Tuesday, March 5, 2013

What is Acupuncture & Why Should We Care?

When I began my training in acupuncture I had never received an acupuncture treatment, taken herbs, been cupped, or had moxibustion performed on me. I really didn't know anything about Chinese medicine. All I knew was that I had to go study it. I did not have a choice.

At that point in my life I was working on my B.S. in Biology in the Midwest. Due to several factors it became clear that it was time for me to start studying Chinese medicine. I applied to Five Branches University in Santa Cruz, withdrew from the university I was attending, and called my mother to tell her she was coming out to Missouri in a few weeks to help me move back to California.

Everything worked out and my life and the lives of many people are much better thanks to Chinese medicine. I love continuing to share it people whether it's through patients, family, friends, or educational talks to high school students.

This post will educate you on the basics of Chinese medicine, its history, and its current and potential future role in healthcare. References include the World Health Organization, Blue Poppy Press, and Marilyn Allen.

To begin we'll look at some of the basics of acupuncture, its role in healthcare today, and the regulation of it as a healthcare profession:
  • In California acupuncturists are primary care providers (PCPs).
  • There is a growing demand for acupuncture and insurance coverage from patients. If your plan doesn't cover acupuncture let your insurance provider know you want it! Your insurance provider works for you and you should be empowered when it comes to your access to healthcare.
  • More hospitals in the United States are integrating acupuncture as part of their patient care. In China and other countries acupuncture and herbal medicine are fully integrated in the healthcare system. Western and Chinese medicine used together is shown to provide the best results for patients.
  • In the United States ICD-9 codes are used to diagnose health conditions. The rest of the developed world uses ICD-10 codes. We are behind in many areas of healthcare in this country. In the near future everyone will be moving to a new set of codes, ICD-11. With ICD-11, for the first time, codes for traditional medicine will be included (IC-TM). Because Chinese medicine is the fastest growing and most in demand traditional system of healthcare in the world, the first set of IC-TM codes are based on Chinese medical diagnoses. This means acupuncturists will be able to code for conditions such as Liver Qi Stagnation and Heart Blood Vacuity.
  • Acupuncture is safe, clean, and effective. Licensed acupuncturists receive over 3300 hours of graduate level education in Chinese medicine, Western medicine, and clinical training. They are skilled in evaluating patients from many angles and systems and integrating their knowledge to provide the best, most effective care for each patient.
There is an already large, growing body of research on acupuncture and its efficacy in treating many conditions. The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes acupuncture's effectiveness for over forty common disorders, such as:
  • Ear, Nose & Throat Disorders - toothaches, earaches, sinusitis, rhinitis, laryngitis
  • Respiratory Disorders - colds and flu, bronchitis, asthma, allergies, emphysema
  • Gastrointestinal Disorders - food allergies, nausea, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, ulcers, colitis
  • Circulatory Disorders - hypertension, high cholesterol, arteriosclerosis, angina pectoris
  • Urogenital Disorders - cystitis, stress incontinence, neurogenic bladder, prostatitis,
  • Gynecological Disorders - menstrual irregularity, endometriosis, PMS, infertility, menopause
  • Musculoskeletal Disorders - Tennis elbow, frozen shoulder, TMJ sciatica, low back pain, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia
  • Psycho-emotional & Neurological Disorders - depression, anxiety, insomnia, headache, migraine, trigeminal neuralgia, intercostal neuralgia, post-stroke paralysis, dizziness, tinnitus.
Next let's look at some of the basics of Chinese medicine:
  • The "branches" of Chinese medicine are acupuncture, herbal medicine, dietetics, bodywork, and health exercises (Qi Gong or Chi Kung).
  • Acupuncture involves the insertion of very fine, solid needles into the body at specific points shown to be effective in the treatment of specific health problems. These points have been mapped by the Chinese over thousands of years. In the past few decades, electromagnetic research has confirmed the existence and location of these points.
  • Herbal medicine uses a variety of plants, animals, and minerals in the treatment of illness. Chinese herbal medicine is extremely refined in its administering of medicine. It combines many different substances (anywhere from two to twenty ingredients) into formulas to customize the medicine specifically to each patient and their condition.
  • Bodywork includes adjustments, realigning bones and muscles, as well as cupping, gua sha, and moxibustion. Cupping involves the suctioning of glass cups to the body via heat to release the muscles, draw out toxins, and stimulate the body's self-healing properties. Moxibustion is a form of heat therapy that involves burning an herb, mugwort, in different forms, either on needles, or directly on the skin.
  • Chinese medicine is a holistic health approach that looks at patterns on all levels of a patient's experience (physical, mental, emotional) and gives the patient tools to participate in their healing. Chinese medicine aims to empower the patient in their health and lives and give them tools for personal transformation.
Following are some common questions asked about acupuncture:
How does acupuncture work?
  • In spite of the research showing the efficacy of acupuncture in treating many conditions, the actual mechanisms through which it works is unknown in terms of Western medicine. Some people think neurotransmitters, hormones, nerves, or other chemicals in our body are involved.
  • Traditional thought on mechanisms of action involve the flow of Qi (an esoteric way of describing the function of the systems of the body) through channels that cover the body much like nerves and blood vessels. Acupuncture adjusts the flow of Qi in the body, bringing it to areas where there isn't enough, and moving it out of areas where it is stuck.
  • Basically, acupuncture brings the body into balance and sends messages to the body to tell it to heal itself.
Does it hurt?
  • Acupuncture needles are typically not much thicker than a hair. In fact, you can fit three hundred acupuncture needles in the hole of a needle used to give injections and vaccines.
  • In some cases you will not even know the needles are in place. Other times there may be some tingling, warmth, or heaviness.
  • Most people find acupuncture extremely relaxing and many fall asleep during treatment.
  • In the treatment of some conditions trigger points will be used which can feel similar to receiving a deep tissue massage when needled.
  • There are different styles of acupuncture and all feel a little different when performed.
When will it work?
  • Patients often experience results in the first treatment. Some atients experience an immediate total or partial relief of their pain or other symptoms. This relief may last or some pain may return. In a few cases, there may be no immediate relief only to notice the pain diminish over the next couple of days. Generally, you should expect to feel better.
  • Treatment will happen over a period of time to fully correct an issue.
Acupuncture is a safe, effective system of medicine that continues to grow in popularity throughout the world. If you have any questions about Chinese medicine ask a licensed practitioner and receive a treatment. Continue to empower yourself in your life and your healthcare.

~Joshuah Ciafardone, L.Ac

WHO study on acupuncture

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