Monday, March 11, 2019

Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine: The Point is Improving Your Health

By: Megan Long, Dipl. Ac., R. Ac. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine has been practiced for thousands of years to restore, promote and maintain good health. Chinese Medicine is "holistic" in that it takes into consideration all aspects of a person's physical, mental and emotional health, both in diagnosis and in treatment. Acupuncture originated in China over 2000 years ago and has evolved into a well-defined therapeutic health care system capable of treating a wide variety of disorders. It is an extremely effective and safe choice for initial and on-going health care. Acupuncture can remedy acute or chronic ailments, relieve pain, enhance recuperative powers and strengthen the immune system.

What is Acupuncture?
It is a method of balancing and building the body's life force energy known as "Qi" (pronounced "Chee"). Acupuncturists recognize particular pathways called "meridians" through which this energy circulates. Traditional Chinese Medicine views disease as the result of an imbalance or blockage of this energy. An imbalance or blockage of Qi can result from trauma, hereditary conditions, environmental factors, poor diet, some medications, stress, lack of exercise or proper movement and even excessive emotional issues. Such imbalances manifest as physical pain or illness, and / or emotional and psychosomatic stress-related disorders. In acupuncture, very thin, sterile, stainless steel needles are inserted into specific points along the meridians to disperse the blockage and restore balance. The points have been studied and mapped by Chinese practitioners over thousands of years. Recently, electromagnetic research has confirmed acupuncture point locations.

How Does It Work?
Modern Western medicine cannot yet fully explain how acupuncture works. There have been many different types of studies done in an attempt to understand and define what is happening physiologically during an acupuncture treatment. The results of some of the very first studies have shown that there is a release of endorphins in the body during treatment. Endorphins are naturally produced chemicals that effect pain perception, alter sensory perception, mood and alertness reaction (the "runner's high" is caused by endorphins). This release of endorphins could account for a reduction in pain and the relaxed calm state commonly experienced by acupuncture patients. There are other studies, however, that suggest more to acupuncture than just a release of endorphins.

How Does it Work? (cont.)
One such study was observed that acupuncture is very good at reducing inflammation. It also increases circulation. The combination of those two factors can increase the speed of recovery from all sorts of injuries. Research by Dr. Helene Langevin from the University of Vermont asserts that many acupuncture points lie over areas that connective tissue is the thickest (connective tissue forms a web that runs continuously through the body and has many nerves). This potentially explains why a needle in one extremity would affect a seemingly unrelated area. There are also many important acupuncture points that lie over "trigger points".  This is where the nerve innervates the muscle and these points are commonly used to treat a myriad of muscle issues. However, not all important acupuncture points fall into either of these two categories. There are many very important points that just are not easily explained yet within the Western framework. Most current research is focused more on what acupuncture can be used for and less on how it works.

Does Acupuncture Hurt?
The needles are extremely thin therefore, if the patient feels anything at all, it is generally only a slight sensation at insertion. It is absolutely nothing like getting a shot with a hypodermic needle. Patients are usually quite surprised at how little they feel the needles and how extremely relaxing a treatment is. Many patients even fall asleep while on the table. On occasion, when the needle reaches the appropriate depth beneath the skin, a slight dull ache, heaviness, tingling or traveling warmth may be experienced. It is generally very mild. Depending on what the patient is being treated for, the needles can be stimulated to intentionally create those sensations. This is, of course, done in a very gentle manner.

It is extremely important and an utmost priority to make sure the patient is comfortable with everything that is going on during the entire treatment. There is constant communication between the practitioner and patient. Questions and comments are encouraged. The vast majority of patients find treatment extremely relaxing.

Are the Needles Safe?
Yes. Only sterile, single use disposable needles are used. The needles are sterilized during their manufacture, are packaged in a sealed container and are discarded in a biohazard unit after a single use.  There is a minimal risk of a small bruise developing or to have a drop of blood at any acupuncture point site after the needles are removed.

What is a Treatment Like?
In an Oriental Medicine assessment, your condition will be differentiated through a thorough examination, which will include an in-depth medical history, pulse and tongue diagnosis. Once the Chinese differentiated diagnosis is established, treatment can begin. While the practitioner is out of the room, the patient generally is asked to disrobe down to their undergarments and lay comfortably on a massage table where there are sheets to cover areas not necessary for treatment. Draping is usually below the waist to above the knees and if it is a treatment on the front of the body, there is draping across the chest for women. The room is kept at a comfortable temperature and a heat lamp or fans are available for additional warmth or cooling. The patient's comfort is an utmost priority. After alcohol swabbing, the needles are gently inserted. The number of needles varies according to the problem being treated. After insertion, the needles may be stimulated to produce a stronger effect. They are usually left in place for approximately twenty to thirty minutes, after which they are easily removed and discarded into a biohazard unit. Patients generally find acupuncture very relaxing and many fall asleep on the table.

What Response Can Be Expected From an Acupuncture Treatment?
Response to acupuncture varies depending on the general health of the patient and the condition being treated. The full effects of a treatment are experienced within about 24 hours. Some patients feel an immediate lessoning of symptoms right on the table or by the time they leave the office. This level of relief may last or some degree of pain/ symptoms may return. Sometimes there may be no immediate relief but the pain or symptoms can be found to diminish over the next few days. 

Every acupuncturist, has had experiences where they have treated a patient once and all of their pain and symptoms have disappeared completely never to return. This, sadly, is not the common experience with acupuncture. Usually, people feel some percentage better - anywhere from 10 to even 100% better - immediately or over the next few days. Then, the further they get from the time of treatment, the pain or symptoms may slowly come back (unless they over do it, at which point the symptoms can come back much more rapidly and intensely).  By the next appointment, they are not quite as "good" as they were right after the treatment but are still generally better than before they started. The treatments build upon each other making the relief of symptoms greater and/or last longer. It is important that the patient take it easy for at least 24 hours after treatment. Time should be taken to get plenty of rest, drink plenty of water and to generally take care of oneself. 

How Many Treatments are Needed?
The number of treatments needed to alleviate a disorder varies upon the duration, nature and severity of the complaint and the overall health of the individual. Generally, acute conditions can be treated successfully within a few treatments. It is commonly recommended to have a series of 4 or 5 treatments set no more than a week apart and then reassess the progress from there. Chronic problems, which have taken months or years to develop, are not likely to be "cured" overnight. In chronic conditions, gradual change over time will reflect the gradual restoration of the body's strength and vitality. Acupuncture is an accumulative treatment modality, meaning the treatments build upon each other. Some degenerative conditions may require many treatments over time to manage symptoms. As you improve, fewer visits are required.

What Does Acupuncture Treat?
Acupuncture is used not only for pain management, but also as a comprehensive system of health care and health maintenance. The applications for it are many and varied. Athletes use acupuncture to achieve optimum performance levels. Oncology patients are treated for the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation to enhance their quality of life. It can also be used pre and post operatively to speed up the recovery times from surgeries. It is becoming more and more commonly used to help with fertility issues. There are even protocols for cosmetic acupuncture to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Some Commonly Treated Conditions:
Ankle Pain/ Sprains
Anxiety/ Depression
Back Pain
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Colds/ Flu
Constipation/ Diarrhea
Cosmetic Issues
Cough/ Bronchitis
Frozen Shoulder
Gastrointestinal Disorders
Gynecological Disorders
Headaches/ Migraines
Immune System Support
Joint Pain
Knee Pain
Menopausal Issues
Nausea/ Morning Sickness
Neck Pain/ Stiffness
Oncology Support
Plantar Fasciitis
Pre- Menstrual Syndrome
Pre and Post Operatively
Shoulder Pain
Smoking Cessation
Sports Injuries: Strains, sprains
Stress/ Tension
Swelling/ Inflammation
TMJ Disorders

This is just a sample list of commonly treated conditions. 
Please call now if you have a condition that is not listed, or if you would like more information about pricing and scheduling your acupuncture appointment!

Megan Long
Nationally Board Certified Acupuncturist (NCCAOM) and
Registered Acupuncturist in the State of Michigan

Megan has a Master of Science Degree in Oriental Medicine from Southwest Acupuncture College (SWAC) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. SWAC is a nationally accredited school for the teaching of acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. She completed over 2645 hours of specialized education, of which 1200 hours were in clinical training. Megan earned her board certification with the successful completion of the National Acupuncture Written and Point Location exams administered by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). Megan was in private practice in Okemos from 2000 until she joined the iHealth Team in September 2017. Patient safety and comfort is of utmost importance to Megan. She strives to create a calm and soothing environment for a more healing atmosphere. She also believes good communication is helpful to success and the comfort of the patient. She encourages questions and open dialogue throughout the entire treatment process.

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