Acupuncture: What Is It?
Acupuncture is a treatment based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a system of healing
that dates back thousands of years. At the core of TCM is the notion that a type
of life-force, or energy, known as qi (pronounced "chee") flows through
channels in the body called "meridians." Each meridian connects to one
specific organ, or group of organs, that governs particular bodily functions.
When too little or too much qi exists in a meridian or when qi stagnates or is
blocked, illness results.
Acupuncture treatment consists of inserting thin stainless-steel needles at various
points on the body, known as "gateways," to unblock or rebalance the
flow of qi.
What does an acupuncturist
In addition to asking questions, the acupuncturist may want to take your pulse
at several points along the wrist and look at your tongue to observe its shape,
color, and coating. He or she may also observe the color and texture of your
skin, your posture, and other physical characteristics that offer clues to your
health. The acupuncturist then asks you to lie down on a padded examining table,
and he or she inserts the needles, twirling or gently jiggling each as it goes
in. You may not feel the needles at all, or you may feel a twitch or a quick
twinge of pain that subsides as soon as the needle is completely in. Once the
needles are all in place, you rest for 30 minutes to an hour. During this time,
you'll probably feel relaxed and sleepy and may even doze off. At the end of
the session, the acupuncturist quickly removes the needles, which is painless.
For certain conditions, acupuncture is more effective when the needles are heated
using a technique known as "moxibustion." The acupuncturist lights
a small bunch of the dried herb moxa (mugwort) and holds it above the needles.
The herb, which burns slowly and gives off a little smoke and a pleasant, incense-like
smell, never directly touches the body. Another variation is electrical acupuncture.
This technique consists of hooking up electrical wires to the needles and running
a weak current through them, which may cause no sensation at all or a mild tingling.
Acupuncturists trained in Chinese herbal preparations may prescribe these along
How many treatments do
The number of acupuncture treatments you need depends on the complexity of your
illness, whether it's a chronic or recent condition, and your general health.
For example, you may need only one treatment for a recent wrist sprain, whereas
for a long-standing, chronic illness you may need treatments once or twice a
week for several months to get good results.
What is acupuncture good
Acupuncture is effective for pain relief and for post-surgery and chemotherapy
nausea and vomiting. In addition, both the World Health Organization and the
National Institutes of Health recognize that acupuncture can be a helpful part
of a treatment plan for many illnesses. A partial list includes: addiction,
asthma, bronchitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea, facial tics,
headaches, irregular periods, menopausal symptoms, menstrual cramps, osteoarthritis,
sciatica, sinusitis, spastic colon, stroke rehabilitation, tendonitis, tennis
elbow, and urinary problems. You can safely combine acupuncture with prescription
drugs and other conventional treatments, but it's important for your primary
care physician to be aware of and to monitor your acupuncture treatment.
Are there conditions
that acupuncture should not treat?
Some physicians and practitioners may avoid treating during pregnancy.
How much does a treatment
The first visit can range from $60 to $110, and follow-up visits may cost from
$30 to $80.
Does my medical insurance
cover acupuncture treatments?
An increasing number of insurance providers and HMOs now cover all or part of
the cost of acupuncture treatments, but these providers may have restrictions
on the types of illnesses they cover. Check with your insurance company to see
what your policy offers.