Acupuncture and You
What is Acupuncture?"Classical" acupuncture is an ancient therapeutic method developed in China that has been used as a therapeutic intervention for over 3000 years with the purpose of diagnosing and treating pain and disease. It is one component of Traditional Chinese Medicine that, according to the Chinese, aims to balance energy and blood in the body to maintain a healthy life. Acupuncture incorporates the insertion of very fine into the skin and tissues on various areas on the body that are connected through channels known as meridians. The Chinese describe over 350 points on 12 meridians that are named after organs such as the stomach and heart that start and finish at various parts of the body. Although not anatomically connected, it is believed that these pathways allow for the circulation of an energetic force or Qi (pronounced "chee").
Even with its documented success, it is not until recently that acupuncture has been practiced by western medical professionals. The recent research on acupuncture has increased to the point where a more modern approach of acupuncture know as "Anatomical" acupuncture has been developed. This new approach has combined some of the classical views along with the modern knowledge of anatomy, physiology and pathophysiology.
How does it work?
Acupuncture has been scientifically shown to decrease pain via the release of your body's natural pain killers, known as endorphins: Endogenous (naturally made) + Morphine (chemical pain reliever) = Endorphin These chemicals function by attaching to opiate receptor sites found throughout your nervous system. Endorphins block the pathways that send the pain signal to the brain, resulting in pain relief. According to the Chinese, acupuncture can also increase energy in the body, promote physical and mental well being, and some describe acupuncture as the best anti-inflammatory physical therapy tool that is available.
Does it hurt?
Everyone responds differently to acupuncture, however, most patients describe only minor discomfort with the insertion of the needles. Once the needles are in you may feel nothing at all or you may feel what the Chinese refer to as "De Qi". This sensation is often described as a heavy, numb, achy sensation; much like what a toothache feels like. If you are discouraged from acupuncture due to the pain from larger injection needles, you may find it comforting that 2-3 acupuncture needles can fit into the barrel of a normal injection needle. Acupuncture needles are very thin (really!!).
Are there any side effects or risks?
One of the greatest benefits of acupuncture is that it has limited side effects and risk. The possible side effects are very minimal and include syncope (fainting), infection from bacteria on the skin or a non-sterile needle, and bruising from stimulating a minor blood vessel. At Toronto SEMI, all acupuncture needles used for each treatment are new and sterile, so the risk of infection is neglible. If you are pregnant or a hemophiliac, caution should be used with having acupuncture, however, select points can still be used.
How many treatments will I need and how long will the needles be in?
As previously mentioned, everyone responds differently to acupuncture. Some people respond immediately to treatment, some require several treatments before they respond and others do not respond at all to treatment. Depending on the injury, as few as one treatment may be needed, while others may need several treatment sessions over a number of weeks before symptoms are relieved. Treatment sessions usually last between 15-30 minutes, but can be as short as a seconds. Generally I like to perform at least three subsequent treatments before I consider discontinuing treatment if no relief has been achieved.
How quickly will I see results and will they last?
Some people experience relief immediately with treatment, or relief may occur after a few hours or even days. The effects of the treatment can last hours to days and have a cumulative effect over time.
Is there anything I should do before or after the treatment?
Before your treatment it is recommended that you have a light meal, no alcohol or barbiturates, for four hours prior to treatment. Also do not smoke tobacco for one hour prior to treatment. Following these guidelines will reduce the risk of fainting and will ensure that your body's systems are functioning normally. After treatment it is recommended that you rest for two hours, avoid strenuous activity for two days if the treatment is for a painful condition, do no take caffeine or alcohol for two hours following treatment and do not smoke tobacco for at least one hour after treatment. Again, following these guidelines will help your body recover from the treatment without over stimulating your body's nervous system. Acupuncture is a therapeutic modality that can be used for a variety of both acute and chronic conditions. Whether you are an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, chances are that acupuncture can help your rehabilitation. So keep acupuncture in mind and ask your therapist if it can help you, because as little as one treatment could translate into long lasting relief.References:
Acupuncture Foundation of Canada Institute: Level 1 Part A, Part 2A/Part 3A Program booklets
Rapson, L. Acupuncture: A Useful Treatment Modality. Can Fam Physiciam 1984; 30:109-115.
Freer, D. Acupuncture and MSK Practice: A Clinician's perspective by Doug Freer. Momentum 2007; 30:3: 9-12.
Pohlod, L. Acupuncture Role in Sport Medicine. Momentum 2007; 30:3: 12-14.