Frequently Asked Questions regarding Acupuncture

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a safe and effective form of medical treatment. Through the insertion of fine, hair-thin needles into points along energetic pathways, called channels or meridians, the subtle energies of the body can be rebalanced.

What are the treatment methods used by Traditional Chinese Medicine?

Auriculotherapy, Chinese food therapy, Chinese herbal medicine, Cupping, Die-da or Tieh Ta, Gua Sha, Moxibustion, Physical Qigong exercises such as Tai chi chuan (Taijiquan), Standing Meditation, Yoga, Brocade BaDuanJin exercises and other Chinese martial arts, Qigong and related breathing and meditation exercise and Tui na massage.

How does acupuncture work?

Below are 5 possible biomedical theories to explain this 3,000 year-old medicine.

1. Neurotransmitter Theory: Acupuncture affects brain areas that stimulate the secretion of endorphins and enkaphalins, chemicals that help moderate the sensation of pain in the body. ("Neuro-acupuncture, Scientific evidence of acupuncture revealed," 2001 Cho, ZH.,, page 128; "Acupuncture-- A Scientific Appraisal,: Ernst, E., White, A., 1999, page 74; "Acupuncture Energetics-- A Clinical Approach for Physicians," Helms, Dr. J., 1997, pages 41-42)

2. Autonomic Nervous System Theory: Acupuncture stimulates the release of several types of opioids, or pain killers, which can help regulate an overactive nervous system and reduce pain. ("Anatomy of Neuro-Anatomical Acupuncture", Volume 1, Wong, Dr. J., page 34; Han, J.S. "Acupuncture Activates Endogenous Systems of Analgesia." National Institutes of Health Consensus Conference on Acupuncture, Program & Abstracts, Bethesda, MD, Nov 3-5, 1997, Office of Alternative Medicine and Office of Medical Applications of Research).

3. Gate Control Theory: Acupuncture activates non-pain receptors on cells that can inhibit or block the pain signals sent by the site of injury. (op.cit. Cho, p. 116)

4. Vascular-Interstitial Theory: Acupuncture can affect the balance of chemicals inside and outside the cells, allowing for a healthier cellular state to exist and the more toxic chemicals to flush away and be filtered from the blood and eliminated from the body. (op.cit., Helms, page 66)

5. Blood Chemistry Theory: Acupuncture affects the concentrations of various blood components which can in the long-run aid the body in maintaining homeostasis, or balance. (op. cit., Helms, page 41)

Part of the poetry of this medicine is that, though it is fascinating and valuable for the advancement of this field to search for and unravel Chinese Medicine in Western terms, the true beauty of this medicine lies in its simplicity of logic, its keen understanding of how we are extensions of nature, and that some things in life are merely meant to be felt and experienced.

Does acupuncture hurt?

There are a variety of sensations you may feel with the needles. Upon insertion, you might feel a light prick as the needle breaks the surface of the skin. Once in, we are looking for the "Qi" sensation, a dull, heavy, deep and distending ache. This reflects the desired arrival of Qi to the acupuncture point. There may be other sensations like slight tingling, warmth, or occasionally an ache that refers along the course of the channel.

Are the needles safe?

Yes. In the State of California, acupuncturists may only use single-use, disposable sterile needles. I have been well-trained and certified in Clean Needle Technique, which includes proper disposal. In general, acupuncture is usually quite benign with very few side effects, though occasionally there may be slight bruising which dissipates within a few days.

Are the herbs safe?

I use a concentrated pharmaceutical-grade extract of Chinese Medicinal herbs that have been vigorously tested to be free from any contaminants, heavy metals, and toxicity. I use no animal or mineral products; all my herbs are plant materials. The safety of Chinese herbs lies in proper dosing and proper prescribing. It is easy to go to the local health food store and do it yourself, but, at the same time, that can be dangerous or at the very least you may get no results. Herbs are medicine and should be taken under the supervision of a well-trained acupuncturist and herbalist like myself. Only after a thorough history and intake will I arrive at a diagnosis specific to your condition. I then spend a great deal of time determining which herbal formula is best for you. Sometimes they are pre-made herbal remedies, and other times they are custom formulas written to meet your specific needs.

Herb-Drug Interactions and Side-Effects:

From time to time, patients hear or read about the side effects of particular herbs. Keep in mind, that when the Western community talks about herbs, they are talking about a single herb when used by itself -- a rare occurrence in Chinese medicine. A well-balanced herbal formula takes into account your needs, including any adverse reactions they may have with medications you may be taking, and is made up of herbs that balance each other by helping to ameliorate any potential side effects that may be felt when taking an herb by itself. Though side effects can occur, their occurrence suggests that the formula needs to be adjusted. Contrary to Western pharmaceuticals, side effects are not an acceptable result and can be avoided. The more precise the formula is to your pattern of imbalance, the fewer the side effects, if any.

How many sessions will I need?

Acute or recent conditions can take 5-8 visits of at least one visit a week, though we can often see improvement within the first few treatments.

Chronic or long-standing conditions can take anywhere from 10-15 visits of at least one visit a week. Much depends on the duration of your condition, the severity, and your willingness to be active in your own healthcare. I encourage my patients to see me sooner rather than later and to commit to a course of treatment through consistent and regular visits, adhering to the reasonable and attainable lifestyle, dietary and herbal recommendations that I offer, and even by allowing me to work with any other physician you may be seeing in order to better coordinate your care.

Maintenance: As you become increasingly sensitive to your own internal rhythms, you will be better able to make your own adjustments in your diet or lifestyle so as to make visits less frequent. Here, you may simply want to come in for a preventative tune-up once a month or even seasonally.

I am under the care of my physician.
Can I also see you at the same time?

By all means, yes. That is something I strongly encourage, which is why I prefer to use the term complementary Medicine rather than Alternative Medicine. Little is gained by denying that fact that the future of healthcare in this country is in Integrative Care. In choosing to specialize in Internal Medicine, I want to lead my field in working more closely with physicians in order to optimize care for my patients.

I am on Western medications.
Should I be concerned about any combining them with acupuncture or herbs?

With acupuncture? No. With herbs? Yes. I go to great lengths to educate myself about all medications you may be taking so that the herbs I may prescribe can be taken safely. If you are still concerned, I am more than happy to consult with your prescribing physician. But by and large, with the tremendous increase in prescription drug use, it is far more likely that patients come in presenting with signs and symptoms that are side effects of the multiple medications they are taking, than it is from side effects of herb-drug interactions. If what you are experiencing is due to their prescriptions then I encourage my patients to consult with their prescribing physician.

What are the most common conditions treated by acupuncture?
Anxiety & Depression
Arthritis, Tendonitis, & Joint pain
Asthma & Allergies
Auto Injuries
Bladder and Kidney Infections
Cardiac Palpitations (Irregular Heartbeat)
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Common Cold & Influenza
Degenerative Disk Disorders
Diet, Nutrition, & Weight Control
Headaches & Migraines
Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
Indigestion, Gas, Bloating, Constipation
Menopause Symptoms
Musculoskeletal pain
Orthopedic Conditions
Pain - other kinds
PMS & Menstrual Irregularity
Sports Injuries
Tension / Stress Syndromes
Work Injuries

Research and News on Acupuncture

Acupuncture Research and News
January 5, 2010
Acupuncture appears to be as effective as venlafaxine (Effexor), a standard drug therapy for relieving vasomotor symptoms in breast cancer patients. As an added bonus, acupuncture treatment also boosted libido, improved mental clarity, and did not have any adverse effects.

A Recent Story on Acupuncture from the Mayo Clinic ; Dec. 2008

Acupuncture Offers Headache Relief Over Medication; Dec. 2008

Effectiveness of Acupuncture as Adjunctive Therapy in Osteoarthritis of the Knee A Randomized, Controlled Trial ; Dec. 2004

A Recent Story on Acupuncture from the Mayo Clinic ; Dec. 2008

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