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General Acupuncture FAQ

What is acupuncture?

Let's first define the terms. 'Acupuncture' comes from the Latin 'acus' (point) and 'punctura' (to prick)

From Webster's online dictionary:

Main Entry: acu·punc·ture
Pronunciation: ak-yoo-puhngk-cher
Function: noun
Date: 1684
An originally Chinese practice of inserting fine needles through the skin at specific points especially to cure disease or relieve pain.

This seems as good a quick definition as any. We'll offer up another with a little more detail:

Acupuncture is one of the oldest, most common and dependable medical therapies used in the world. It is by nature simple, safe and effective health care. Acupuncture practitioners use thin, sterile disposable needles inserted superficially into specific areas of the body in order to help the body's ability to heal itself. 

Over the three decades or so in which acupuncture has gained popularity in the United States, it has been proven by an increasing body of scientific evidence to be not only exceptionally safe, but statistically effective as well. 

Why would I want to get acupuncture?

People get acupuncture for many different reasons. For our purposes, we'll offer two main answers to this question.

A) Here is a list of conditions the World Health Organization has deemed appropriate for treatment with acupuncture. (skip down to page 23 of this 1979 report)

B) In addition, we'll offer up a list of 'no-brainer' conditions – that is, situations that should absolutely be treated with acupuncture without hesitation:

Athletic sprain/strain, acute back and/or neck strain, temporal mandibular disorder (TMJ), Bell's palsy, headaches (including migraines), palpitations, early stages of cold/flu, asthma, tendinitis, arthritis, insomnia (poor sleep), Raynaud's, anxiety, high levels of stress, addictions, irritable bowel syndrome, reflux, hemorrhoids, many gynecological issues (including PMS), herpes zoster (shingles) and pre-/post-surgery for accelerated healing.

Do I have to believe in this for it to work?

Absolutely not. You only have to believe enough to show up a few times in order to give yourself the chance to see positive changes.

Do acupuncturists have to hold to some religious beliefs that I don't know about?

No. Acupuncturists come from as many varied traditions of faith as your local banker, car mechanic or hair dresser. Acupuncture is born of philosophical traditions, not religious. It is given and received many thousands of times every day by Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Muslims and atheists among others.

Do the needles hurt?

Not really much at all. However, getting an acupuncture treatment isn't always painless. More than anything a treatment should be a deeply relaxing and sleepy slice of time for you.

Here's what we'd like our patients to know: You may feel a bit of a pinch when the needles are tapped in, but this should ease right away. If you continue to feel a pinching or a burning sensation at the needle site any longer than this, let us know. It means we haven't placed that needle real well. If on the other hand you are feeling a slight ache or heavy feeling near the needle, this is usually a good sign – a clue that the body is reacting in a productive way.
 
The bottom line is that as long as the feelings around the needled areas don't keep you from closing your eyes and napping for a little while, we say let them be.
 

Will I have to come get acupuncture forever to keep feeling good?

Likely not, but this also depends on the reason(s) you're getting treated in the first place.

For short-term issues, a handful of acupuncture treatments should do the job. For chronic or long-standing issues, a maintenance schedule of some sort would be in order to keep systems running smoothly and steadily after the initial period of relief and change.
 
For example, patient Melissa comes in for help with pain and swelling from a new ankle sprain less than 24 hours old. This type of injury responds best with acupuncture treatments two out of three days, which would probably be plenty to help Melissa's body sort out her injury completely.
 
On the other hand, David gets acupuncture treatments to work toward better management of long-term anxiety and insomnia that he's struggled with for five years. Chances are good he'll start to see clear changes in the pattern and intensity of his symptoms with steady treatments over four weeks or so. After this time, his acupuncturist will likely recommend regular but less frequent treatments for another stretch of time to help make sure the process of change continues moving forward. Once David finds himself in a place where he's consistently happy with his sleep and anxiety levels, we'll know it's time to dial back the frequency of his treatments even further. The aim here is to provide as few acupuncture treatments as possible while maintaining gains made.
 

Do you sterilize your needles?

When people ask this, we think there may be an assumption that we are re-using needles. This is not the case at all. For the last 15-20 years, acupuncturists have used one-time use, sterilized, disposable needles as the industry standard. So there is no re-using of needles even from one part of the body to another.

Sterile package opened, needle in, needle out and put into a bio-hazard box to dispose of responsibly and that's it.
 

Why do I feel sleepy once the needles are in?

To be honest, we're not sure. There have been many attempts at explaining why this happens and why acupuncture works in general. Our sense is, the presence of the needles causes our central nervous system to move into a clear pattern of rest (parasympathetic), allowing for our quickest healing and recovery to take place. Not unlike when we sleep at night.

This may explain why acupuncture is so effective at helping people overcome the many troubles associated with high stress levels – a state we can find ourselves in which is characterized by our nervous systems staying in a “fight or flight mode' (sympathetic) for extended periods of time.
 
Remaining in this state for long periods of time can keep us from recovering in an ideal way, leading to nagging injuries, sleeplessness or illness.
 
We can tell you, helping people get into a sleepy state is one of the most predictable and best effects acupuncture has to offer.
 

What are you injecting through the needles to make this work?

Nothing. And we couldn't if we tried. Needles that acupuncturists use are a filiform type, which means they are solid, not hollow like the type of needles 'shots' are given through (hypodermic syringe).

In fact, a standard-sized hypodermic syringe can hold about a dozen average-sized acupuncture needles inside of it.