifically created for each patient’s individual conditions and needs. These formulas can efficiently treat diseases, as well as serve as a preventative treatment.
I use herbal powders that can be encapsulated or mixed in warm water and drunk.
What happens during an acupuncture treatment?
During this first visit a practitioner will take a detailed account of your complete heath history to fully investigate the reason for the visit. After the initial questioning the acupuncturist will have a specific acupuncture prescription in mind. Depending on your condition, the acupuncturist may take your pulse and look at your tongue.
After forming a diagnosis and putting together a treatment strategy, the acupuncturist will insert hair-thin, disposable acupuncture needles to jump-start your body’s ability to heal itself.
When the needles are inserted, the patient may temporarily feel a slight pinch, minor tingling, or other sensations. With the needles in place, the patient will rest between 15 and 30 minutes.
Patients describe their acupuncture treatment as soothing, relaxing, and grounding. Medical research has found that correctly inserted needles cause our body to release endorphins which function as painkillers and anti-inflammatory agents.
Traditionally, acupuncture treatments were done every day or every other day, but in our modern society this frequency is often unrealistic. I often recommend patients to come 2 times a week for 3 weeks. This will give patients a chance to experience and benefits that acupuncture may produce.
Why do you feel for the pulse at both wrists and look at my tongue?
Depending on your condition the acupuncturist may take your pulse and look at your tongue. 3,000 years ago Chinese doctors didn’t have lab tests or MRIs to tell us what is going on inside the body. Our “lab tests” are the art of pulse taking and observation of the tongue.
The Traditional Chinese Medical technique of taking the pulse is very different than what you might be used to. Acupuncturists feel three different points around both wrists, at three different levels. We feel for the shape, the depth, and the quality of the pulse. TCM has 28 different words to describe the pulse, all of which have different diagnostic definitions and give us insight into the internal processes of the body.
Observation of the tongue is another way to get a glimpse of what is going on in the body. TCM theory states that the tongue gives us a picture of the internal processes of your body. Whether your tongue is red, pink, pale, purple, dry, wet, has a thick white coat, a thin white coat or a yellow coat, looking at the tongue gives us specific clues which help us form a diagnosis.
How many treatments will I need?
The number of necessary treatments vary according to a patient’s specific condition, desired goals, duration, and severity of symptoms. Everyone’s body is different and everyone’s health issues are different. Everyone’s healing path is different, also. Some people progress very quickly and some take more time.
In the beginning, 2 treatments a week for 2-3 weeks are common. I tell patients that if they can come in 2 times a week for 2-3 weeks for a total of 4-6 treatments, they can get a very good idea of how well they will respond to acupuncture. If a patient responds well, appointments can be decreased to once a week. When the reduction of discomfort spans treatment-to-treatment then I feel comfortable extending the treatments to once every two weeks. This pattern continues until ultimately the patient only returns for “tune ups,” every 1 to 2 months.
Do the needles hurt?
One of the most frequent questions I get is, “Do the needles hurt?” Unfortunately there is no one answer because everyone is different. Some patients are not bothered by the insertions, others feel the insertions more. Needle insertions into some parts of the body, like forearms and calves, are hardly felt. However some areas of the body are sensitive, like hands and feet.
When a needle is inserted a patient can feel a number of different sensations but the sensation of the needle being inserted should fade in about 5 seconds to a minute. The experience of acupuncture should be very relaxing once the needles are inserted.
Are the needles clean?
Yes. I only use sterile, single use, disposable needles and follow the Clean Needle Technique required by Federal law. I use alcohol to clean each insertion site and dispose of needles in State approved disposal containers.
What to expect from the treatment
One of four experiences can typically be expected after the first acupuncture treatment.
1. The first can be an immediate decrease of pain or discomfort. Patients have gotten up after the treatment very pleased that their symptoms changed significantly during the treatment.
2. A second possibility is that there can be a period of hours before relief. I have had patients get up after the treatment and report no change in their condition, but upon returning he or she reported that approximately 2 to 18 hours later he or she felt a significant improvement.
3. A third possibility is that symptoms can get worse before they get better. I have had patients report that their pain or discomfort actually increased later that day or that night but then experienced a significant decrease in pain or discomfort upon waking or later the next day.
4. The fourth possibility is that nothing happens and there is no change. This may be due to the fact that the chief complaint has been present for so long that multiple treatments may be necessary before relief is felt or that possibly acupuncture is not that particular patient’s solution. I believe it is important to be honest with patients and let them know that acupuncture is not magic nor it is 100% successful. Chinese Medicine is a valid and effective medical system and like others, and it has strengths and weaknesses.
What does L.Ac. stand for?
L.Ac. stands for licensed acupuncturist. New York State does not bestow letters of achievement to acupuncturists. In California it means that the practitioner has completed at least four years of education and training at an accredited university and has passed the California Acupuncture Board exam. It is also possible to become a licensed acupuncturist by completing an apprentice program with a teacher and completing the required training at an acupuncture school.
Either way it is illegal to practice acupuncture in California or New York without a license.
I am licensed in both New York and California.
To confirm if an acupuncturist is licensed in New York State go to: http://www.op.nysed.gov/opsearches.htm
What does Dipl. Ac. stand for?
Dipl. Ac. means that I have passed three national board exams by the NCCAOM (National Certification Commission for Acupuncture. The state of New York requires an acupuncturist to pass two of the NCCAOM’s board exams for licensure.
I have taken and passed a third board exam to earn the title Diplomate of Acupuncture or Dipl. Ac.
Do acupuncturists' styles vary?
2500+ years of development has produced many different styles. The core of TCM was developed in China and quickly spread to surrounding areas such as Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Tibet, and other countries. The style from each country has specific differences but the core is very similar. For example, Korean acupuncture uses a lot of points on the hand, and Japanese acupuncturists use abdominal palpitation to obtain a diagnosis.
I use a style promoted by Dr. Richard Tan called the Balance Method. The main characteristic of this style is that we do not needle where the problem is. For example, if you have a shoulder injury we would most likely needle in your ankles and/or wrists instead of directly into your injured shoulder. I have found this style extremely effective and very easy to use since the patient can sit in a comfortable chair and only has to expose his or her lower legs and lower arms. There is no need to disrobe or lie in an uncomfortable position.
Does acupuncture always work to solve various health issues?
To be completely honest, no. No healing system, Eastern, Western, modern or ancient has a 100% success rate. Acupuncture, although it seems mysterious, is not a magical cure-all. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has its strengths and weaknesses just like modern Western medicine. A fascinating aspect of these two medical modalities is that, in my opinion, TCM and Western medicine are often successful in treating different types of conditions, and are often successful when used in conjunction with one another. For example, a patient would benefit from a Western medical surgical procedure, and then follow-up acupuncture treatments to assist with pain and healing from the surgery.
If not, what usually works and what does not?
In general, TCM’s greatest strengths are the ability to alleviate and manage pain, regulate bodily functions, treat common illnesses, and assist the body to heal from traumatic injuries or surgeries.
TCM is truly a people’s medicine that grew out of the need to take care of the most common problems that affect people. TCM has been actively pursuing treatment strategies and recording treatment successes and failures for over 2500 years. In that time TCM doctors have seen almost everything that can go wrong with the human body. For example, the Chinese had the concept of cancer in the 1600’s and had a rudimentary smallpox vaccine a couple of hundred years before Western Medicine’s smallpox vaccine. It is fair to say that TCM practitioners have a treatment strategy for almost anything that can go wrong in the body. However, it does not mean that TCM treatment strategies work better than modern treatment strategies in every case. A great opportunity that I see is to have both types of practitioner work in conjunction with one another. Together, they can determine which type of treatment or combination of treatments will best serve the patient in each situation.