I think its fair to say that a large portion of people in Canada have at least a heard about acupuncture at this point but how much do you personally know about this ancient Chinese Medicine philosophy and technique. For instance, did you know that acupuncture is widely used as a preventative medicine to encourage balance in body? Do you know the difference between acupuncture and “dry needling”? And then there are those really big questions…is it safe and does it hurt?
The truth is that there are thousands of thoughts and opinions when it comes to Chinese Medicine so I would love for you to come and experience it for yourself but for those burning questions. Check out what the World Health Organization has to say about acupuncture and scroll further to read my thoughts on frequently asked questions/ideas related to acupuncture.
The following is the most recent study conducted by WHO (keeping in mind that lots of research has been and continues to be done as Chinese Medicine rises in popularity in the west) and their stance on the effective of acupuncture.
You can find the summary…
and the full text….
Diseases, symptoms or conditions for which acupuncture has been proved – through controlled trials—to be an effective treatment:
• Adverse reactions to radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy
• Allergic rhinitis (including hay fever)
• Biliary colic
• Depression (including depressive neurosis and depression following stroke)
• Dysentery, acute bacillary
• Dysmenorrhoea, primary
• Epigastralgia, acute (in peptic ulcer, acute and chronic gastritis, and gastrospasm)
• Facial pain (including craniomandibular disorders)
• Hypertension, essential
• Hypotension, primary
• Induction of labour
• Knee pain
• Low back pain
• Malposition of fetus, correction of
• Morning sickness
• Nausea and vomiting
• Neck pain
• Pain in dentistry (including dental pain and temporomandibular dysfunction)
• Periarthritis of shoulder
• Postoperative pain
• Renal colic
• Rheumatoid arthritis
• Tennis elbow
Diseases, symptoms or conditions for which the therapeutic effect of acupuncture has been shown but for which further proof is needed:
• Abdominal pain (in acute gastroenteritis or due to gastrointestinal spasm)
• Acne vulgaris
• Alcohol dependence and detoxification
• Bell’s palsy
• Bronchial asthma
• Cancer pain
• Cardiac neurosis
• Cholecystitis, chronic, with acute exacerbation
• Competition stress syndrome
• Craniocerebral injury, closed
• Diabetes mellitus, non-insulin-dependent
• Epidemic haemorrhagic fever
• Epistaxis, simple (without generalized or local disease)
• Eye pain due to subconjunctival injection
• Female infertility
• Facial spasm
• Female urethral syndrome
• Fibromyalgia and fasciitis
• Gastrokinetic disturbance
• Gouty arthritis
• Hepatitis B virus carrier status
• Herpes zoster (human (alpha) herpesvirus 3)
• Labour pain
• Lactation, deficiency
• Male sexual dysfunction, non-organic
• Ménière disease
• Neuralgia, post-herpetic
• Opium, cocaine and heroin dependence
• Pain due to endoscopic examination
• Pain in thromboangiitis obliterans
• Polycystic ovary syndrome (Stein–Leventhal syndrome)
• Postextubation in children
• Postoperative convalescence
• Premenstrual syndrome
• Prostatitis, chronic
• Radicular and pseudoradicular pain syndrome
• Raynaud syndrome, primary
• Recurrent lower urinary-tract infection
• Reflex sympathetic dystrophy
• Retention of urine, traumatic
• Sialism, drug-induced
• Sjögren syndrome
• Sore throat (including tonsillitis)
• Spine pain, acute
• Stiff neck
• Temporomandibular joint dysfunction
• Tietze syndrome
• Tobacco dependence
• Tourette syndrome
• Ulcerative colitis, chronic
• Vascular dementia
• Whooping cough (pertussis)
Phew now that we’ve gotten through that. Lets look at some questions.
Does it hurt?
Yes. But not necessarily in an “ouch” way. Sometimes you feel the needles and sometimes you don’t. It depends on where the needles are inserted. It depends on your pain threshold. It can depend on what’s going on in your unique composition and your current state of health. Your sensation of pain can even change from session to session. It might even be dependent on your mood at the time of your visit. Some sensations you might experience are dull ache, tingling, heat, burning, or electrical sensation and they are all good. The only pain we like to avoid is that really sharp pain that doesn’t go away so if this is the case, let us know and we will readjust or remove the needle entirely. So with that is mind its always best to be prepared that there might be some discomfort however we do our best to keep you relaxed and comfortable.
Is it safe?
Yes, it is safe. We as acupuncturist have a lot of training both in theory and in practice to ensure its safety. We practice a clean needling technique and are taking every precaution when inserting the needles.
What is “dry needling”?
You may not have heard this term before but this is term that can be used to explain the medically based technique that uses acupuncture needles on trigger points/acupuncture points in the body to help with physical ailments. This is the technique commonly used by chiropractors, physiotherapists, massage therapists, and some MD’s. There are actually quite a few colleges that are allowed to practice the regulated act of inserting needles below the dermis (skin) as is done in acupuncture. And although this technique is largely effective in helping with pain, increasing flexibility and instilling function it is just a small portion of what acupuncture can do for your body. From an acupuncturist perspective we are not only focusing on helping your physical ailments but also supporting your overall health at the same time. This is the beauty of Chinese Medicine, some of the techniques might seem a little unorthodox but they can be so incredibly effective.
What is qi?
I like to think of qi from an energetic viewpoint. If we look at all things from a scientific perspective and you break everything down to the smallest molecule essentially absolutely everything can be broken down to bouncing atoms (balls of energy) that together create physical materials. With that being said, we are made up of atoms the same as the chairs we sit on are made up of atoms. When you think of everything in its simplest form of moving balls of energy it is easier to understand the concept of Qi. Qi is essentially this, balls of moving energy. Everything has qi and all qi can be affected in one way or another. Therefore in acupuncture one of our goals is to notice the movement, quality, and quantity of qi so that we can bring it into balance through removing obstruction by moving qi or boosting qi by helping the body to produce it when it is deficient as examples.
I’ve been getting lots of acupunctures and its not working?
There could be a number of reasons why it is believed that your acupuncture treatments are seeming to be ineffective.
#1 – Perhaps it is working on more subtle levels that are hard to measure, such as better immune function or more emotional stability.
#2 – These things take time. Sometimes results can seem almost magical and major improvements can be seen almost instantly but when it comes down to it there is a science behind this practice and sometimes it takes time to help bring the body into balance to establish long term benefits.
#3 – There could potentially be a disconnection between patient and practitioner. Like many modalities, results are most effective when there is good working communication between the person that is receiving and the person that is giving treatment because it is essentially a team effort.
#4 – Sometimes although not often our energy systems can be so stuck that they block any assistance. It could take time and effort to break down those barriers.
#5 – There is also the potentiality that the acupuncturist does not have enough training and or understanding to assess and treat.
I’ve tried everything else, why would this work?
Acupuncture is amazing in that it meets us where we are. Our physiological systems are literally nothing short of a miracle. There are endless amounts of processes happening at any given moment in our body that are always working to create homeostasis (balance) in our body. When any one function is not working properly the body continuously works to restore function through any means. Which means that the body is always wanting and working towards being in perfect health. When there is illness it is a sure sign that one or more functions are not properly in working order. Perhaps that there is not proper draining of waste products or there is an inflammation of tissue. When this happens the systems work to correct it but sometimes there is an inability to bring in full recovery for whatever reason. Whether it be that there is not enough energy or resources to do the healing or whether the systems are constantly being bombarded with things (ie. Toxins), that disrupt function.
Acupuncture lends a helping hand. It works to target the systems in distress and works to re-establish homeostasis through working with particular meridians. You could consider this from a scientific perspective as similar to working with the nervous system. Many if, not all of the acupuncture points lay close to major junctions in the nervous system. When we target these particular regions it creates an electrical firing of sorts, sending out information to assist this process of bringing the body back into health.
Therefore, acupuncture is amazing in that it works to help your body find health in a very gentle and natural way without being so intrusive. Acupuncturist are also trained to see the body as a whole and can help coach patients into establishing healthy habits to also assist in finding optimal health through eating foods that are more nourishing for your particular constitution for example.
Is this voodoo?
It sure is! Acupuncture can be anything you want it to be. If you think its voodoo, it’s very possible that it is not going to resonate and work for you. If you think its magical and that it is going to be your cure all than perhaps it will be just that. There has been a lot of controversy that acupuncture is just a placebo affect but in the end does that matter because it still is proven to have amazing results either way. Why not take a chance?
I’ve had acupuncture before and it didn’t work.
There are a number of reasons why it might not have worked.
#1 – it worked but not in the way that you expected.
#2 – Perhaps it is working on a subtler level that is hard to measure, such as better immune function or more emotional stability.
#3 – These things take time. Sometimes results can seem almost magical and major improvements can be seen almost instantly but when it comes down to it there is a science behind this practice and sometimes it takes time to help bring the body into balance to establish long term benefits.
#4 – There could potentially be a disconnection between patient and practitioner. Like many modalities, results are most effective when there is good working communication between the person that is receiving and the person that is giving treatment because it is essentially a team effort.
#5 – Sometimes although not often our energy systems can be so stuck that they block any assistance. It could take time and effort to break down those barriers.
#6 – There is also the potentiality that the practitioner does not have enough training and or understanding to assess and treat.
You are not Asian.
This is true, but does it really matter? Many amazing acupuncturist worldwide are not of Chinese decent. All that matters is that you have the passion and the desire to learn. We are very fortunate that many of the greatest texts have been translated so that we can study this amazing modality here in the west.
I have also been very lucky to have spent 3 years of my life living and traveling in Asia so I have quite a love for the traditions.
I hate needles.
These needles are not the needles that you most likely have an association with. They are quite fine and are inserted in such a way that is very gentle. In fact, sometimes you do not even feel them puncturing the skin. One of my instructors once told me that you could fit at least 12 acupuncture needles in the diameter of a typical syringe you would come across at the doctor’s office.
To be completely honest there is most often a sensation associated with getting acupuncture but these sensations range from a dull ache, a heavy feeling, tingling, numb, electrical, burning are just some examples. Sometimes there can be a sharp sensation upon insertion but it typically doesn’t last more than a few seconds.
I have heard some people are more concerned about idea of having needles retained in their tissues for an extended period of time but once all the needles are inserted and the treatment is underway most people find that they are quite relaxed and can even fall asleep or find a deep relaxed state. I suggest trying it a few times before you make any definitive notions either way.
I had a bad experience with acupuncture.
This unfortunately is far too common, unnecessary and but also avoidable when making educated decisions in choosing your acupuncturist. There are many people that have had a bad experience or they know of someone who has had a bad experience or they read an article that turned them off. Acupuncture is an ancient practice that has only recently been regulated in Ontario so I am hoping that these instances will get fewer and fewer as time progresses.
As I mentioned above, currently there are many different modalities that are able to insert needles below the dermis. This a technical term for the process involved with inserting a needle under the skin however the amount of training varies quite a bit from a fully certified and regulated acupuncturist trained under a TCM modality that requires 2200 + hours specific to theory and practice. As apposed to someone who has a similar amount of hours in his or her field but only a small amount of hours studying a modern medically based style of acupuncture more accurately referred to as dry needling. This practice typically focuses more on musculature and is specific for the most part on injury with exception to naturopaths who learn a more theory-based style of acupuncture.
Since these short programs have significantly less hours of study and even less hours of practicum it therefore can lead to higher chances of incorrect needling (whether in terms of inaccurately locating the points or improper insertion) and or neglecting the that there is a theory behind point selection and each point is carefully selected based upon each individual case.
There are also cases of unregulated “Chinese Medicine Doctors” who may or may have had adequate training so it is best to do the research and know where your acupuncturist has been trained and if that program is in fact regulated. A good cue is to look for the R.Ac or R.TCMP beside someone’s title but it is also good to do a quick background check.
Just remember that no two treatments are the same, one bad experience does not mean that you will have the same experience again. Each acupuncture session I have had has a variance to it. Sometimes it relaxes me, sometimes it energizes me, it all depends on the intention behind the treatment at hand.
I am perfectly healthy, I don’t need it.
Did you know that TCM is actually a really wonderful preventative medicine? When you are healthy it is a great opportunity to keep yourself in balance and in that optimal health.
TCM theory speaks of a concept of yin and yang; these two opposite types are energy that is always in flux with one another. Optimal health means that both yin and yang are in balance and continually keeping the other in check. However it is very easy for one to gain momentum over the other and create a small or drastic division leading to an imbalance in the systems of the body that could lead to a number of ailments whether that be pain, or flu, or diabetes etc.
When we are continuously working to keep that balance in order it is less likely that we will become ill (chronic or even acute).
I just don’t understand the science behind it.
You don’t have to understand the science that it behind the traditions. This is a 5000-year-old tradition with thousands of text on innumerous amounts of information. People spend lifetimes working to understand the science behind it and may only scratch the surface because there are so many thoughts and theories behind the practice of acupuncture. Just know that us acupuncturists are trained, we are taught the theory, we have the knowledge to safely practice it and we have your best interest at heart. Sometimes all it takes is a little faith. You may just be surprised at what you learn about yourself as you get more and more treatments.