Acupuncture is the insertion of very thin needles into specific points that treat certain health problems. Chinese doctors have spent over two thousand years mapping out the locations of these points, and modern electromagnetic research confirms their locations.
Acupuncture needles are inserted in order to access the flow of “qi” (energy) and blood, insuring their smooth flow throughout the body. According to Chinese medical theory, qi and blood are said to flow through meridians, or pathways that cover the body. Qi and blood can be in excess in certain parts of the body, in which case they may get ‘stuck’ and cause pain. In other parts of the body, qi and blood may be deficient, causing weakness and fatigue. Acupuncture helps the qi and blood to flow freely throughout the body, thereby bringing the body into balance.
The first question many people ask is, “Does acupuncture hurt?” The Chinese answer to this would be that acupuncture is “bu tong” or painless. That having been said, many Western patients are sensitive to the insertion of needles. Oftentimes there may be a sensation of cramping, heaviness or tingling. These sensations can be felt at the location of the needle, but may also occur up and down the affected meridian, or energy pathway. Any discomfort which does occur from the insertion of the needle is usually mild and will go away shortly after insertion. If not, please let me know so that adjustments can be made.
In my practice I choose to use very fine Japanese needles that are made of surgical stainless steel. These needles are known to have a smooth insertion and are sterile, individually-wrapped and disposable. My treatments tend to be both gentle and subtle, enabling most patients to fall asleep or at least fall into deep relaxation. Acupuncture is a safe method of treatment for nearly everyone, including pregnant women and lactating mothers. Although it can be used safely in the treatment of children, I primarily use ‘acupressure’ rather than acupuncture for kids, meaning that points are stimulated using gentle massage instead of needles.
Like treatment with Chinese herbs, acupuncture treatments are also individually customized for each patient depending on their unique constitution and symptoms. The number of treatments needed differs from patient to patient. An acute condition may be resolved with one treatment. For a complex or long-standing condition, 2 to 3 treatments per week may be recommended. For health maintenance, four sessions a year may be all that is necessary.
In order to get the most out of acupuncture, it is important to try and relax during treatment. If weather permits, wear loose clothing when you come for treatment and see if you can plan a time of day when you’re feeling neither too hungry nor too full. Avoid alcoholic beverages and sex for the six hours prior to treatment, and try to avoid coming in at a time when you feel excessively fatigued or emotionally upset. Do not change position or move suddenly when the needles are in, and please tell me if you experience any discomfort during treatment.
There are no side-effects associated with acupuncture treatment, although at times a small spot of blood can be found at the needle site. Less commonly, mild bruising may occur.
Antonia Balfour is the clinic director at Oasis Palisades, located in Pacific Palisades, California (on the west side of Los Angeles between Santa Monica, Brentwood and Malibu).