Acupuncture Basics: What you need to know.

How does acupuncture work?

From an Eastern perspective, acupuncture is meant to encourage the smooth flow of qi (energy) through the 14 channels (meridians) which surge through the body, each relating to a particular organ and/or bodily function. When this flow of energy is blocked somewhere along one or more of the channels, this obstruction is thought to manifest itself as illness or pain within the body.

From a Western perspective, acupuncture works via the nervous system. When a needle is inserted under the skin, there is stimulation of high-threshold, small-diameter nerves in the muscle, which send messages to the spinal cord and then activate three centers- the spinal cord, midbrain and the pituitary, releasing neurochemicals (endorphins and monoamines) and hormones back down through the body. Depending upon which of the roughly 400 or so points were strategically chosen by the acupuncturist, the neural stimulation will create a specified effect. For example, neurochemicals block “pain” messages, while other points can stimulate a targeted hormone.

What could I expect from a typical treatment?

Typically, the first treatment would begin with a detailed intake and consultation, followed by an acupuncture treatment. It is also customary for the acupuncturist to take your pulse and examine your tongue, as both of these are used as important diagnostic tools.

Upon insertion, you may feel a slight prick as the needle enters the skin, although the needles are so thin that most patients hardly feel them at all. What the patient will typically feel is a sensation of mild heaviness or tingling as the nervous system picks up the stimulation of the needles. Though this may feel a bit weird at first, remember, this is a good thing. This sensation tells both the patient and the acupuncturist that change being elicited in the body.

Other methods that are commonly used in treatment are cupping, electro-stimulation, moxibustion (the use of heat) and ear seeds.

What kind of credentials should I look for in an acupuncturist?

Currently, Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec are the only provinces in Canada where acupuncture is “registered.” What this means is that all acupuncturists who practice within these three provinces must have graduated from an approved acupuncture school and have passed a provincial licensing exam. If you are interested in receiving acupuncture while in a province other than the three listed above, ensure to ask the practicing acupuncturist to see their credentials before seeking treatment.

What kind of conditions can acupuncture treat?

Many people are under the impression that acupuncture is only for pain management, but the World Health Organization (WHO) has listed 104 (and counting) conditions that acupuncture can currently treat. These include headaches, migraines, sinusitis, tonsillitis, bronchitis, asthma, addictions, ulcers, digestive issues, sciatica, knee problems, shoulder problems, restless leg syndrome, all forms of arthritis, fibromyalgia, both acute and chronic back pain, carpel tunnel, depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, menstrual disorders, fertility issues for both men and women and much, much more. Other conditions not listed above can be searched on the WHO website.

Contact your insurance provider today to ask them about your acupuncture benefits, always making sure to ask whether or not a doctor’s note is required for reimbursement. Please be on the lookout for upcoming lunch and learns to hear more about how you can take full advantage of your acupuncture benefits!

Please feel free to contact Heather Bracken if you have any questions regarding acupuncture or would like to book an appointment.

About Chris Tse

I’m a scientist turned owner of Blitz Conditioning, a Fitness Columnist at CBC Radio on Thursdays at 8:20 am, and owner of Tse Social Strategy. Follow me on Twitter or Read my full bio.

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