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Welcome to my guide to acupuncture. Explore this page to find answers to common questions about acupuncture.
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a treatment method of Oriental medicine. An acupuncturist will insert very thin acupuncture pins into specific acupoints. For more than 2000 years, classical Oriental texts have discussed acupuncture use.
In classical Chinese texts, the term used to refer to acupuncture meaning is Zhēn Jiǔ (针灸). This refers to both needling and moxibustion. Thus, we should consider both therapies in our acupuncture definition.
Throughout history, there have been many different family lineages and style of practice. Variations of practice arose in different regions and countries. The most well-known style of acupuncture is TCM acupuncture. TCM is the basis of most practitioners preliminary education. Following this many may find a specific style of practice that resonates with them. This then becomes the focus of their post-graduate study.
What does acupuncture do?
Acupuncture relieves obstructions and relaxes the nervous system, restoring functional health in your body.
To understand what acupuncture does, we can consider this famous quote traced back to historical Chinese Medicine master Li Dong Yuan
“If there is free flow there is no pain, if there is pain there is no free flow” (通则不痛，痛则不通).
Pain is simply one of the ways in which our body signals that there is a deeper dysfunction within which needs addressing.
The body has a need for nutrients (Ying Qi – an aspect of Qi) and oxygen (Da Qi – a different aspect of Qi) to be distributed through the healthy circulation of blood (Xue) throughout the body.
When there are blockages to the free flow of Xue and Qi, disease occurs as the body struggles to maintain harmony within itself.
These blockages may arise as a result of the body’s difficulty in dealing with stressful influences. These may include the external climate, mental and emotional stress, overwork, poor diet, lack of exercise, toxic overload and trauma, among others.
Acupuncture benefits health by releasing obstruction and regulating the circulation of Xue and Qi. It provides a drug-free approach to managing your pain and health concerns.
The health effects of acupuncture can thus be quite broad. By addressing this deeper circulation of Xue and Qi, all systems of the body are able to function better.
How does acupuncture work?
Acupuncture works by helping to disperse and prevent these blockages by releasing constrictions in the fascia (connective) tissue1. This allows nutrients and energy to freely reach throughout your body, encouraging its natural healing potential to take over. This mechanical release of constriction can be transmitted through the fascial network resulting in adjustments both locally to the site of needling, and distally elsewhere in the body such as the internal organs.
The insertion of an acupuncture pin can stimulate sensory nerves, leading to effects on the central nervous system, decreasing sympathetic and increasing parasympathetic nervous system activity2. This effect of rebalancing the nervous system to explain the calm and relaxed sensation many people experience after an acupuncture session.
These nerve signals are transmitted to the brain, with multiple specific aspects of the brain being activated with stimulation of each acupuncture point.
Acupuncture benefits circulation through causing the blood vessels to dilate3, thus increasing healthy blood flow to diseased areas of the body. Combined with the neurological stimulation, this lowers blood pressure4.
Does acupuncture hurt?
Treatment with acupuncture generally does not hurt.
A sensation may be felt which is often described as a local ache, warmth or spreading feeling. Sometimes this sensation of movement or release is observed in areas of the body far removed from where the pin is being inserted.
Upon insertion of an acupuncture pin, one might experience a temporary ‘mosquito bite’ prick, however, this should not last. Any lingering sharp pain sensation can, and should, be removed through simply adjusting the depth and angle of insertion – often by just a few millimetres.
Is acupuncture safe?
Most acupuncture side effects are little to worry about and may include minor adverse events such as bruising, bleeding, tiredness, local pain or a temporary worsening of symptoms. The chances of these are minimised when careful diagnosis and well-practised needling skills are utilised in treatment. Studies have shown that these minor effects occur in around 7-13% of treatments performed 5 6.
As with any therapy that involves the skin there is also the potential for infection or piercing of an organ including serious events such as a pneumothorax. Modern hygiene practices and the use of sterilised, single-use needles greatly reduces the chance for infection. Adequate training that includes in-depth anatomical knowledge and many hours of closely supervised clinical practice is the best preventative for more serious events. Serious side effects that require hospitalisation have been shown to occur in 0.0001-.003% of treatments studied 5 6.
In regards to the incidence of adverse events, Ernst et al, 2011, concluded that “The key to making progress would be to train all acupuncturists to a high level of competency”7. To put that another way, acupuncture should only be performed by those with adequate training.
What happens in an acupuncture treatment?
Each acupuncturist may have a slightly different workflow depending on their style of practice and clinic setup. At my clinic for Chinese herbal medicine and Acupuncture in Melbourne, Dantian Health, a typical session is as follows.
In an initial session, more time is allocated to having a discussion about why you are seeking treatment. Exploration will be had of not only your primary health concerns but also your complete medical history. A broad range of questions is asked about your day to day bodily functions – covering areas such as sleep, digestion, pain amongst others.
Following this treatment options are presented, along with an explanation of your treatment plan.
For follow-up sessions, a review of your symptoms, along with a discussion of progression/regression takes less time.
The diagnosis then moves to a more thorough examination of your body, where posture, complexion and movement are observed. Extensive time is spent feeling your pulse, as this is a key diagnostic tool in Oriental medicine.
I will also spend time on palpation of your Hara (abdomen) and arms, legs, neck etc. Through this process, I am seeking to find areas of discomfort and tension. This process continues during treatment with constant rechecking of these findings to ensure correct location for insertion of pins and to confirm that the body is responding positively.
Not all presenting symptoms can be monitored on the treatment table (eg it is hard to see if your sleep issues improve during the hour you spend with me). Through seeking changes in the pulse and of tension and discomfort in the Hara, a positive response to treatment can be observed. Ultimately, of course, this is displayed in changes to your symptoms which are discussed at your next acupuncture treatment.
On occasion you may be left to rest for a short period of time with some pins in, during this time I will be working on your herbal formula if we are also using Chinese herbal medicine as part of your treatment plan.
During an acupuncture session, points are individually chosen based on your presenting pattern(s). These choices draw upon thousands of years of observation of the systemic effects of specific acupoints.
These observations have led to the development of a theory of how different areas and functions of the body relate to each other, meaning that points are often selected that are located far away from the site of injury or disease.
How much does acupuncture cost?
At Dantian Health, Melbourne, acupuncture prices are as follows:
- Initial acupuncture session (60-90 minutes): $110
- Follow up acupuncture session (45-60 minutes): $80
- One week of granule herbal formula (if prescribed): $30
It is difficult to answer how many acupuncture sessions are needed as this differs on a case by case basis. Factors such as the length of time and severity of your health issues, as well as the ability to make changes around aggravating factors, will play a part in this.
Please feel free to contact me to have a further discussion regarding your individual situation.
How to become an acupuncturist?
Accredited training to become an acupuncturist in Australia involves a 4-5 year Bachelors degree in Health Science. This includes study in Western medical sciences as well as the underlying theories and of Chinese medicine.
Much emphasis is placed on learning the modalities such as acupuncture and herbal practice in a clinical environment. Education guidelines regarding acupuncture training in Australia state that there should be at least 500 hours of supervised clinical practice8.
This supervised clinical practice is critical to development as a practitioner and is what is absent in the plethora of dry needling courses available to practitioners of other modalities. This is a public safety issue, as without this closely supervised needling practice the risk of adverse events increases.
Acupuncture should only be performed by a properly educated and registered acupuncturist. It is imperative to ask questions of your practitioner about their training to ensure that only qualified professionals of this modality perform this powerful technique on you. This ensures that you can receive the safest and most effective treatments for your current health concerns.
Acupuncture in Melbourne
At Dantian Health, I have received training in many different styles such as classical techniques from the oldest techniques through to more ‘modern’ styles such as Tung, Tan and Five Element approaches.
The primary style I practice in the clinic is that of Nagano style acupuncture. This is a lineage of Japanese acupuncture as taught by Tsuyoshi Shimamura sensei and Kiiko Matsumoto sensei.
What else would you like to know?
Thanks for reading this far. Have I missed your question? Was something unclear? Let me know in the comments below!
1. Langevin HM, Churchill DL, Cipolla MJ. Mechanical signaling through connective tissue: a mechanism for the therapeutic effect of acupuncture. FASEB J. 2001 Oct;15(12):2275-82
2. Li QQ, Shi GX, Xu Q, Wang J, Liu CZ, Wang LP Acupuncture effect and central autonomic regulation. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:267959. doi: 10.1155/2013/267959. Epub 2013 May 26
3. Zhang ZJ, Wang XM, McAlonan GM. Neural acupuncture unit: a new concept for interpreting effects and mechanisms of acupuncture. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:429412. doi: 10.1155/2012/429412. Epub 2012 Mar 8
4. Li P, Longhurst JC. Neural mechanism of electroacupuncture’s hypotensive effects. Auton Neurosci. 2010 Oct 28;157(1-2):24-30. doi: 10.1016/j.autneu.2010.03.015. Epub 2010 May 5.
5. White, A. (2006). The safety of acupuncture – evidence from the UK. Acupuncture in Medicine, 24(Suppl), 53–57. https://doi.org/10.1136/aim.24.Suppl.53
6. Linde, K., Streng, A., Hoppe, A., Jürgens, S., Weidenhammer, W., & Melchart, D. (2006). The programme for the evaluation of patient care with acupuncture (PEP-Ac) – a project sponsored by ten German social health insurance funds. Acupuncture in Medicine, 24(Suppl), 25–32. https://doi.org/10.1136/aim.24.Suppl.25
7. Ernst, E., Lee, M. S., & Choi, T.-Y. (2011). Acupuncture: Does it alleviate pain and are there serious risks? A review of reviews. Pain, 152(4), 755–764.
8. National Academic Standards Committee for Traditional Chinese Medicine, Australian guidelines for Traditional Chinese Medicine Education