What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a restorative therapy that uses tiny, threadlike needles or filaments to stimulate the body’s natural healing response. Archeological evidence suggests acupuncture may have been used to relieve joint pain or arthritis as long ago as 3200 BC in the Alps region of Western Europe. Written records in China document acupuncture’s place in a highly developed medical system dating back to 300 BC.
Due to its effectiveness, acupuncture has grown rapidly in popularity among Americans seeking relief from chronic health problems. The National Institutes of Health estimates that over eight million U.S. adults have received acupuncture treatments in their lifetime, with around two million U.S. adults receiving acupuncture in 2003 alone.
Current clinical research is validating that acupuncture is an effective choice for certain health conditions. Researchers are also uncovering clues about how acupuncture works by studying how the technique stimulates changes in the subcutaneous connective tissues as well as by documenting how acupuncture affects brain activity.
What is the philosophy at Acupuncture Vermont?
- Committment to providing safe and effective acupuncture therapy
- Patient satisfaction, including subjective sense of well being, is important
- Support for the rigorous scientific evaluation of all health-care therapies
- Encourage patients to utilize acupuncture in concert with their conventional medical care.
- Seek to promote improved communication and coordination of care between health practitioners.
What specific conditions is acupuncture appropriate for?
Chronic pain conditions, including:
- Injuries – sprains or strains that aren’t healing well
- Repetitive use injuries – especially within the first year
- Headaches – migraines, tension, cluster
- Facial pain – trigeminal neuralgia, TMJ, Bell’s Palsy
- Chronic Pelvic Pain Syndrome – prostatitis; pelvic inflammatory disease; interstitial cystitis
- Tendonitis, bursitis
- Idiopathic (unexplained) pain syndromes
Sinusitis, allergic rhinitis
Infertility – male or female – also in combination with assisted reproductive technologies (e.g., IVF, IUI)
Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, colitis
Conditions that are clearly aggravated by stress
Conditions that are aggravated and alleviated predictably with the menstrual cycle
Women’s health issues, including:
- Hot flashes
- Post-partum fatigue or depression
- Health during pregnancy, including: morning sickness, pelvic or back pain, breech presentation, labor and delivery support
Ample clinical experience, supported by some research data, suggests that acupuncture may be a reasonable option for a number of clinical conditions. Examples are postoperative pain and myofascial and low back pain. Examples of disorders for which the research evidence is less convincing but for which there are some positive clinical trials include addiction, stroke rehabilitation, carpal tunnel syndrome, osteoarthritis, and headache. Acupuncture treatment for many conditions such as asthma or addiction should be part of a comprehensive management program. Many other conditions have been treated by acupuncture; the World Health Organization, for example, has listed more than 40 for which the technique may be indicated.”
(Excerpted from the NIH Consensus Conference on Acupuncture, 1997)
“In the field of oncology, acupuncture appears to be of benefit for managing chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting; cancer-related pain; generalized symptoms that result from treatment, including fatigue, insomnia, diarrhea, and anorexia; radiotherapy-induced xerostomia; brachial plexopathy resulting from axillary lymphadenectomy for breast cancer; treatment -related vasomotor symptoms; radiotherapy-induced rectitis; dysphagia due to carcinomatous obstruction; and end-of-life symptoms such as dyspnea. Studies further suggest that acupuncture enhances immune function and is effective for treatment of chemotherapy- or radiotherapy-induced myelosuppresion.”
(Excerpted from “Acupuncture and the Cancer Patient,” Kenneth Conklin, MD; Medical Acupuncture, Vol. 14, No. 1.)
What are some of the general health benefits of acupuncture?
- Reduction or elimination of pain
- Reduced joint stiffness; increased range of motion
- Improved sleep
- Increased sense of well-being
- More stable mood states, with less reactivity
- Increased energy
- Feeling “back to myself again”
What happens during the first appointment?
60 to 90 minutes is allotted for your initial visit so that there will be ample time for your acupuncturist to get to know you, thoroughly review your health history, and answer any questions you may have. If acupuncture is an appropriate therapy for your condition, you will receive an acupuncture treatment during your initial visit. Your acupuncturist also may make suggestions regarding your diet, your lifestyle habits, and the potential benefits of Chinese herbal medicines. You will receive a thorough written summary of our findings and recommendations, along with a variety of information about our clinic and acupuncture in general.
What does a typical course of acupuncture treatment consist of?
After an initial evaluation, a “trial” course of acupuncture usually consists of 6 to 8 visits over a three to four week period. While individual cases may require longer to achieve full efficacy, some evidence of improvement should be observed within the initial trial period. If satisfactory results are achieved, the frequency of visits is tapered gradually with the goal of maintaining results with minimal follow up. For some patients, this may mean a couple of visits per year on an as-needed basis. Other patients may require visits as often as once a month to avoid flare-ups.
Is acupuncture covered by health insurance plans in Vermont?
While most health insurance plans in Vermont do not cover acupuncture, there are a few exceptions. Our office staff is happy to assist patients in determining whether they have insurance coverage.
Workers Compensation and Personal Injury coverage will pay for acupuncture when an injury occurs at work or is a result of an auto accident.
Acupuncture is eligible for coverage under Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).
Are there risks involved with acupuncture?
When performed by an adequately trained and licensed acupuncturist, acupuncture is a very safe form of treatment with minimal side effects.
“One of the advantages of acupuncture is that the incidence of adverse effects is substantially lower than that of many drugs or other accepted medical procedures used for the same conditions. As an example, musculoskeletal conditions, such as fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, and tennis elbow, or epicondylitis, are conditions for which acupuncture may be beneficial. These painful conditions are often treated with, among other things, anti-inflammatory medications (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.) or with steroid injections. Both medical interventions have a potential for deleterious side effects but are still widely used and are considered acceptable treatments. The evidence supporting these therapies is no better than that for acupuncture.”
(Excerpted from the NIH Consensus Conference on Acupuncture, 1997.)
The York acupuncture safety studies were conducted in Britain from 1998 to 2000. In these studies, 652 experienced acupuncturists collected adverse event data from 66,000 acupuncture treatments. No serious adverse events were reported, and 671 minor adverse events were reported per 10,000 treatments. The common minor adverse events included: Bleeding in 310 per 10,000 treatments; Needling pain in 110 per 10,000 treatments; and Aggravation of symptoms in 96 per 10,000 treatments – however, in 70% of these cases there was a subsequent improvement in the presenting complaint.
(BMJ vol. 323; 1 Sept. 2001.)
At Acupuncture Vermont, we recognize that an often-overlooked risk for patients receiving “alternative” medical care is the potential for delay in receiving conventional medical care which, if provided in a timely manner, could significantly improve treatment outcomes. Most of the patients we treat have already received full medical screenings and treatments, often coming to us as a “last resort.” When this is not the case, we make a special effort to refer patients back to their primary doctor or specialist to rule out conventionally treatable pathologies.
Do acupuncture needles hurt?
While we call them acupuncture “needles,” they are very different from the hypodermic needles used in medicine to draw blood or to give injections. Acupuncture needles are more accurately described as filaments. They are very fine (not much thicker than a human hair) and flexible. They rarely draw blood, and patients rarely feel them being inserted. Once the needle is inserted just beneath the surface of the skin, your acupuncturist will gently stimulate the needle by lifting or rotating it until a response is elicited. This response is detected when the acupuncturist feels a slight tug, twitch, or gripping on the needle. Patients often report feeling a sensation, which they liken to a muscle twitch or a dull ache. Sometimes they report feeling warmth or tingling. Once patients overcome any initial anxiety over trying something new, they usually find acupuncture to be deeply relaxing.
How do I choose a qualified acupuncturist?
Choose an acupuncture specialist. An acupuncture specialist is called a Licensed Acupuncturist (L.Ac.) and holds a national board certification in acupuncture issued by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). To be a Licensed Acupuncturist, one must study 3 to 4 years with over 3,000 hours of training.
It is possible to receive acupuncture treatments from non-specialists. These are typically physicians (MDs, DOs, Chiropractors, or Naturopathic Physicians) who recognize the value of acupuncture and have taken abbreviated courses (typically 200 hours or less) allowing them to add acupuncture to their other specialty. While some very simple and uncomplicated cases may respond to treatment by a non-specialist, if you are not getting satisfactory results after a few visits, we suggest that you see an acupuncture specialist.
Choose an acupuncturist with plenty of experience. Once you find an acupuncturist who is trained as a specialist, look for someone who has adequate clinical experience. Consider not only how many years an acupuncturist has been practicing, but how many patients they’ve treated. An experienced practitioner usually will get better, faster results.
Do I have to believe in acupuncture for it to work?
No. Acupuncture is used successfully to treat animals, which neither understand nor believe in the procedure. As with any therapeutic course of treatment, a positive attitude may reinforce the effects of acupuncture treatments, just as a negative attitude may hinder the beneficial effects. A neutral or skeptical attitude will not block the treatment results.