Originating in China almost 2,000 years ago, acupuncture—a technique using hair-like needles to stimulate the body’s energy system—is the oldest known medical procedure. It is currently used extensively throughout the world, as well as in the United States. In fact, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that acupuncture is widely practiced by thousands of physicians, acupuncturists and other practitioners for relief or prevention of pain and other health conditions, including lower back pain, hand and knee pain, headaches, fibromyalgia, and menstrual pain. In addition, a 2002 study reported by the NIH showed that an estimated 8.2 million U.S. adults have had acupuncture, with over 2 million using the treatment that previous year.
Acupuncture has grown in popularity in the U.S. as a non-invasive therapy because of the wide benefits it provides patients. Acupuncture has been shown to help ease pain, promote health, address disease-related symptoms and treat the root cause of health disorders
How Acupuncture Works
Acupuncture is a technique that involves the insertion and manipulation (by hand or electrical stimulation) of tiny, flexible hair-like needles into specific points in the body where energy flows. When the flow of energy in the body is disrupted, pain and illness occurs. The acupuncture needles rebalance the body’s energy and restore health by stimulating these points. Stimulation from acupuncture needles has been shown to cause tremendous physiological responses, including the release of endorphins, as well as changes in brain activity, blood chemistry, endocrine functions, blood pressure and immune system response.
Acupuncture is effective as a primary treatment for certain conditions or can be combined with other complementary or Western medicine techniques. In fact, studies show that using acupuncture can greatly enhance some Western therapies. For example, a recent study revealed that people suffering from osteoarthritis showed significant improvement in their symptoms when receiving acupuncture in addition to standard medication.
What Acupuncture Feels Like
Everyone experiences acupuncture differently. However, acupuncture treatment is not painful. In fact, many patients find it extremely relaxing or invigorating. The needles used in acupuncture are much smaller, lighter and more flexible than hypodermic needles. As a result, many patients don’t feel them being inserted at all or experience only a slight warmth, tingling or sensation of fullness as the needles reach the correct point in the body.
What to Expect from Treatment
Your first acupuncture visit, during your second overall visit, will be 30 minutes. Your acupuncturist will talk to you about your health history, lifestyle and behavior patterns. This is important to help the practitioner obtain a complete picture of your overall health and any factors that may be contributing to your condition.
Once your condition is assessed, the acupuncturist will develop a treatment plan based on your individual needs. Treatment begins by sitting in a chair or lying comfortably on a table while the flexible, stainless steel needles are inserted. Typically, the needles are left in the body for about 20 to 30 minutes. Keep in mind, the use of these needles is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Association and very safe. We use only single-use, sterilized, disposable needles.
At all times, your privacy and modesty is respected by the acupuncturist. You will remain clothed throughout the treatment session, although may be asked to loosen restrictive garments. For ease of treatment, bring or wear loose, comfortable clothing to each treatment session.
The number of treatment sessions needed varies from person to person, depending on his or her condition, its severity and duration. Often, patients with acute conditions see improvements immediately and require only one to three visits. For long-standing chronic conditions, improvement usually begins within the first one to six treatments. Once a high level of improvement is maintained consistently between each treatment visit (which usually occur weekly), the visits are scheduled farther apart until the patient feels well and no further treatments are required. Occasionally, profoundly difficult or chronic conditions will require regular treatment to maintain improvement.
If you are one of our patients who has traveled from far away in the United States or even from another country to see us, we still may want you to have acupuncture as part of your treatment regimen. We will work with a local medical acupuncturist to coordinate care.
Acupuncture for Children
Acupuncture for children has not been widely used in the US for children mainly due to parents fears of how their children will tolerate the acupuncture needles. A Harvard study showed that parents are more afraid of how the needles will be tolerated than the children are. Children generally tolerate acupuncture as well as adults and many studies have shown that children can greatly benefit from acupuncture for certain conditions, including headaches, stomachaches, back pain, and other chronic complaints. At the Bingham Memorial Center for Functional Medicine, we always present acupuncture for children as a treatment option because of its many proven benefits—missing less school, sleeping better, and to ability to participate in extracurricular activities.
Medical Acupuncture is at times covered by insurance. We recommend that you check with your insurer before treatment begins to see whether acupuncture will be covered for your condition and to what extent. Because acupuncture is provided at the Bingham Memorial Center for Functional Medicine only by licensed physicians, treatments can be covered by insurance in the same way as is a regular doctor visit. In addition, because acupuncture is considered a procedure, it will be billed separately from the office visit.
The Bingham Healthcare Center for Functional Medicine will file insurance claims on behalf of all patients regardless of whether we participate in your insurance plan or not. This, along with an itemized receipt provided at the time of visit, can be used by the patient to assist with obtaining reimbursement directly from their insurance provider.