Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine: FAQs

Q: What is acupuncture and how does it work?

People often marvel at the fact that an acupuncturist can insert a needle in the foot and alleviate back pain. This begins to make more sense when acupuncture is seen as part of a rich, enduring and sophisticated form of medical treatment. The art and science of using needles to alleviate health issues, acupuncture originated in China over 2,000 years ago, and is one essential piece of a comprehensive medical system that also includes theory, diagnosis, physiology, physical therapy, nutrition, and the use of herbal preparations.

The acupuncture medical system is complex because the human body is complex. Acupuncturists go beyond assessing the body’s physical state, and carefully assess the balance/imbalance of a patient’s overall vital energy. In traditional Asian medicine, this overall vital energy is known as “qi” (pronounced “chee”). It encompasses the body’s spiritual, emotional, and mental states, as well as its physical state, flowing along distinct channels that run across and throughout the body and connect to the internal organs. Disease is caused by interrupted energy flow at specific points along these pathways. The insertion of very fine, sterile needles into affected points helps to regulate and correct energy flow. Stimulating these points influences key organ function, the immune system, and the body’s pain response, with the goal of balancing energy and facilitating the body’s healing process.

Q: What kinds of conditions does acupuncture treat?

Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are useful as a stand-alone treatment, but are also being increasingly used in conjunction with western medical treatments. Research shows that acupuncture strengthens the immune system, improves circulation, decreases muscle tightness and increases joint flexibility.

The World Health Organization reports that acupuncture can be beneficial to many medical conditions, from neurological and gastrointestinal to mental and emotional. And the National Institute of Health has stated that acupuncture is a useful method for the treatment of a variety of conditions.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are used extensively to treat the following conditions:

  • Acute or chronic pain - neck, shoulder, hip and lumbar pain, tennis elbow, golfers elbow, carpal tunnel, sciatica
  • Addiction withdrawal
  • Allergies, sinus congestion and asthma
  • Anxiety
  • Arthritis
  • Car accident injury
  • Chemotherapy/Radiation side effects
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Colds and flus
  • Depression
  • Dermatological disorders
  • Digestive problems
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Infertility in women and men
  • Insomnia
  • Menstrual disorders and menopause
  • Pregnancy and postpartum
  • Stress
  • TMJ disorder
  • Urinary infection
  • Weight control

Q: Is acupuncture painful?

Because they are extremely delicate and thin (some are even thinner than a human hair), acupuncture needles cause minimal discomfort. With the use of skilled, refined techniques, needle insertion can be completely painless. Patients may experience sensations like heaviness, distention, warmth, or an ache in the area where the needle has been inserted. Many people find treatment deeply relaxing.

Q: Is acupuncture safe?

Under the care of trained, qualified and licensed acupuncturists, acupuncture is extremely safe, with minimal risk of any complication. Only high quality, pre-sterilized disposable needles are used, and in accordance with legal requirements, they are discarded after one use.

Q: What’s the difference between Chinese and Japanese acupuncture?

To produce the strong sensations they believe are integral to beneficial treatment, Traditional Chinese Medicine acupuncturists use thicker, longer needles and deeper insertions. This produces an analgesic response in the body.

By contrast, Japanese style acupuncturists do not believe a strong sensation must be achieved to produce benefits for the patient. They use much finer needles, insert them more superficially, and stimulate them more gently. Studies have shown a marked response in parasympathetic activity with Japanese style needling.

Both Chinese and Japanese acupuncture styles are effective in the hands of competent practitioners. The choice between approaches is up to the patient.

Q: What are the effects of treatment?

Patients usually experience some relief in their condition after only one treatment. Other patients may see their condition improve over the course of several days after a treatment. Stubborn, chronic conditions may take several treatments to resolve.

Q: What is a standard course of treatment?

This varies according the severity and duration of the health concern. Acute conditions can often be resolved quickly, while chronic conditions take more treatments to address. The patient’s unique constitution and state of health are also factors that affect how healing and alleviation of symptoms progress. At Kenzai Acupuncture, treatment plans are discussed in detail with each patient and uniquely modified according to how that patient responds.

Q: What’s the difference between a licensed acupuncturist and a doctor or chiropractor who does acupuncture?

To become a licensed acupuncturist, a minimum four-year, full-time academic and clinical curriculum dedicated to learning acupuncture and Chinese medicine must be completed, typically with over 3,000 hours in professional and clinical training. Also, licensed acupuncturists should be certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) in Acupuncture or NCCAOM-certified as Diplomates in Oriental Medicine (Diplomates are certified in both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine; they’re licensed to prescribe Chinese herbs). These certifications require passing national board examinations.

Doctors and chiropractors, however, typically learn the basics of acupuncture with elective courses, usually involving a couple hundred hours of academic and clinical training.

For the most thorough care and effective results, look for a licensed acupuncturist who has earned a masters or doctorate in Oriental medicine, and who is a certified diplomate in Oriental medicine.

Q: What is Chinese herbal medicine?

Chinese herbal medicine developed in conjunction with acupuncture over 2000 years ago. Chinese herbs mostly originate from vegetable matter (such as plant bark, roots, stems, leaves, and flowers), though some herbs come from mineral and animal extracts. Herbal formulas are customized to address three essential aspects to an individual’s health condition: unique constitutional pattern, specific symptoms, and the underlying cause of the presenting disease.

Q: What kinds of conditions are treated by Chinese herbal medicine?

Chinese herbs can be prescribed for a wide range of different diseases. When formulas are customized, there is great flexibility to address the unique manifestations of the same disease that form in different people. Examples of disorders that are treatable with Chinese herbal medicine include colds, flus, gynecological disorders, allergies, and degenerative conditions (such as arthritis, chronic pain, chronic viral diseases, and autoimmune disorders).

Q: How are Chinese herbs taken?

All of Kenzai Acupuncture’s formulas are customized using a granular herbal pharmacy: herbs that have been extracted, concentrated and dried. These individual formulas are taken by mixing prescribed dosages (usually 6-9 grams per day) with small amounts of warm water, which is drunk as a tea.

Q: Do Chinese herbs have side effects?

Not only are adverse reactions to Chinese herbs are extremely rare, most of the medicinals in the Chinese materia medica have a very low toxicity compared to western drugs. If any patient experiences discomfort while taking an herbal prescription, he/she should cease taking the formula immediately, then inform the practitioner, who will modify the formula to alleviate side effects.

Q: Are the Chinese herbs that Kenzai Acupuncture carries tested for contaminants?

Yes. Kenzai Acupuncture carries Legendary Herbs granules. Many individual herbs come from Good Agricultural Practices (GAP): certified farms or ethically wild-crafted sources. All raw materials are tested for authenticity and potency with microscopy and High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). All herbs are tested for heavy metals, harmful bacteria and pesticide residues. These tests are verified by independent laboratories in the USA and Germany. Legendary Herbs offers some of the most consistent and potent herb granules due to world class quality assurance and sophisticated extraction methods.

Q: Can pregnant women take Chinese herbs?

Yes, if prescribed by an experienced, professional practitioner. Chinese herbal medicine has been used for more than 2000 years to treat diseases and symptoms occurring during pregnancy without harm to the fetus. Lactating mothers can also take Chinese herbs safely as long as theyare prescribed by a trained practitioner.

Q: Can children take Chinese herbal medicine?

Yes. Pediatrics is a specialty within traditional Chinese medicine. There are specially prepared pediatric medicines in pill, powder and liquid form. Chinese herbal medicine can treat discomfort from colic, teething problems, earache, diarrhea, cough, and fever in babies and children.

Q: How do I know if a practitioner is professionally trained in Chinese herbal medicine?

The NCCAOM certification process distinguishes people who practice only acupuncture from those who practice acupuncture and prescribe Chinese herbal medicine. Practitioners who are certified in both acupuncture and Oriental medicine are known as Diplomates in Oriental Medicine (usually abbreviated as Dipl. OM), and they are certified to prescribe Chinese herbs. Chinese herbs are safe when prescribed by professional, knowledgeable practitioners. Prospective patients should always ask about the training and credentials of any potential practitioner.