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What is Acupuncture?

The art and science of acupuncture is one of the oldest forms of medicine in the world, dating back more than five thousand years.  Although its recorded use has been predominantly limited to Asian countries, during the last century acupuncture has gained enormous acceptance in every corner of the globe.  Through the insertion of extrememly fine needles into the skin, acupuncture gently encourages the restoration of health and well-being.  Not only is acupuncture virtually painless, it is also relaxing, enjoyable, safe, and effective in treating practically every ailment. 


Where did acupuncture originate?

It is uncertain exactly where acupuncture originated or who is responsible for its development.  It is now widely believed that acupuncture arose in many different cultures around the world many millennia ago.  The Balangoda Man, discovered not long ago in the Hill Country of Sri Lanka, is thought to be more than 5000 years old, and has acupuncture markings tattooed on his body.  A 5200 year-old man discovered in the Alps also has markings that could be acupuncture-related.  Wherever acupuncture originated, however, the Chinese deserve most credit for developing this unique form of medicine into what it is today. 


How does acupuncture work?

As you suffer various illnesses and injuries throughout life, your body constantly adjusts in order to minimize damage.  Unfortunately, the more your body adjusts, the further you deviate from a state of equilibrium, which is your condition of optimal health.  By influencing your body's natural energy, acupuncture helps your body forget old trauma and remember its ideal state of balance. 

Metaphorically speaking, acupuncture points represent doorways along corridors of energy in your body.  All doors are double-swinging, and during health, are unlocked so energy can come and go without hindrance.  Because of illness and/or injury, however, various doors can become locked, impeding the free flow of energy.  An energetic traffic jam results, often causing localized pain and disrupting other areas of the body.  Acupuncture needles act as keys to unlock those doors, allowing energy to again flow smoothly.


How can inserting needles into my skin improve my health?

During embryonic development, primary cells divide to form three distinct layers¾the ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm¾that differentiate to form the entire body.  The ectoderm differentiates to form the nervous system and superficial layers of the body, the endorderm the organs, and the mesoderm the circulatory and musculoskeletal systems.  Because the entire body originates from the division of these primary cells, there is an intimate relationship between the skin and internal organs.   


Is acupuncture scientifically proven?


Although acupuncture is validated by over 3000 years of recorded evidence, Western minds still have difficulty accepting it without scientific proof.  In spite of the difficulty in performing double blind trials with acupuncture, there are at least five prevailing theories to how and why acupuncture works.  Acupuncture has been proven to 1)increase circulation, 2)augment immunity, 3)influence certain neurotransmitters, 4)stimulate the secretion of pain-relieving endorphins, and 5)positively alter the gate-control system of pain perception.

Furthermore, by using modern equipment that measures electrical resistance of the skin, the same acupuncture points that have been used for millennia are now scientifically validated.  Nearly all acupuncture points have less electrical resistance than other areas on the skin.  Because there is less resistance, acupuncture points are more suscetible to external influences such as pressure or the insertion of needles. 


Are acupuncture needles safe?

Yes they are.  Virtually all acupuncturists in developed parts of the world use single-use, disposable acupuncture needles.  Each stainless steel needle is individually packaged and sealed by the manufacturer using sterile conditions and is only opened by the practitioner just prior to use.  The risk of needle contamination and subsequent infection is essentially nonexistent.


Does acupuncture hurt?

You may be surprised to learn that acupuncture is virtually painless.  The needles are extremely fine and tapered at the tip, allowing them to slide smoothly into the skin.  Depending on the guage, as many as six acupuncture needles can fit inside the hollowed shaft of a hypodermic needle.  There are several possible needle sensations¾radiation, numbess, heaviness, distension, pulsation and warmth¾that people experience during a treatment, indicating the movement of energy. 


What can I expect from a treatment? 

Every acupuncturist has a unique style, but generally a treatment involves an initial intake session consisting of a patient questionnaire, a verbal inquiry, palpation of pulses and injury sites, and inspection of the tongue, hair, skin and eyes to name a few.  After a diagnosis is procured using the above information, the practitioner commonly uses a combination of massage techniques and needle insertion to help bring about a cure.  Treatments generally last from thirty minutes to an hour, with needles being retained for 20-40 minutes.


How many needles are commonly used in a session? 

Because each practitioner is unique, and each scenario calls for a different treatment protocol, the  number of needles used during each session varies greatly.  While many treatments consist of five or fewer needles, others may mandate as many as twenty-five. 


How many treatments will I need to see benefits, and how long will the benefits last? 

Although there are no guarantees with any form of medicine, often a person needs to return periodically for follow-up treatments in order to maintain long-term benefits from acupuncture.  However, because acupuncture also addresses underlying conditions, one to three treatments are sometimes enough to obtain desireable and often permanent results. 


If I am healthy, why should I receive acupuncture? 

Even if you feel you have no health concerns, acupuncture can still benefit you.  During and following a treatment, many people will experience a profound state of relaxation.  Also, because acupuncture improves circulation, it is effective in increasing oxygen supply to parts of the body that may otherwise be deficient.  If your brain's oxygen supply is increased, for example, you may notice more clarity and cohesion of thoughts.  An overall oxygen increase in the body usually improves energy and stamina.  Furthermore, when nearing flu season or preparing to travel onboard a plane or in another enclosed atmosphere, acupuncture is recommended to strengthen your immune system.


How do I know if my acupuncturist is qualified?

Avoiding medical charlatans has been a concern for nearly as long as medicine itself.  Fortunately, today in the United States, Western Europe and  now most of Canada (British Columbia included), a person must be fully qualified and licensed to practice acupuncture.  Check the licensing mandates of your country, province or state to insure the qualifications of any potential practitioner before beginning treatment.  If you are still skeptical, don't be afraid to ask your acupuncturist for proof of qualifications.  Furthermore, use your better judgment when making a final decision.  If you do not fully trust your practitioner, then no matter how competent he or she is, you will likely not receive the full benefit from your treatment.  In BC all Acupunturists must be registered with The College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of British Columbia.


Will insurance cover my treatments?

Many insurance carriers do cover acupuncture treatments, either partially or totally.  If this is a concern for you, it is a good idea to check your level of coverage before receiving treatment.  Our Patient Support Services will gladly assist you in determining your level of coverage through your health insurance carrier if required.


Why should I see a holistic health practitioner?


Even with expensive diagnostic and therapeutic technology, a physician are sometimes unable to arrive at a proper diagnosis or treatment plan.  Whether or not a diagnosis is certain, pharmaceutical agents are often over-prescribed in an effort to attain quick results.  Such drugs will often only mask certain symptoms and potentially damage other areas of the body in the process.  Speak to your pharmacist for  review of your current medications. 


Additionally, surgery is too often recommended for conditions that could otherwise be addressed less invasively and ultimately with fewer risks.  It is a good idea to see a variety of healthcare practitioners before making a decision on the best form of treatment for you. 





Will acupuncture interfere with my medications or other treatments I am receiving?


Contrary to what many physicians attest to, acupuncture will not interfere with the efficacy of medications or other treatments.  In fact, patients undergoing chemotherapy and other potent pharmaceutical interventions commonly use acupuncture in order to decrease drug side effects.  Additionally, acupuncture can enhance recovery from surgical procedures.  Acupuncture does not force changes in the body; it merely unlocks the potential for your body to heal.




If I am taking blood thinners or have a low platelet count, is acupuncture safe? 


Acupuncture is generally considered safe for patients with bleeding disorders, but it is important to advise your practitioner of your condition in advance so he or she can use extreme vigilance in selecting points.  Some points near to vessels may be avoided altogether, or depending on other factors, your acupuncturist may decide against treatment.  Because vessels are not firmly anchored in place, and acupuncture needles are so finely tapered, it is very difficult to actually puncture a vessel.   




Is acupuncture recommended for acute situations?


If the situation involves some sort of physical trauma or is potentially fatal, it is a good idea to seek emergency care from a medical doctor.  Many acute conditions, however, such as asthma, headaches, and intense pain, can be allayed or cured with acupuncture.  Post-surgical pain, such as from an appendectomy, is commonly relieved after only a few minutes of treatment. 




Can acupuncture be used as a surgical anesthetic?


In Asia and many integrative hospitals in the West, acupuncture is widely used as a supplement for surgical anesthesia.  Dental work, cesarean sections, heart surgeries, and others are successfully performed without epidural or subarachnoid anesthetics.  Post-surgical recovery is greatly enhanced by supplementing potentially harmful pharmaceutical agents with acupuncture. 




Is acupuncture safe during pregnancy?


Acupuncture is generally considered safe during pregnancy, but depending on the stage, some acupuncture points are contraindicated.  By informing your Practitioner of your pregnancy any contraidications can be avoided.  Acupuncture can be incredibly effective in treating some of the common problems of pregnancy such as morning sickness and fatigue.

During childbirth acupuncture is commonly used to induce labour, reduce pain, or even correct a malpositioned fetus.  When used instead of drugs during labour, not only does the mother recover more quickly and with virtually no side effects, but she can also begin nursing her baby immediately without the risk of transmitting harmful drugs through her breast milk.




Is acupuncture safe for children?


Absolutely.  As is the case with animals, children generally have fewer expectations or preconceptions about medicine.  At a very young age they also have less fear of needles.  Because of these factors, and the efficacy of acupuncture, children generally respond very well to treatment.  Furthermore, children are usually more susceptible to influence, and thus respond favourably to any form of therapeutic touch.  In infants, less docile children and those receiving treatment for the first time, needles are usually not retained, but instead inserted and withdrawn fairly quickly.  This limits the risk of an active child becoming injured due to forceful contact against a needle.  With older and calmer children, or those accustomed to acupuncture, the needles can be retained in the skin for longer periods of time.




Can acupuncture be used on animals?


Humans have used acupuncture for thousands of years to train elephants.  Ancient leaf manuscripts from Sri Lanka and India depict various pressure points on elephants and the functions of each.  Even today, elephant trainers carry a long wooden staff with a pointed metal tip on one end.  By prodding elephants in various locations, trainers can actually encourage behavioural responses in these large animals.  On a medicinal level, acupuncture is very effective in treating horses, dogs and other domesticated animals.  Because animals have no preconceptions or a culturally-instilled fear of needles, they generally benefit greatly from treatments.





Is there anything else I should know?


Acupuncture is extremely therapeutic, relaxing, and enjoyable.  Even if you can think of no other reason to try acupuncture, you deserve to experience this ancient system of healing. 




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