Most of these questions and answers are taken from the book, ‘Why Did You Put That Needle There?’ by Andy Wegman of Manchester Acupuncture Studio. Andy has graciously given us permission to share some of its content here, and you can also listen to him reading excerpts of it here on our site. The book is available to purchase from our store or in the reception area to read while you wait. It is a great primer for people who are new to 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.
Do acupuncturists have to hold to some religious beliefs 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.
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.
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.
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.
This is really the million-dollar question. The easiest answer we can offer, in bio-medical terms, is that no one has a definitive explanation. There have been many attempts to nail down The One Reason acupuncture works, but to our knowledge no one has got it - yet.
In all likelihood there isn't one factor, but that many reactions going on at once involving different systems - including the central nervous system – that allow acupuncture to have such wide, strong and lasting effects. This can be seen by people predictably being eased out of the “fight or flight” response (sympathetic) into the “rest and recuperate” state (parasympathetic) once needles are placed during a treatment.
If you have been told or have read that there is one factor to account for how acupuncture works, that explanation is probably not the whole picture.
The most commonly referenced studies on the topic of how acupuncture works have been directed and written by Dr. Bruce Pomerantz, an American physician. Through his ongoing studies, he and his colleagues have found that the body produces measurable amounts of endorphins (natural 'pain-killing' chemicals) when receiving acupuncture. For a time, this was thought to be the breakthrough understanding for the mechanism of acupuncture's effect.
In our opinion however, there are limits to this explanation. For instance, his initial landmark study involved some very aggressive acupuncture needling followed by electricity added to the needles. It was only under these circumstances that the measurable amount of endorphins were identified. This does little to explain how much more subtle needling (like the sort seen in most acupuncture clinics) would initiate changes and cause reduction in pain or improve function, for example.
Dr. Pomerantz seems to acknowledge that his research conducted to this point, offers partial explanations.
We define Community Acupuncture as the practice of offering acupuncture:
1) in a setting where multiple patients receive treatments at the same time;
2) by financially sustainable and accountable means, whereby community acupuncture clinics depend directly on the support of the people who receive acupuncture in them, rather than on grants, donations, or other funding;
3) within a context of accessibility, which we create by providing consistent hours, by making frequent treatments readily available, by offering affordable services, and by lowering all the barriers to treatment that we possibly can, for as many people as we possibly can, while continuing to be financially self-sustaining.
The Long Answer:
The words Community Acupuncture when put together, are not just a description of the kind of acupuncture given in a community or group setting, but also describe who is served by the acupuncture: our communities as we define them. However the words Community Acupuncture are not just describing a one-way relationship of the acupuncturists to their communities, but the relationship of the communities to the acupuncture, to the clinic, and to the practitioners, and other staff. The words Community Acupuncture when put together represent the connection and the contract between Acupuncture and Communities.
Acupuncture is often defined by the community of acupuncture practitioners as one part of the major practices of Traditional Chinese Medicine. But it is not just those who practice, or are licensed to practice, or educated to practice acupuncture who get to define what acupuncture is and isn’t. With Community Acupuncture, the definition cannot only come from those delivering care, but those who are served by acupuncture must have also have a role in defining it. To define acupuncture as a technique, or part of a body of knowledge, leaves out its active role in those who are most affected by it: our patients.
We need our patients and community members. We need them in many ways; without them we would have no practices or clinics at all, no income, no referrals, no supporters, no critics, no dynamic force to propel us forward as individual clinics, but also as a growing national, and even world movement of affordable healthcare for our communities. The contract between a community acupuncture clinic and the community it serves could be stated in a few sentences.
The clinics’ part of the contract is:
We will work to serve you, your families, by being here, when you need us, to provide acupuncture to relieve your pain and suffering.
The communities’ part of the contract is:
We will come for acupuncture, pay for our treatments, and participate in supporting the clinic in other ways.
As in all contracts: both parties give and receive.
A community acupuncture clinic gives a sustained commitment to keeping its doors open during hours that the community needs them to be open and it receives the presence of those who come. The community gives its endorsement of acupuncture’s effectiveness, to the affordable sliding-scale, to the comfort and accessibility a community acupuncture clinic, and it receives a reliable resource to maintain or improve the health of its members.
At the root of every helping profession is altruism, or the desire to help others bear their burdens. But altruism alone cannot sustain our choice to join the acupuncture profession and to bring this beautiful, simple, and effective medicine to others. Acupuncture is also a source of livelihood for its practitioners.
A Community Acupuncture cooperative extends the power of this giving and receiving beyond our locales to wider and wider circles of inter-connected clinics and communities.
Am I missing out on good acupuncture points while in Community Acupuncture?
You aren't missing out on anything. No matter what style of acupuncture you receive or with whom, there will be excellent and effective points used, and good points that are not chosen. No one kind of acupuncture is able to use all of the acupuncture points at once – and nor should they...that would be a heckuva lot of needles!
We think your best bet is to leave the point selections to your acupuncturist, while giving them feedback about how treatments are helping to change patterns of illness or injury for you.
Because we treat lots of people. What's most important to a community acupuncturist is simply to give many people the chance to receive treatments. Likewise, the business needs to see many people in order to make ends meet.
Plainly said, we want acupuncture to be readily available as a means to help take care of the health of our neighbors and communities.
Many of our patients appreciate being able to make same-day appointments. We get it – you don't always know ahead of time when you will want acupuncture, and if you suddenly get a free hour, you might want to fill it with a treatment! But we also really hate to turn anybody away. So while we will try to accommodate walk-ins whenever possible, we ask that you please make an appointment, even if it's only calling ahead to make sure there's room in the schedule before you leave your house. If you show up without calling, you are taking the chance that we might be 100% booked for the next few hours or even the whole day – it doesn't happen often, but it does happen. If you walk in without an appointment, we need to treat the people who have appointments before we treat you, so you might have to wait a lot longer than we'd like.
The Turning Point provides affordable acupuncture, not primary care medicine. We are not able to offer Western diagnoses or screening for serious illnesses. We encourage all of our patients to have a relationship with a primary care provider. If you need a referral, please let us know.
What else do I need to know about my first treatment?
A few housekeeping details: if you need to be up by a certain time, tell the receptionist when you check in – NOT your acupuncturist, because receptionists are better at keeping track of these things! We encourage people to set aside about an hour for your first visit; you'll spend most of that time resting with the pins in place. Bring whatever you need to make yourself comfortable, such as earplugs or headphones; we have pillows and blankets, but if you prefer your own, you can bring those too. Take all personal belongings with you into the treatment room, and keep your shoes on until you sit down in your chosen recliner. Remember that our community works best when everyone is reasonably flexible. One of the things we love best about our clinic is how many different kinds of people enjoy coming here for acupuncture – but some of them do snore, it's true
Absolutely not. Occasionally, we may need to have access to areas just above the knee or up to the shoulder joint, in which case we'd ask you to wear shorts or a tee shirt.
But by and large all it takes to get ready for treatment is to roll up pant legs and shirt sleeves, as points on the lower arms and legs are the most commonly used in community clinics. No need to take any other clothes off.
Walk-Ins Often Possible.
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Non-Discrimination Statement: This office appreciates the diversity of human beings and does not discriminate based on race, age, religion, ability, marital status, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity, height, weight, national origin, language, education, or HIV status.