Acupuncture FAQ

FAQs

  1. What does an acupuncture treatment consist of?
  2. Can anybody practice acupuncture?
  3. Is it safe?
  4. Does acupuncture just treat sore backs?
  5. Will acupuncture make me better?
  6. Will you take my pulse?
  7. Do you need to look at my tongue?
  8. Chinese medicine is all about Qi and meridians; it's all a bit strange isn't it?
  9. How long does a treatment take?
  10. How many sessions will I need?

1. What does an acupuncture treatment consist of?

Acupuncture, as it is practiced by a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, is a holistic approach to health. The practitioner will take into account your lifestyle habits, your emotions as well as your physical symptoms. Symptoms result from an underlying imbalance or weakness in the system. The aim of treatment is usually to tackle both aspects so that reoccurrence is less likely.

Patients are usually treated lying down, sometimes on their front, sometimes on their back or side depending upon which points are being used. Sometimes it is better if the patient sits up. Many of the commonly used points are on the limbs but there are many important points on the body and head.

The sterile needles used in acupuncture are much finer than those used with an injection and so rarely hurt. Once the needle is inserted you may feel a sensation which is an indication that the body is responding appropriately. The needles may be left in place for a few seconds or up to 20 minutes depending on your condition. The depth also varies according to the individual and what the acupuncturist is attempting to achieve. Usually people find the experience extremely relaxing and people often fall asleep.

Other techniques that are sometimes used to stimulate acupuncture points are acupressure, massage, electro-acupuncture or the warming of the point with smouldering herbs (moxa). These techniques all help to boost your overall vitality and well-being.

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2. Can anybody practice acupuncture?

At the moment, yes, although acupuncturists are working with the government to become regulated. There are however several bodies that accredit practitioners such as the British Acupuncture council which accredits acupuncturists who have trained extensively (usually at least 3 - 4 years) in the holistic practice of Chinese Medicine. Most doctors who practice acupunture (they often call themselves medical acupuncturists) and physiotherapists who use acupuncture as a mode of treatment have usually only done short courses, maybe 2 or 3 weekends. Their approach is usually formulaic and limited to treating symptoms of muscle problems or pain but are not trained to treat the underlying root of the problem.

It is only safe to get treatment by a practitioner who is registered with one of the regulating bodies. eg BAcC for Chinese Medicine practitioners or for medical acupuncturists - BMAS

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3. Is it safe?

Yes, if practiced by an accredited practitioner. Safety is a major strength of acupuncture treatment and rarely has side-effects making it particularly helpful, for example, for women who are pregnant. Incidentally, it can also be used to off-set the side-effects of essential conventional treatments such as chemotherapy.

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4. Does acupuncture just treat sore backs?

No. An acupuncturist trained in TCM can treat conditions affecting all the systems of the body including: respiration, digestion, circulation and the immune system. Increasingly, people are turning to acupuncture and Chinese herbs to support fertility treatment.

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5. Will acupuncture make me better?

Your body is a miracle of interacting systems maintaining balances which we recognise as good health. When these subtle balances become disturbed (become under- or over-active) due to maybe, constitutional weakness, catching a bug or through the effects of our lifestyle, we eventually begin to notice problems. Acupuncture is particularly effective at treating these functional problems. At this stage there may be nothing seriously wrong at an organic level but nevertheless the effects can be profoundly debilitating. An analogy would be that there is nothing dreadfully wrong with a car that has a blocked fuel pipe or the an engine that needs tuning, but it just won't go very well. These are often the conditions that doctors don't have any answers for. There is clearly something wrong but the solutions that they have to offer are often quite drastic or have side-effects that can be as bad as the original problem. Acupuncture is a "light-touch" therapy which gently encourages the body to sort out its own problems.

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6. Will you take my pulse?

The practitioner will examine the pulses on your wrists before deciding on the correct treatment. There are 3 main positions on each wrist related to different systems in the body. The TCM practitioner looks for a number of different aspects of the pulse including the rate, regularity, strength and resilience. The combination of these and other pulse qualities can indicate the nature and location of imbalances in the body. The pulse is a very sensitive indicator of health and can show up weaknesses even before symptoms manifest themselves. The initial pulse-taking process can take 30-40 minutes.

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7. Do you need to look at my tongue?

Similar to the pulse, the tongue is a very subtle indicator of the state of different processes going on in the body. A TCM practitioner is interested in the shape and colour of the body of the tongue as well as the coating - so please don't scrape it! It is worth saying that it is normal and healthy to have a tongue coating.

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8. Chinese medicine is all about Qi and meridians; it's all a bit strange isn't it?

As with many other areas of life, Chinese medicine has its own language. Because Chinese culture placed great emphasis on the "observable" laws of nature they noticed that the processes in the body could be usefully described in those terms. Over time, the Chinese developed a number of models of the way the body works which because they are rooted in careful observation are still relevant today. The language can sound quaint if it is not appreciated that it is a technical language. Curiously the world of economics often uses similar terms. So, for instance, the economy of a country may be said to be "heating up" or "becoming stagnant". These descriptions imply a "treatment" - "to cool things down" or "to get things moving again". In Chinese medicine, if a person suffers from bloating after eating, frequently feels tired and feels as if their legs are heavy they may be described as being "Spleen Qi deficient" - in other words, a weak digestion. It is then the practitioner's job to choose acupuncture points or herbs which stimulate and strengthen those aspects of the body.

Equally, these models can be regarded as maps. Maps are not "real" but they are helpful at describing the landscape in different ways for different purposes. Maps are a simplification of reality but nonetheless helpful. We have, of course, to be careful to choose the right kind of map. If you want to get from Pinner to Paddington, then a map of the London Underground will be rather more use than a geological map of the same area. Both will be "true" but only one will meet your needs. Part of the skill of the practitioner is to choose the right map for the individual.

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9. How long does a treatment take?

For most conditions the initial consultation (casetaking and pulse diagnosis) and acupuncture treatment take between one and a half and two hours. Occasionally, simple musculo-skeletal problems can take less. Follow-up treatments usually last about three quarters of an hour.

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10. How many sessions will I need?

There are a number of factors to consider when answering this question including the nature of the condition as well as how deep or longstanding it is. Often a noticeable improvement is made within 3-4 weeks. At this point you can decide whether you would like to have further treatments or that adequate progress has been made and no further sessions are needed. Some conditions, such as those related to periods or fertility require longer to see results. Other chronic conditions such as MS may require regular but less frequent treatments to minimise symptoms.

As acupuncture can effectively help the body deal with the effects of stress as well as stimulate the immune system, some people like to have regular treatments to maintain their general level of health by coming every 6 or 8 weeks or so. Others prefer to come at the change of season or when they are under particular stress.

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