What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture uses thin needles placed in strategic body points to enhance the natural healing ability of the body. Acupuncture needles are as thick as a few human hairs. An acupuncture needle is solid and smooth, causing less discomfort than a hypodermic needle which is hollow with a cutting tip.

What conditions can acupuncture treat?

Acupuncture is well known for its benefits in pain management. It may be effective as the only treatment against pain, or when incorporated into as part of a program that includes other approaches. Acupuncture is best known for treating back and neck pain, joint and muscle pain, sciatica, and headaches. Lesser known uses include treatment of some types of abdominal pain, pelvic and menstrual pain, nerve pain, and scar pain. Outside of pain, acupuncture has been used in management of asthma, nausea, cardiac disease, gastrointestinal, genitourinary, mood disorders, and recovery from stroke and head injury.

How does acupuncture work?

Research on acupuncture shows regulating effects on many systems of the body, which can be classified as effects on chemicals, nerves, and tissues.

  • Acupuncture stimulates release of endorphins, which are best known as natural pain killers but have additional effects on many tissues and organ systems. The endorphin theory alone can explain why acupuncture has wide-reaching effects. Acupuncture also causes beneficial changes in hormones associated with the fight or flight response, reducing the effect of stress. Research shows effects of acupuncture on many neurochemical systems.
  • Acupuncture affects nerves, triggering reflex responses that decrease sympathetic tone (reducing the stress response), and normalizes imbalanced patterns of nervous system behavior.
  • Acupuncture increases tissue blood flow, triggers cellular healing activity, and produces favorable expression of genes associated with combating oxidative stress and inflammation, known mechanisms of degenerative disease and aging.

Acupuncture is NOT a placebo. You do not need to “believe in acupuncture” for it to work; acupuncture is widely used for animals. A positive attitude, however, during any type of therapy is helpful.

What are the chances that acupuncture can help me? How can I expect to feel?

Acupuncture has helped many people who have not responded to conventional management, but everyone responds a little differently. Some notice immediate improvement while others experience changes a day or two after treatment. At times, those who have little in the way of early response notice a delayed improvement weeks after treatment.

Acupuncture harnesses your natural healing power; getting adequate rest, a balanced diet, stress management, and sometimes selected supplements, can help you get into the best possible condition to respond to your treatments.

How many treatments are given and how often?

In Chinese hospital clinics, patients expect to be treated two to three times per week, for a minimum of ten treatments, and sometimes thirty or more. In the west, acupuncture strategies have been adapted for the needs of patients who are unable to make this level of time commitment. Both the number of treatments needed, and the frequency, varies from person to person.

In many cases, acupuncture produces improvement quickly, but those with complex or long-standing conditions, such as pain of many years, may need to plan one to two treatments per week for four to eight weeks. The longer a condition has existed, the longer it may take to reverse, but there are no rules.

The most common response is a gradual, progressive improvement, where results last for increasing periods of time. Treatments can be spaced increasingly far apart as cumulative response occurs. Acute conditions, such as strains or sprains, usually require fewer visits. Many people like to return four times per year, with season changes, to maintain benefits and support general health.

Specific recommendations for number and frequency of treatments are made on an individual basis following review of your condition and ongoing evaluation of your response.

Does acupuncture hurt?

Normal sensations associated with needle placement and retention include tingling, warmth, dull ache, numbness, or heaviness, either in the area of the needle or in a distant area of the body. Needles may be connected to an electrical stimulator, which causes a comfortable tapping or buzzing sensation. Many people notice a generalized feeling of relaxation or well-being, and find themselves either sleeping, or smiling, or both.

What are the possible side effects or complications of acupuncture?

Acupuncture activates chemical, hormonal, and other changes, and with these, there can be changes in emotions, sleep patterns, appetite, bowel, or urinary habits. Occasionally there may be a transient worsening of symptoms. If this occurs, it is most often after the first treatment, and is followed by improvement. These changes are normal and indicate that you are responding to treatment. Some people sleep very well the night after treatment, other people sleep poorly after treatment, yet still feel rested the next day.

Acupuncture may produce a sense of deep relaxation but rarely causes a sense of mild disorientation, especially after the first treatment. This passes within a short time. Leave time to recover after your first few visits; do not schedule anything closely after your session. People occasionally feel faint; this can be prevented by eating a light meal a few hours before treatment, and arriving a few minutes before your scheduled treatment time, so that you are relaxed.

Any time a needle is placed in the body, bleeding can occur. Occasionally, a small vessel under the skin may be pricked, resulting in a black and blue mark. Infections or organ puncture are reported complications, but use of modern short, thin, single use, sterile needles reduces such risks.

Alert Dr. Lee if you have a bleeding tendency, pacemaker, metal sensitivity, or are pregnant. Special considerations may need to be discussed if you have abnormal heart valves, silicone implants, seizure disorder, or are taking blood thinners, narcotics, or steroids.

How should I prepare for my first appointment as a new patient?

New patient visits are by Telemedicine. MHSI staff will help you set up for the appointment ahead of time. Dr. Lee will review your paperwork, discuss your concerns, review your medical history, and perform a physical exam as telemedicine allows. Sit in good natural light in an area where you are free to move. Following that assessment, Dr. Lee will discuss the role that acupuncture can play in your treatment.

Are there any special instructions I should follow on the day of treatment?

These suggestions will help you get the most from treatment:

  • Drink a glass of water shortly before or after treatment.
  • Avoid large meals, over-exercise, sexual activity, and alcoholic beverages within six hours before or after treatment.
  • Get some rest, or at least avoid having to work at top performance after treatment, especially after the first few visits. Plan to skip or reduce your regular exercise after the first treatment.
  • Continue to take prescription medications as directed by your regular doctor.
  • Substance abuse and smoking will interfere with acupuncture’s effectiveness.
  • If you find chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation, or massage helpful, it is better to schedule this before your treatment, rather than within 72 hours after your treatment.

Does insurance cover acupuncture?

Policies differ among insurance companies. Medicare may cover some treatments for low back pain, and other insurance companies may cover certain conditions. Check with your insurance company regarding the specifics of your coverage.

Does acupuncture help with COVID-19?

Fatigue, shortness of breath, and heart problems from other causes can be improved with acupuncture. It is too early, however, to know whether acupuncture can assist with recovery from chronic symptoms of COVID-19. Even though acupuncture has been shown to have immune-modulating and inflammation-reducing effects, acupuncture cannot be relied on help prevent the disease or complications.

How do you provide treatments during COVID-19?

New patient evaluations are performed through Telemedicine. For office visits, staff and patients are screened. Masks are required for staff and patients. Visits are scheduled to minimize office traffic.

Can acupuncture help reduce opiate use?

Acupuncture can be part of a program to reduce medication requirements. Opiates may decrease the body’s ability to respond to acupuncture, but once small improvements are achieved, you can work with your prescribing physician to lower dosage.

As you take less medication, your response to acupuncture can improve, leading to further reductions in dose. The improved sense of well-being and reduction of stress that can come with acupuncture treatment may cause your pain to bother you less, which may also help you reduce medication use.

Treating injuries with acupuncture early can help lessen the risk of chronic pain and reduce the need for medication.

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