Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is one of the therapies of Traditional Chinese Medicine with a written history in China of 2000 years but dating back before recorded history. The ancient Chinese developed this unique medical system through diligent study of the body, mind, emotions, spirit, and the natural world around them. This system is based on the idea that pathways (meridians) of energy (qi) run in regular patterns throughout the body, and these pathways relate to the organs and systems of the body. During illness the qi is blocked, excessive, deficient, or otherwise unbalanced, and acupuncture is one way of restoring and balancing its flow. Acupuncture uses extremely fine needles as conductors, and by inserting needles into specific points of increased conductivity in the body, we can regulate organ function, improve energy and mood, promote relaxation, and reduce inflammation, pain, and the stress response. Acupuncture works with the body’s innate ability to heal itself; once pathways have been unblocked, the body’s natural healing response can occur. Acupuncture is currently used by a quarter of the world’s population, mostly in Asia, and its popularity is growing rapidly in the West as scientific trials prove its efficacy.

For some conditions, electrodes may be attached to the needles. The electrical current provides a stronger stimulation to the needles to promote healing. In addition to acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine may also include massage, moxibustion, herbal formulas, cupping or gua sha, nutritional counseling, and lifestyle recommendations. Other techniques may be used for children or needle-shy people.

Every individual is made up of a unique combination of constitution, family and health history, environment, diet, emotions, beliefs, thought patterns and more; therefore every treatment is specifically tailored to you as a whole being.

Watch an acupuncture treatment

How can Chinese herbal medicine help?

After diagnosing your particular pattern of disharmony and administering your accupuncture treatment, I usually prescribe an herbal formula based on your constitution, environment, and medical condition. Herbal medicines combined with acupuncture accelerate healing significantly, thus your compliance with your prescriptions is essential for optimal recovery. I may prescribe herbs at the first visit or may wait a few visits to learn more about your condition. An herbal formula may come in various forms: capsules, tablets, liquids, powders, or teas. The best results are achieved with formulas mixed specifically for your needs, so I most often use powders that allow me to individualize your formula. Herbs have different flavors, and individual tastes may vary; some formulas taste good while others do not. Like any new habit, you may have to work consciously at first to take herbs as prescribed, but once you have taken them for a reasonable length of time, the great results you achieve will help you continue. I have many ideas for more easily consuming your formulas.

What can acupuncture and herbal medicine treat?

The World Health Organization recognizes acupuncture as effective treatment for many disorders, including the following:

  • Gynecological disorders such as irregular or heavy periods, infertility, PMS, pregnancy concerns, post-partum recovery, and menopausal symptoms
  • Muscular/skeletal disorders such as acute or chronic pain, lower back pain, shoulder pain, knee pain, and arthritis pain
  • Hypertension
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Anxiety, depression, insomnia ,and other mood disorders
  • Gastrointestinal disorders such as chronic constipation or diarrhea, colitis, indigestion, gastritis, and irritable bowel syndrome
  • Urogenital disorders such as chronic urinary tract infections or incontinence
  • Respiratory disorders such as allergies, asthma, bronchitis, and sinusitis
  • Addictions, such as cigarette smoking, food bingeing, drug abuse

What is Qi?

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), qi is a “force” or “energy” that is necessary to carry nutrients or essence to different areas of the body to maintain proper body functions. Qi travels through 14 major meridians, and each meridian is linked to an organ system. There are 12 organ systems in TCM: kidney, urinary bladder, liver, gall bladder, heart, small intestine, triple warmer, pericardium, spleen, stomach, lung, and large intestine. It is important to understand a little background information about the TCM view of the body so you won’t be confused by TCM terminology. TCM sees the human body in a qualitative way, as opposed to the western quantitative way. The understanding of organ systems is very different in TCM and western medicine. For example, an acupuncturist may explain that your condition is a result of a “liver meridian imbalance.” This doesn’t mean there will be some abnormality in the way your liver works or in laboratory results of liver function tests, the way we usually would consider liver disease according to Western Medicine. In the TCM view, it means that there is a disruption of the flow of qi in the meridian named for the liver, and this is the basis on which an acupuncturist will design your treatment.

What should I expect at my first visit?

Please come to your first visit prepared with our intake forms completed to allow more time for your visit. If you do not have your registration forms completed in advance, please arrive 15 minutes early. The first visit is my opportunity to get to know you in our casual, relaxed atmosphere. I consider the development of our relationship paramount in your path to healing with acupuncture and herbal medicine, and I take the time to do that well. Expect the first visit to take 1.5 – 2 hours while subsequent visits may last 30-60 minutes. Children’s visits may be shorter depending on their attention span. I will complete a detailed intake in order to learn about your symptoms and how they may be interrelated. In addition to listening, other diagnostic tools include observing details of your tongue, palpating your abdomen and acupuncture meridians and feeling your pulses. Once I insert the needles you will have time to relax for about 15 to 30 minutes. I usually prescribe an individualized herbal formula for most patients by the end of the treatment which we will discuss during your visit.

How does acupuncture feel?

Lilly with a needleEvery person is comprised of a complex array of life experiences, so individuals feel acupuncture needling differently, and likewise, depending on your constitution, different acupuncture points in the body can have different reactions to needling. Most people feel only a minimal pinch as the needles are inserted, and some feel no discomfort at all. Once the needles are in place, there is no pain, but a sensation of heaviness, throbbing, warmth or tingling may be felt at the insertion site. You may feel a deep sense of relaxation and release during and after treatments. Some prefer a very light touch while others prefer and need a deeper needling sensation, so my technique will vary. I encourage clear communication, and through the development of our relationship during visits, I learn what style works best for you.

For people who remain very concerned about the needles, it is possible to use non-needle therapies and still achieve results. We can also use the initial visit as an opportunity for discussion and lifestyle recommendations rather than actual treatment if that is more comfortable for you, and as is common in China, you may request to be treated only with herbal formulas rather than acupuncture.

I use only sterile, disposable needles, so the risk of infection is minimal to none.

How many treatments will I need?

Every person and condition is unique so it is impossible to give an estimated course of treatment before your first office visit. Depending on the nature, severity, and duration of the complaint, the course of treatment will vary. Most short-term problems can be helped quickly, while more chronic conditions may be relieved only with time and effort. For example, an acute cough might take only one or two treatments, while a patient being treated for cancer might need to receive twice-weekly treatments throughout chemotherapy/radiations treatments. The speed of progress with long-standing chronic issues is very much determined by the patient’s willingness to make lifestyle and diet changes in conjunction with the treatment.

Many patients use acupuncture, which can be especially effective for regulating the body’s energy, once monthly to maintain their health and to prevent imbalances from turning into disease.

What other types of treatment might an acupuncture visit include?

Electro-acupuncture (e-stim)

Electroacupuncture is a form of acupuncture in which acupuncture needles are attached to a device that generates continuous electric pulses. This therapy can augment the use of needles alone and is particularly good for treating pain.

MoxaMoxibustion is a form of heat treatment that stimulates specific acupuncture points of the body. It is typically derived from the herb Artemisia and comes in different forms. In conjuction with acupuncture, moxibustion can be very effective for many conditions including back pain, muscle stiffness, headaches, migranes, tendonitis, arthritis, digestive disorders, anxiety and female health problems such as menstrual cramps, irregular periods and infertility.

Watch a moxa treatment

CuppingCupping is another type of treatment. This is a method of stimulating acupuncture points by applying suction through a glass jar, in which a partial vacuum has been created. This technique produces blood congestion at the site, and therefore stimulates it. Cupping is used for low backache, sprains, soft tissue injuries, relieving lung congestion and common colds.

Watch a cupping treatment

Gua Sha
Gua ShaGua Sha is a technique used to release muscle tension, constriction and pain. A specialized tool is used to gently rub the skin over a problem area. The technique feels somewhat like a deep massage and may leave slight redness that dissipates in a few days to a week. Cell metabolism produces waste products which are slowly eliminated through the lymphatic system; gua sha or cupping promote this process by drawing toxins to the skin where the subcutaneous lymphatic capillaries are, speeding up the body’s ability to heal. Where the blood has been forced from the capillaries, new blood must flow in. The body must also clean up the blood no longer in the capillaries. The result of these two processes is an improvement in the circulation in the area. If muscles are so tight that they are ischemic, then nourishment cannot flow into them, and waste products cannot flow out. It is not surprising, then, that pain is a result.

Watch a gua sha treatment

Is acupuncture and herbal medicine appropriate for children?

Boy with needlesI begin by not assuming that the child is afraid of needles (this may be particularly true with unvaccinated children), and I take time to carefully explain the process and demonstrate it on a toy or an adult. Once a child is amenable, he or she is usually surprised to find that the discomfort is minimal to none. Even babies can receive acupuncture and usually exhibit no signs of discomfort but only curiosity in wanting to play with the needles. While some children respond better if parents are not present in the room, others prefer to sit in a parent’s lap during treatment.

If acupuncture is not appropriate for a particular child, a needle-less technique is available using either electro-stimulation or shonishin. An electro-stimulation machine delivers very tiny pulses through a wand to acupuncture points chosen specifically for each child. Children report that it feels like a slight “tickle.”

Shonishin differs from standard acupuncture in that there is no piercing of the skin. This technique uses a variety of different metal implements to gently stimulate the meridians and acupuncture points to move qi where it is blocked and to strengthen the qi where it is weak and can be used for a variety of conditions:

  • Immune system boosting
  • Sinus congestion/sinusitis
  • Digestive disorders
  • Joint and muscular pain
  • Recovery from injuries
  • Asthma
  • Fatigue