What is acupuncture?
Several thousand years ago, East Asian medicine practitioners made an observation – that the body forms disharmonies as a result of the various physical, mental, and emotional stresses of life. Life in today’s world is no different – many of us find ourselves under high levels of stress with no relief in sight. Over time we find ourselves to be less resilient – we have no energy, we can’t sleep, our digestion is uncomfortable, we have aches and pains that we have learned to live with ….should I go on? When we experience anything less than a sense of well-being, it means our vital energies are in disharmony, and it is these disharmonies that manifest as disease.
Chinese medical theory explains disease as an imbalance of opposing forces called yin and yang. This imbalance disrupts the movement of the body’s vital energy (qi) along the meridian pathways, channels through which the body’s energy is thought to flow. Acupuncture restores the smooth flow of qi. By inserting and manipulating needles at specific points along the meridians, the body is able to restore its natural balance and heal itself. This is the simple explanation – and just the beginning.
How does acupuncture feel?
Many first-time patients are concerned that acupuncture needles will feel like getting a shot at the doctor’s office – I can assure you they won’t. Acupuncture uses very thin, flexible stainless steel needles. (All needles are sterilized and packaged for single use.) When I describe them to patients, I like to compare them to “cat whiskers.” Upon insertion, gentle stimulation of the needles produces a unique sensation that Chinese medicine calls de qi – we are catching the qi much like a cast fishing rod catches a fish. Patients often describe de qi as a heavy pressure, or “electrical” twinge – it is not an unpleasant feeling. At some points de qi may be sensed as a radiating feeling moving down the meridian pathways. Most patients find these acupuncture sensations deeply relaxing and leave their treatment feeling both mentally and physically restored.
How many treatments will I need?
The benefits of acupuncture are cumulative, so more than one treatment will be necessary for lasting results. There are many factors to consider when formulating a treatment plan – most notably, we are all constitutionally different as individuals. Some of us are more sensitive than others to the effects of acupuncture and herbal medicine. In addition, our presenting symptoms may differ from week to week. Each treatment is customized to treat an individual as a whole, taking into account their presenting symptoms as well as their health history. For acute conditions, it is possible that you will begin to feel relief after just the first few treatments. Chronic conditions may take longer to respond, depending on the type, severity, and duration of the condition. When you are in better health, preventative and maintenance treatments are highly recommended.
Is acupuncture safe?
Yes – acupuncture is a safe, noninvasive treatment modality. Acupuncturists are required to undergo extensive education, including detailed study of human anatomy, disease pathology, and herb-drug interactions. Acupuncture is used by millions of people every year in the treatment of countless health conditions (click here to read about some of the conditions that acupuncture may help). With the recent changes in the California healthcare system (Affordable Care Act), acupuncture is now an essential benefit under most health insurance plans (and I am happy to assist you in accessing your benefits). I am a licensed primary care provider in the state of California, and in addition to my previous five years of Master’s level education in Traditional Chinese Medicine, I am presently pursuing a Doctoral degree in the study of Oriental Medicine specializing in both women’s health and pain management.
Your first visit and how to prepare…
Before your first acupuncture treatment, I invite you to fill out a packet of new patient forms to bring with you to your appointment – you may download them here. Also, please take this opportunity to familiarize yourself with clinic policies which are detailed in these forms. This will give you the opportunity to thoughtfully answer questions about your health history, current symptoms, and treatment goals. These questions are important because the holistic approach of Chinese medicine takes everything into account. Your current symptoms may not seem related to past health issues, but our bodies are complex landscapes and every imbalance may leave its mark. (You are welcome and encouraged to bring along copies of any recent lab or medical testing that may be informative of the conditions for which you seek treatment.)
After reviewing your intake forms, we will have some one-on-one time for discussion. At some point, I will ask to see your tongue and feel your pulse – two of the most important diagnostic methods of Chinese medicine are tongue and pulse examination. (I know it may sound strange – but it is so very interesting! Soon you will be checking out your tongue in the mirror every morning impressed by its changes.) I will choose the acupuncture points that I feel are best for your individual treatment, and once the needles are inserted, I will leave you to lie comfortably for 25-30 minutes with the needles in place. Many people find acupuncture treatment deeply relaxing, and it is not uncommon for patients to fall asleep during this time. If it is appropriate to your condition, I may also apply infrared heat therapy, use an electric-stimulation device, or perform manual therapy, such as cupping. At the end of our session, we may discuss herbal medicine options, nutrition and general lifestyle improvements, and anything else that you may wish to include as part of your home-plan to help you achieve your greater treatment goals.