Acupuncture Facts

What is Acupuncture?

The intent of acupuncture therapy is to promote health and alleviate pain
and suffering. The method by which this is accomplished, though it may seem strange and mysterious to many, has been time tested over thousands of years and continues to be validated today.

The perspective from which an acupuncturist views health and sickness
hinges on concepts of “vital energy,” “energetic balance” and “energetic
imbalance.” Just as the Western medical doctor monitors the blood flowing
through blood vessels and the messages traveling via the nervous system,
the acupuncturist assesses the flow and distribution of this “vital energy”
within its pathways, known as “meridians and channels”.

The acupuncturist is able to influence health and sickness by stimulating
certain areas along these “meridians”. Traditionally these areas or
“acupoints” were stimulated by fine, slender needles. Today, many
additional forms of stimulation are incorporated, including herbs,
electricity, magnets and lasers. Still, the aim remains the same – adjust
the “vital energy” so the proper amount reaches the proper place at the
proper time. This helps your body heal itself.

Acupuncture is just one form of therapy used within the coherent system of
healing known as Oriental Medicine. Oriental Medicine includes herbology,
physical therapy, dietetics and special exercises (such as Tai Chi and Qi
Gong), and is a complete medical system unto itself and is not another
branch of modern Western medicine. Acupuncture evolved from principles and
philosophies unique to Oriental thinking and Oriental Medicine, and is most
effectively applied when done in accordance with those principles.

What is the history?

Most experts would say that acupuncture is at least 2000 years old. The
exact age is less important than the fact that Oriental Medicine is the
most widely utilized healing system on this planet.

Its roots are in China, but the fruits of its potential to help the sick
and injured are apparent in many places, including all of Asia, Europe and

Today, the art and science of Acupuncture / Oriental Medicine is still not
understood by many, yet it continues to gain popularity and acceptance
because of one fact – IT WORKS.

How does acupuncture work?

For millennia, the acupuncturist has been engaging subtle human energies,
otherwise known as “Qi”. According to time-tested principles unique to
Oriental Medicine, the acupuncturist would assess and adjust the flow and
distribution of “Qi” in order to promote health and healing.

So far, modern research has described various physiological shifts
following acupuncture, such as beneficial changes in the body’s own natural
painkillers, anti-inflammatory agents, immune system functions and hormonal

Despite the powerful technology available today, even the modern physicists
cannot explain exactly how this ancient healing therapy works. Perhaps in
the near future, the actual chemical and electromagnetic events that occur
during acupuncture will be described.

Why use Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine?

In addition to being effective for many acute and chronic common illnesses,
Oriental Medicine has much to offer those who wish to raise the quality of
health and vitality. Practitioners of Oriental Medicine operate with
prevention in mind, attempting to correct small energetic imbalances before
they become big health problems.

Current health trends emphasizing exercise, proper nutrition, stress
reduction and immune system strengthening all validate the life-styles and
methods that have always been promoted by practitioners and advocates of
Acupuncture / Oriental Medicine.

Are there side effects?

When performed by a properly trained and licensed practitioner, acupuncture
is safe and effective, free fromadverse or addictive side effects. Quite
often, a sense of relaxation and well-being occurs during and after
treatments. While undergoing therapy for one ailment, other problems may
resolve concurrently. This is a common side benefit that again demonstrates
the value of balancing the quality and quantity of “vital energy” within
the entire person.

What are the limits of Oriental Medicine and

Oriental Medicine and acupuncture are powerful healing tools, but they are
not panaceas nor the solution to every health care problem. Both Western
and Oriental Medicine have their respective strengths and weaknesses, which
is why in modern China, the two systems are used together. When
appropriately combined, the patient is well served.

Generally speaking, acute, life threatening conditions are best handled by
Western medical doctors. Routine health problems and chronic conditions,
for which drug therapy and surgery have not been effective, often benefit
from Acupuncture / Oriental Medicine.

How do I choose an acupuncturist?

For over 12 years, the Medical Board of California has been licensing
acupuncturists. At present, one is allowed to practice only after
successfully completing four years of training at an approved college of
Oriental Medicine, and passing a rigorous written and practical exam given
by the California Acupuncture Committee. The title “Licensed Acupuncturist”
or “L.Ac.” means that these criteria have been met. Always look for a copy
of the license, which should be clearly displayed in the practitioner’s

Organizations such as the California Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine Association can
help you locate a qualified practitioner. Call them at: (800)
to find the name of a licensed CAA member in your area.

What should I ask the practitioner I’m

Always ask any practitioner about the extent of his or her training. Have
them explain the differences between Oriental Medicine and Western Medicine
in language that you can understand.

Oriental medicine has its limitations just as Western Medicine does. Look
for practitioners who know their limitations and have referral networks to
take care of your health in ways they cannot.

Ask them about previous experience with conditions similar to your own.
Although it is difficult to forecast response to treatments, ask about the
signs and changes that the practitioner looks for to confirm that
treatments are progressing well.

Inquire about what therapies will be used and why. Practitioners should be
able to explain any procedure they perform.

What does the examination/consultation

An exam/consultation includes what you tell the practitioner about your
medical history and what your body says: The appearance of the face and
body build, the shape and color of the tongue, the quality of the pulses,
the feel of diagnostic areas such as the abdomen and back. An acupuncturist
may test for weaknesses along the “meridians” and weaknesses in the
muscles. Sometimes devices that measure electrical activity of acupoints
may be used.

How long is the visit?

Usually the first visit is the longest in order to allow for a complete
history taking and exam – typically an hour. Follow-up visits are shorter,
usually 15 to 45 minutes, depending on practitioner and patient needs.
Sometimes other therapies, such as moxabustion, acupressure/massage and
exercises are incorporated with the acupuncture treatment.

Don’t the needles hurt?

Most people who have had acupuncture would describe it as virtually
painless or far less painful than plucking out a hair. The sensations that
follow range from nothing at all, to mild tingling, to slight
numbness/achiness, to electrical pulsations in areas distant from the site
of insertion. All these sensations usually subside once the needles are
removed. The needles used for acupuncture are much smaller that the
standard hypodermic needle, do not draw blood and are solid, not hollow.

What is treatment like?

Most patients would say, “relaxing.” Usually patients leave in less
discomfort and are more functional than when they walked in. Sometimes the
effects are too subtle to perceive, especially in the beginning of
treatment. Yet after 5 to 10 treatments the improvements become more and
more apparent.

Is it safe?

If performed by a qualified, conscientious practitioner, yes. Licensed
Acupuncturists know the human anatomy well, and insert needles in a safe
fashion. The instruments used to penetrate the skin are either
pre-sterilized and disposable after a single use, or disinfected and
sterilized in an autoclave, as surgical and dental instruments are, after
each use.

The practitioner is well aware of the concern over infectious diseases, and
takes every measure to insure cleanliness as all health care professional

Bleeding rarely occurs, unless done so on purpose in specific situations.
Even then the amount is minimal and in no way dangerous.

What services can a practitioner of Oriental
Medicine/Acupuncture provide?

Acupuncture, Acupressure/Massage, Therapeutic Exercises, Herbal Medicine,
Diet therapy, Breathing Exercises, Referrals, Oriental Medical Diagnosis.

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Written by California State Oriental Medicine Association

Explore Wellness in 2021