Simple relaxation or general health invigoration are wonderful reasons to treat yourself to acupuncture! However, virtually any pain or illness can likely be helped with acupuncture treatments, and there are a few that are particularly responsive:
Depression & anxiety
Neck & back pain
Pain that flares with cold or damp weather or that radiates down a limb
Digestive issues such as IBS & celiac disease
Hormonal imbalances like thyroid difficulties, painful/irregular menses, and perimenopausal symptoms
Autoimmune disorders like MS, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus
Nausea & fatigue in general or induced by cancer treatments or other interventions
How Does Acupuncture Work?
There is not yet a firm theory of why or how acupuncture works in terms of Western concepts. However, there have been numerous studies performed that show a direct cause and effect from acupuncture stimulation and actual changes within the body. A higher concentration of certain neurotransmitters in a needled area, as well as various measured changes in skin resistivity and transmission of nerve impulses have all been pointed out as possible reasons that acupuncture works, but no complete understanding yet exists.
In TCM terms, the practice of acupuncture moves qi, a life force energy. There is no exact western correlation for qi, yet it clearly exists; after all, there is a well established understanding of living vs non-living! According to TCM, qi moves in certain channels in certain ways, and the needles affect this energy when inserted into certain points along those channels.
There are also concepts such as yin and yang and cold, damp, dryness, wind, and heat in TCM. The interactions of these influences within our bodies create the various diseases which we experience. It's important to remember that TCM is simply a model- a model that works surprising well in terms of understanding complex ideas, and that is a powerful tool in a clinical setting- but a model, nonetheless.
TCM can work synergistically when accompanied by other treatment methods such as chiropractic care, physical therapy, and massage. Acupuncture makes a fine addition to whatever modalities you currently employ to maintain your health and happiness!
What To Expect During & After Your Treatment
The first session begins with a conversation: gathering a history of signs and symptoms. In TCM, we also often include many questions that might seem unrelated at first- remember, our model makes many connections that the Western model does not. For instance, looking at the tongue and feeling the pulse are two of TCM's most important diagnostic tools.
Then begins the treatment. If the idea of needles makes you nervous, bear in mind that acupuncture needles are only 1/50 the size of syringes, since they do not have to be hollow. Generally, needles are placed between the elbows and the wrists and between the knees and the ankles- some of the most powerful points- and often at the site of the pain if applicable. Sometimes heat is applied with a deep infrared heat lamp at the site of the needles. The needles can be retained from seconds to an hour, but most commonly 20-30 minutes. The needles we utilize are made for one use, so they are discarded when the treatment is complete.
Once the needles are removed, there's occasionally a spot of blood to be swiped away. Every once in a rare while, some light itchiness or tiny bumps might linger for an hour or so; this is due to the fact that needle insertion may release histamines, producing an effect similar to, but much milder than, a mosquito bite. Bruising is rare, but it does happen, and very, very rarely, the bruises are large. Any bruising will only produce a discoloration- no pain or other issues.
Acupuncture is broadly considered painless, but there are actually an assortment of potential needle sensations that may accompany insertion. It should come as no surprise that not only will different people experience different sensitivity levels, but the same person will encounter a range of sensitivities both from point to point and session to session. Sensitivity is rarely an issue, but we carry several sizes of needles to accommodate the most sensitive of people. Bear in mind: strong stimulation is actually often considered a good thing. Most commonly, either nothing or a light feeling of pressure are felt, but there may be a quick, sharp feeling or even an electrical sensation. These feelings usually only last for a brief instant. There may also be a bit of a dull, distending feeling. It is extremely common to barely feel the needles the first few times and then begin to feel them a bit more as treatments go by. This may be due to the energy doing just what we wanted- moving better!
As far as results from the treatment, though fantastic results are occasionally experienced immediately, much more commonly, healing is a process. We often make an analogy with weightlifting- working out today won't guarantee that you can lift 300 pounds tomorrow, but it's not because working out doesn't work, it's because it takes patience and consistency to see results. Generally, it can take up to 2-4 weeks to begin to see results. Two visits per week is ideal, if possible for the patient, but not necessary.
Continuing with the weightlifting analogy: due to the needles and heat bringing greater blood flow to the area, it's not uncommon to get a bit more inflamed and sore at first. Another reason for this is that the acupuncture will engage your body's own healing response, of which inflammation is a facet. This is often minor, and should not be a cause for concern.
Once positive results begin to blossom, bear in mind that ups and downs are the norm, even when on a healing path. In any modality, it's not uncommon that people begin to feel better, then have a rough day or maybe a rough week, and they say, 'Well, I knew this wasn't going to work,' and give up. Be prepared to have those ups and downs, especially since environmental factors such as activity levels, weather, diet, and stress play such an important role in how one might feel any given day.
It's difficult to say how many treatments might be needed, in total, considering the broad variety of issues that may be treated and the spectrum of results that might be expected.
How to Prepare for Your Appointment
Hydrate properly, and try not to be too hungry
Wear loose clothing that can be pulled up to the knees and elbows, or bring shorts and short sleeves to change into