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Acupuncture: What To Expect, How It Works

Monday, August 29, 2016 7:12 AM

Acupuncture may seem scary, but Adam Cohen-Lewe DO, Family Medicine and Neuromusculoskeletal Medicine/Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine at NorthShore, assures us it’s not. There are many benefits to acupuncture such as treating migraines, joint pain, anxiety or weight loss. To help us better understand the practice of acupuncture, Dr. Cohen-Lewe answers some frequently asked questions:


What is acupuncture and how does it work?
Acupuncture is the practice of inserting needles into specific points on the body that correspond to energy circuits – or meridians – with the goal of improving the energetic flow and function of the body as a whole. The choice of acupuncture treatment depends on the goal, which is based on an evaluation of energy within the meridians to achieve a balance between the yin and yang energies.

What kind of education and training do acupuncturists receive?
Physicians who practice acupuncture complete a comprehensive training program in the application of acupuncture to the practice of clinical medicine. This is typically undertaken after completion of traditional medical training and involves months of intensive study and hands-on training.

What does acupuncture feel like? Does it hurt?
The needles used for acupuncture vary in length and diameter, and insertion does sometimes temporarily hurt. In particular, if an acupuncture point on the body is energy deficient or overstimulated, there may be some pain associated with the needle insertion. With a slightly deeper insertion, a sensation of “de chi” or “grabbing the energy” can be felt, which can be perceived as an achy pain radiating along the length of the acupuncture meridian.

Are there different types of needles or equipment?
Needles can vary in length and diameter, but are generally small. Most needles are significantly thinner than those used to administer immunizations. In certain types of auricular acupuncture, needles can be left in place and are similar to very small earrings in appearance.

What conditions can acupuncture treat?
Acupuncture is an all-encompassing system of medicine that predates Western medicine with its own separate paradigms of evaluation and treatment. It can be used to treat many conditions that are known to modern Western medicine, as well as conditions that fall outside of modern medicine.

Can acupuncture be helpful to people who don’t have health problems?
Within the paradigm of acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, energy imbalances manifest before symptoms of illness. It is therefore possible to evaluate, diagnose and treat an energy problem before it manifests as feelings of illness.

How often do patients come in for treatment?
Frequency of treatment is highly individualized and depends on the diagnosis and treatment course prescribed by the practitioner.

What are maintenance tune-ups?
There is a practice within acupuncture/traditional Chinese medicine where the patient can be evaluated at regular intervals for energy imbalances before they manifest as symptoms. If a patient has an underlying predisposition to a specific type of imbalance, he or she could be regularly evaluated to ensure that treatment is administered prior to either the onset or recurrence of symptoms.

Are there any side effects to acupuncture?
Commonly reported side effects include experiencing a temporary endorphin rush or feeling fatigued for the remainder of the day following an acupuncture treatment. A less-common side effect is fainting when the needles are inserted, and this is usually minimized by having the patient lying down for acupuncture treatment.

What are some of the different acupuncture techniques?
The basic technique of acupuncture is inserting a needle into the skin. There are various styles of acupuncture that involve using acupuncture points on the entire body or focusing on just one part of the body to affect the energy movement in the rest of the body. Examples of this latter technique are ear or scalp acupuncture, in which needles are only inserted into the ear or the scalp. Sometimes acupuncture techniques are combined. For example, some needles may be placed in the energy meridians of the body in addition to representative points in the ear that complement the chosen body points.

Have you tried acupuncture before? What did you treat?