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Acupuncture: Frequently asked questions

Traditional acupuncture is an ancient Chinese system of healing which enables a person to achieve a more balanced physical and emotional state. Its philosophy is that in good health there is a continuous smooth flow of energy (Qi or Chi) through channels within the body. Illnesses, injury or emotional stress can disturb the smooth flow of Qi, leading to range of symptoms and often the loss of a sense of well-being. The acupuncturist aims to balance the flow of Qi by inserting fine needles into specific points on the body. A person receiving acupuncture will often report both an improvement in symptoms and an increased sense of well-being.

Below are some frequently asked questions, please click on the questions to reveal the answers.

For further information or if you have any questions or concerns about your treatment with The Oxford Natural Health Centre, please contact us and we will be happy to help you.

Q. Would acupuncture be suitable for me?

A. Acupuncture has been used to treat a wide range of conditions; physical and psychological, acute and chronic. Patients seek our help in dealing with conditions such as:

Symptoms OF THE CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Such as Angina; High Blood Pressure; Palpitations; Poor Circulation.

Symptoms OF THE RESPIRATORY SYSTEM
Such as Asthma; Chronic Breathlessness; Hayfever.

Symptoms OF THE DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
Such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome; Colitis; Constipation; Diarrhoea; Indigestion.

Symptoms OF THE URINARY AND REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEMS
Such as Cystitis; Impotence; Incontinence; Infertility; Irregular Periods; Pre-menstrual Syndrome.

Symptoms OF THE SKIN
Such as Acne; Eczema; Psoriasis.

NEUROLOGICAL AND MUSCULO-SKELETAL symptoms
Such as Arthritis; Back Pain; Headaches; Migraines; Neuralgia; Rheumatism; Sciatica; Sports Injuries; Frozen Shoulder; Tinnitus.

ACUTE INFECTIONS
Such as Bronchitis; Common Cold; Food Poisoning; Infectious Hepatitis; Influenza; Sinusitis; Ear infections.

MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL DISORDERS
Such as Anxiety; Depression; Eating Disorders; Insomnia; Panic Attacks.

This is not intended to be a definitive list and if your condition is not covered by any of the above categories, please contact us and ask if we think acupuncture would be appropriate. Nearly all patients who come for acupuncture have already consulted their GP for their condition. If you have not, we may possibly ask you to see your doctor. Acupuncturists do not regard their therapy as necessarily the single most appropriate treatment for each patient. We may sometimes refer a patient to another discipline such as Western medicine, chiropractic or psychotherapy, either as an adjunct to acupuncture or as an alternative. Acupuncturists do not claim to be able to ‘cure’ all of these conditions – in many cases acupuncture may provide highly effective symptomatic relief. Acupuncture is used traditionally to address the root causes of disease whilst providing relief from many acute symptoms.

Q. What if I am already receiving treatment for my condition?

A. Occasionally it is desirable for the intensive treatment of an acute condition to be completed e.g. a course of antibiotics or chemotherapy administered in a hospital, before beginning acupuncture treatment. Generally speaking, however, it is very rare for any form of treatment to be so incompatible with acupuncture as to make treatment inadvisable. Acupuncture can be very effective when used in combination with conventional medical treatment. If you are taking prescribed medication for your condition you should normally inform your doctor that you are receiving acupuncture treatment. In many instances it will be possible to reduce or entirely eliminate your need for medication and we hope that your doctor will be happy to be kept in touch and consulted during this process.

Q. What actually happens when I visit an acupuncturist?

A. As in any other system of medicine, on your first visit the practitioner will gather the information necessary to make an accurate diagnosis. Practitioners at ONHC take a holistic approach to a person's illness and will allow about one hour and a half for the initial consultation. Once the acupuncturist has reached a diagnosis and decided upon the appropriate treatment (normally as part of your first visit), he or she will insert acupuncture needles into various acupuncture points. The number and location will depend on the treatment plan; the practitioner may use just one or two points in a treatment, sometimes they may prefer to use several points. There are over 300 acupuncture points on the main meridians along with many additional points which are sometimes used.

There is often no apparent correlation between the site of the symptom and the location of the points used. The choice of points is determined by the pathway of the energy meridians that the acupuncturist has decided lie at the heart of the imbalance. The most commonly used points are located on the limbs, between the elbow and finger-tips and below the knee. Points which lie close to the site of a symptom may be used, however, if the acupuncturist diagnoses an energetic obstruction in a painful area. These "local" points are used most commonly and effectively in the treatment of pain.

The practitioner will manipulate the needles as he or she inserts them and they may be left in for some minutes or removed almost immediately depending on the effect the practitioner wishes to achieve upon the patient's energy. The depth of insertion, usually a few millimetres, varies according to the point's location on the body. Unlike an injection with a hypodermic needle or pricking oneself with a sewing needle, acupuncture does not draw any blood, owing to the extreme fineness of the needles used.

Q. Will I feel the needles?

A. Acupuncture needles are so fine that the prick of the needle as it goes through the skin is barely felt. When the needle reaches the required depth and touches the flow of Qi energy in the meridian, patients often feel a distinctive sensation which is described as a dull ache or a tingling sensation and can sometimes be felt along the pathway of the meridian. This sensation is known as "De Qi" and indicates to both practitioner and patient that the point has been accurately located. The sensation only lasts for a second or two, even if the needles are left in for some time. Many patients comment that having needles was nothing like as bad as they had imagined. Even when acupuncture causes some discomfort, this is only momentary and the majority of patients find this quite tolerable.

Q. Is there any possibility of infection from the needles?

A. Properly trained acupuncturists are absolutely meticulous concerning the sterility of their needles and the method of insertion. All acupuncture colleges stress the importance of this aspect of the acupuncturist's practice. All practitioners at ONHC use single-use disposable needles. Our practitioners are all members of the British Acupuncture Council, whose standards include a rigorous Code of Safe Practice.

Q. Will any other therapies be used?

A. The acupuncturist may use other traditional techniques apart from needling. Here is a brief outline of the most commonly used techniques.

MOXIBUSTION

Moxibustion is used to warm the patient's Qi. This is particularly indicated if the person is deficient in Yang, the aspect of Yin/Yang responsible for warmth. The fact that many people's bodies are always cold to the touch, that they themselves feel the cold excessively, or that their symptoms are worse in cold weather is another example of a valuable diagnostic clue in Chinese Medicine. Moxibustion warms the energy so that not only is it beneficial to the patient's symptoms and general health, but it is also common for patients to comment that they no longer feel the cold so acutely. Moxibustion is used more freely in winter than in summer as this is the time of year when people need warming most and when they are most prone to Cold-related illnesses. Moxibustion is obviously rarely used on patients who are prone to feeling hot, who barely feel the cold and tend to find hot weather difficult to deal with.

In the procedure of moxibustion, a small cone of the dried and powdered leaves of the herb Artemesia Vulgaris Latiflora is placed on the acupuncture point. It is then lit and allowed to smoulder slowly until the patient feels his or her skin become warm. It is then removed. This is repeated several times on each point. Most patients find that this gives them a pleasant warm sensation.

Moxibustion can also be applied over an area of the body which has become cold; such as a "frozen" shoulder, the lower back or the lower abdomen,(as is commonly found in women suffering from gynaecological problems). There are various methods for warming an area with moxibustion, the most common being a "moxa stick" which is rather like a large cigar. This is lit and passed over the skin, just close enough to give a comfortable heat. The acupuncturist may give a moxa stick to the patient to take home with him or her so that they can continue the treatment themselves on a regular basis.

HERBS

Herbs have always played a major part in the health care of the countries of the Orient and in their communities in Western countries. Diagnosis is based upon the same principles as for acupuncture, with more emphasis on Yin/Yang than on the 5 Elements. Some acupuncturists now use Oriental herbs to supplement their acupuncture treatment, often using herbal remedies for a specific symptom, such as to help clear an invasion of an external climatic factor or to build up the patient's constitutional strength.

CUPPING

Cupping is an ancient technique found in many cultures. Cupping utilises vacuum suction within glass or plastic cups to disperse localised congestion such as that caused by Wind, Cold or Dampness. A lighted taper is placed in a glass cup for just a moment in order to create a vacuum. The taper is then withdrawn and the cup is quickly placed upon the skin. Alternatively plastic suction cups may be used. The vacuum holds it on and a sucking sensation is felt by the patient. It is not at all unpleasant and is most commonly employed on the back, usually for the treatment of conditions such as the common cold, asthma and backache. It can also be used in the treatment of joint pains and muscular injury.

MASSAGE

Massage (acupressure) is sometimes used on acupuncture points in situations when it is difficult to use needles or moxibustion. It is not as powerful as using needles but it can still be highly effective. Small children often have points massaged rather than needled. Sometimes in emergency situations, for example a traffic accident or a sports injury, needles may not be immediately available and the acupuncturist may use massage as first aid. There are also traditional Oriental methods of massage for musculo-skeletal problems.

COUNSELLING

The Chinese have always placed great emphasis on eradicating, if possible, the cause of a person's illness. Advising a patient on aspects of their lifestyle which the acupuncturist considers are detrimental to their health is regarded as extremely important. This could involve discussion about a more appropriate diet, exercise, the skilful avoidance of excessive stress and how to become less overwhelmed by the various "internal causes" of illness, the emotions. Practices such as yoga, Tai Ch’i, Qi Gong or meditation may be prescribed by practitioners to help support a patient’s recovery.

A patient's readiness to make changes in their life-style can make or break the success of the treatment. It is considerably harder, for example, for the acupuncturist to improve the condition of the Liver if a patient continues to place a strain on it by drinking too much alcohol, repressing their anger or overloading their planning and organising faculty through overwork. If you are prepared to make a commitment to reduce certain stresses in your lifestyle, this can greatly improve the chances of returning to, and maintaining, a better state of health.

Q. Will acupuncture work only if I believe in it?

A. Acupuncture is no different from Western medicine in this respect. Seneca, the first century Roman philosopher, said "It is part of the cure to wish to be cured" and all systems of medicine, even surgery, tend to be more effective if the patient has confidence in the treatment and in the practitioner carrying it out. Some patients, naturally, know little about acupuncture at the outset and may be, initially, very sceptical about its benefits. Such skepticism tends to disappear as people begin to feel better. Belief in acupuncture is not essential. Having an open mind and a positive attitude will definitely help in your recovery.

Q. How many treatments will I need?

A. This will be determined by many factors; whether the illness is chronic or acute, whether your constitution is relatively healthy, how severe the imbalances are, how accurate a diagnosis the acupuncturist has made and whether there are currently any factors in your life which are exacerbating your illness. Treatment may be frequent if the symptoms are acute, but if the illness is chronic it is usual to attend weekly. This phase continues until the symptoms have significantly improved and the practitioner is assured, through assessment of the pulse, tongue and other criteria, that the underlying imbalances are markedly less severe. Once you begin to improve, the frequency of the treatments diminishes. Generally we expect a patient to show some improvement within the first three or four treatments although it may well take longer if the illness is severe or if it has been present for a long time.

When you are markedly better, the acupuncturist traditionally sees you several times a year, traditionally at the start of each season. These visits are meant to support your overall health and well being, check that no previous problems are on the point of returning, and help to prevent new problems from developing. The acupuncturist's ability to diagnose and treat dysfunction long before symptoms arise, makes acupuncture a highly effective form of preventive medicine.

Q. Will I feel different immediately after a treatment?

A. After treatment a patient may feel energised and vital, but it probably more common to feel rather relaxed and drowsy. This is because the body needs some time to adjust to the changes that have been brought about by the treatment. The acupuncturist will be able to feel on the pulses that a change has taken place at the time of the treatment, but often the patient will not be aware of any improvement for a day or two. If you are suffering from an acute symptom, such as a headache, however, it is common for an improvement to be felt at the time of the treatment.

Q. Can acupuncture be used on small children?

A. Acupuncture can be very effective for children, and they sometimes respond more readily than adults. Sometimes it is necessary to use massage, moxibustion or other techniques rather than needling, depending upon the individual child and the nature of their condition. Acupuncture treatment for children allows us to diagnose and treat imbalances at an early stage and thereby prevent problems becoming more severe and causing symptoms later on.

Q. Can acupuncture be used during pregnancy?

A. Acupuncture can be extremely helpful throughout the various stages of pregnancy. Conditions such as morning sickness and the various aches, pains, and discomfort of pregnancy often respond quite readily. Acupuncture can be very effective in helping to induce labour when the baby is overdue. Moxibustion on a particular point on the little toe has been shown to be highly effective at turning a poorly positioned foetus.

Q. Can acupuncture be used during childbirth?

A. Acupuncture analgesia is occasionally used for the relief of pain during childbirth. Some acupuncturists attend births in order to help facilitate the labour in several different ways. For example, acupuncture can be used throughout the labour to significantly lessen the pain when it reaches its peaks, to re-start the contractions if they stop for any reason or to draw upon the mother's reserves of energy if she feels that she just cannot go on any longer. The use of acupuncture at crucial stages in the labour can transform a woman's experience of childbirth and can greatly assist women who choose to have a more natural childbirth. Acupuncture, and particularly moxibustion, is also extremely effective immediately after the birth, reducing the likelihood of post-natal depression and helping to restore the mother's energy and vitality.

Q. Can acupuncture help me lose stop smoking or lose weight?

A. Acupuncture can be very effective at helping to reduce the addictive cravings that may prevent people from stopping smoking or reducing their food intake. Acupuncturists are concerned to diagnose the root cause of these problems and thereby provide a permanent solution. Obviously, acupuncture can only work effectively in helping these conditions if you are committed to working closely with your practitioner, changing your habits and behaviour patterns.


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