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A Guide to Acupuncture

What Should You Know About Acupuncture?

In recent years, acupuncture has grown in popularity as a treatment for many health conditions. Today, acupuncture is one of the most commonly utilized forms of integrative medicine. Integrative medicine combines traditional western medicine with complementary therapies. In fact, research studies indicate that more than 10 million acupuncture treatments are performed annually in the United States.

What is Traditional Chinese Acupuncture?

The acupuncture practice originated in China more than 3,000 years ago. Yet, despite centuries of success and learning about the techniques, many people still think of acupuncture as little more than someone “sticking needles” into the body. Fear of needles or perceived pain that often accompanies other procedures that involve needles keeps people from experiencing the fantastic benefits acupuncture offers for several health conditions.

The practice of traditional Chinese acupuncture is a technique whereby skilled practitioners use thin needles inserted into the skin to stimulate specific points on the body. Acupuncturists who practice traditional acupuncture methods believe that there are more than 2,000 acupuncture points throughout the body. Each point is connected to the other through the fourteen pathways called meridians. The pathways create Qi (pronounced as “Chee”), which is the energy flow in your body responsible for overall health and wellness.

The theories of traditional Chinese medicine practices embody the disruption to the flow of Qi as the root cause of illness and disease. The use of acupuncture on specific body points is believed to improve the flow of Qi leading to improved health and reduced illness and disease. Current studies show how acupuncture is a beneficial intervention to alleviate pain, improve sleep and digestion, and enhance emotional well-being.

How Does Acupuncture Work?

Acupuncture points in the body are believed to stimulate processes in the central nervous system. The central nervous system consists of the brain, spinal cord, and associated nerves.
When your central nervous system receives stimulation, the central nervous system causes the release of chemicals.

Acupuncture practitioners believe these chemical release biochemical changes may help stimulate your body’s natural healing capabilities while promoting overall physical and emotional health and well-being.

How Long Does Acupuncture Take?

The duration of acupuncture sessions will vary. Some sessions may last approximately 30 minutes, whereas others may approach closer to an hour. After the needles are inserted, they will remain in place for about 15-20 minutes, taking up most of a session’s duration. Other factors contributing to how long each session lasts include the treatment area and how many needles are required to address your signs and symptoms adequately.

Do the Acupuncture Needles Hurt?

Concerns about pain or discomfort associated with acupuncture often lead many people who could potentially benefit from this type of treatment to avoid it altogether. We each have different tolerances and respond uniquely to wellness techniques. Although your body may be more sensitive in some areas, acupuncture needles are not meant to hurt or cause considerable discomfort. For example, points located on the extremities or where there is less flesh, such as near your nails or on your feet may be more sensitive. Also, if a needle hits a muscle, small nerve, or blood vessel, you may feel a more intense sensation.

It is important to note that the sensations you feel during an acupuncture session will differ from those of someone else. Most people do not feel the needles being inserted. Acupuncture needles are very thin and inserted gently. They do not feel like a shot or other intervention that requires a needle. Often, you will feel a dull, mild ache or tingling sensation when the needles reach the intended depth. This typically indicates your treatment is working and that the acupuncture point is being stimulated.

What Results Should I Expect from an Acupuncture Session?

Acupuncture therapy evokes the body’s natural healing response by releasing the blocked Qi and stimulating function. Acupuncture is beneficial to treat a variety of concerns, such as, insomnia, menstrual cramps, digestive concerns, pain conditions, addictions, asthma, seasonal allergies, and emotion and spirit regulation. The results of an acupuncture session depend on your specific treatment needs and the severity of your signs and symptoms. Some people report immediate, permanent results from an acupuncture session. Whereas others see temporary results or results that take time to develop. In some cases, depending on the nature of your diagnosis and the reasons for which you seek acupuncture treatments, symptom management may be the primary goal.

How Often Should I Come In?

Sometimes, you will benefit immediately from your first acupuncture therapy. Often, you may require a few sessions before you start to feel the effects of acupuncture treatments, so it is crucial to be patient. Acupuncture treatment is similar to taking antibiotics as you take a course of antibiotics over a few days at least. The cumulative effect of the antibiotics is much stronger than just taking one.

The number of treatments you may need to address your symptoms and signs and the frequency of those treatments are unique to your condition. Your acupuncturist will help you develop a care plan based on the severity of your concerns and how your body responds to acupuncture treatments.

Generally, patients with a single treatment need to have a scheduled appointment once or twice weekly and require between six and eight treatments. Also, suppose you are seeking help from an acupuncturist for more than one medical concern. In that case, additional treatments (beyond six or eight) may be required to adequately meet your therapeutic needs. It is also important you abide by the diet and lifestyle advice as this traditional Chinese medicine advice will help you recover quicker.

It is also important to remember that not everyone responds to acupuncture in the same way. For some, these treatments may not be as effective as desired. If you do not feel your concerns improving after a few sessions, be sure to talk with your acupuncturist about your concerns.

How Long Does Acupuncture Stay in Your Body?

Several factors determine how long the effects of acupuncture will last. The duration of relief generally depends on characteristics unique to you, such as:

For a recent injury or illness (such as a recently injured shoulder or a flare of a chronic condition like irritable bowel syndrome), the effects of an acupuncture session may last several days. During the acute stages of illness or injury, your acupuncturist will work closely with you to manage your symptoms by realigning the balance in your body and eliminating blockages of your Qi. During the early stages of treatment, you may need to attend two (even three) sessions per week to regain your signs and symptoms under control.

You will notice gradual improvement and concern reduction as you continue progressing through your treatments. As your acute signs and symptoms resolve, you will likely find that the effects of each session last longer. Therefore, you require fewer weekly visits to maintain your control of discomfort or other signs and symptoms. In time, the benefits of each treatment may last several weeks. Remember though that there are various factors that align to determine the length of relief for each session and we each respond uniquely.

Is Acupuncture Safe?

The risks associated with acupuncture treatments are relatively low, provided you seek the services of a certified acupuncture practitioner. Although acupuncture is safe, it is not without the potential for some side effects. Common acupuncture side effects include bruising, moderate bleeding, or soreness where the needles were inserted. In general, this type of soreness dissipates within 24 hours after your procedure. It is crucial to ensure that your practitioner uses single-use, disposable needles (now a practice standard) to ensure minimal infection risk. As we are each different, not everyone is an ideal candidate for acupuncture. Before beginning acupuncture treatments, it is essential to have a conversation with your primary care provider to determine if your current condition or any pre-existing medical conditions may mean acupuncture is not the best course of treatment for you. It is also important to share with your acupuncturist about certain health conditions and your health issues to determine if acupuncture is a match for you, especially if any of the following conditions apply:

What Types of Conditions Can Be Helped by Acupuncture?

Over time, there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of clinical studies on the benefits of acupuncture. These studies have returned results that show acupuncture procedures successfully treat many common and some not-so-common conditions. Clinical studies have shown acupuncture as an effective treatment for hay fever, depression, facial pain, headaches, hyper and hypo tension, induction of labor, insomnia, knee and low back pain, migraine headache, morning sickness, nausea and vomiting, neck pains, dental pain, postoperative pain, inflammatory conditions, sprains, stroke, tennis elbow, and more.

In addition to the list of well proven conditions treated by acupuncture procedures, there is also a list of conditions with probable evidence to support the therapeutic use of acupuncture as a treatment method. Examples of these include alcohol dependency, Bell’s palsy, cancer pain, diabetes (non-insulin-dependent), earaches, female infertility, fibromyalgia, male sexual dysfunction, obesity, cocaine and heroin dependence, osteoarthritis, premenstrual syndrome, schizophrenia, spinal pain, temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), tobacco dependence, ulcerative colitis, and whooping cough. While this list seems quite long, it is by no means exhaustive, and there are many signs, symptoms, disease processes, and illnesses that acupuncture may be beneficial to treat.

If you are considering acupuncture to address a chronic or acute illness, it is crucial to talk to your primary care provider to determine if acupuncture treatments could help.

Does Insurance Cover Acupuncture?

Many insurance providers offering corporate-sponsored or private-pay medical insurance have some form of allocation for acupuncture treatments. However, there may be limitations on the reason for the acupuncture and limitations on the number of treatments insurance will cover.

Before beginning acupuncture sessions, check your insurance policy carefully or call your insurance company directly to determine if your visits will be covered. Knowing in advance if acupuncture costs will be out of pocket is highly beneficial and helps avoid receiving surprise bills.

Other programs such as Medicare and Medicaid have specific requirements regarding acupuncture. For example, Medicare Part B covers up to 12 acupuncture visits in 90 days but only for low back pain. Your policy does not cover any other condition. Similarly, Medicaid may cover acupuncture for beneficiaries requiring low back pain treatment. However, coverage levels and restrictions vary from state to state, with only a handful of states including acupuncture in their coverage as of 2021.

How to Search for Acupuncturist?

When searching for an acupuncturist, consider the same questions and concerns you would have when selecting a new doctor. Ask about their training and credentials and take the time to learn more about the provider and their background. Search for an acupuncturist near you and book your appointment in seconds. When booking your appointment, consider any other medical or health treatments you might receive. Describe those treatments to your acupuncturist so they can help evaluate how those treatments and acupuncture align.

What Should I Do Before Acupuncture Treatment?

Let’s review a few considerations to consider before your acupuncture appointment.
Clothes
On the day of the acupuncture treatment, wear loose fitting garments to easily roll up the clothing so your acupuncture can access the proper points.
Don’t Arrive Hungry
Enjoy a light snack or meal before your appointment. Be careful what you eat though so you do not upset your stomach before, during, or after your appointment with heavy, greasy foods. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and drugs for at least 12 hours before your appointment.
Completely and Honestly Fill Out Forms
There may be forms to fill out before you meet your acupuncturist. Completely and honestly fill out these forms. The answers to these questions are beneficial to your treatment and makes a different in how your acupuncturist handles your specific treatment.
Take a Deep Breath
Relax. Take a deep breath. Acupuncture is time for relaxing and healing. Let go of frustrations, anxiety, and anything upsetting you. By being relaxed, you can improve your treatment outcomes and recovery time.

What Should I Do Before Acupuncture Treatment?

After treatment, some patients feel energized while others feel relaxed. Your acupuncture effects will differ from those of somebody else. Remember that we each respond differently. Your acupuncturist will share diet and lifestyle advice as this traditional Chinese medicine advice will help you recover quicker.
Antioxidants
Eliminate toxins with antioxidants, such as dark chocolate, berries, turmeric, herbs, ginger, nuts, seeds, kale, spinach, tomato, broccoli, kidney beans, peppers, and green tea.
Relax
Continue to relax after the treatment to continue the healing journey. Drink plenty of water and stay comfortable. Do not plan a big, strenuous workout after your appointment. Some people feel relaxed while others feel energized. See how you respond.
Notice the Effects
After your first appointment, take notes about what you liked and disliked regarding the treatment and the effects. These notes will help your acupuncturist modify your treatment to better support you while gauging your progress and the effectiveness of acupuncture.

What Activities Should be Avoided After Acupuncture?

There are a few activities you should avoid for a short time after an acupuncture session. In some cases, it is for safety reasons, but for others, it is to maximize the potential benefits of your treatment.
Avoid Stressors
If possible, you should avoid stressful situations, digital screens, and cold temperatures. A key goal of acupuncture is relaxation, and for many, stress and spending time online do not contribute to relaxation. Also, your body needs warmth to keep things flowing and maintain open energy channels. Avoiding cold temperatures and using ice for pain relief can enhance your treatment benefits.
Avoid Unhealthy Diet
Avoid Unhealthy Diet Following a healthy diet after your treatment is also important to maximize the benefits of acupuncture. In short, avoid overly processed foods and highly caffeinated beverages. It is also helpful to avoid alcohol, drugs, and similar substances.
Avoid Strenuous Activity
Also, working out and excessive strenuous activity after an acupuncture session may “undo” the effects of acupuncture. For this reason, consider taking a day off from the gym and waiting until the day after your treatment to return to your regularly scheduled account plan.

If you are interested in acupuncture for a health concern that you have, you can search Medimap for acupuncture services. 

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