An Introduction to Chinese Medicine Part 1: Acupuncture

By Christina Morris, L.Ac.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is becoming a more popular form of medicine in the United States. A growing number of people find themselves searching for natural approaches to medicine and preventative healthcare. Traditional Chinese Medicine is composed of three main forms of practice including: acupuncture, herbology, and oriental massage. This article will focus on acupuncture.

Acupuncture originated in China over 5,000 years ago. Acupuncture is practiced world wide in the treatment of various ailments and is used as a preventative form of medicine. The World Health Organization has recognized acupuncture as an effective form of treatment for: ear, nose, and throat disorders, eye disorders, respiratory, gastrointestinal, nervous system and muscular disorders. Acupuncture is used in the treatment of allergies, asthma, sinusitis, colds and flu, sexual dysfunction, infertility, PMS, menopausal symptoms, morning sickness, arthritis, all kinds of pain, headaches, insomnia, tendonitis, carpal tunnel, sports injuries, sciatica, multiple sclerosis, hypertension, anemia, edema, anxiety, depression, hyper and hypothyroidism, addictions, smoking, weight loss, skin disorders and many others.

Acupuncture is a method of treatment that involves the insertion of very fine needles into precise points on the body. The needles are sterile, stainless steel and disposable. Sensations often felt with acupuncture may include: itchiness, achiness, numbness, tingling, heat, electrical, dullness, or heaviness. Acupuncture treatments are not painful and are usually very relaxing. Treatments generally last anywhere from ten minutes to one hour, depending on the condition. Results may be immediate or may take up to a few days after the treatment. The amount of acupuncture sessions needed vary from person to person. This depends on the condition’s severity, duration, and nature of the ailment. Chronic conditions generally require more treatments.

A thorough medical history and physical examination are usually performed before the acupuncture treatment begins. The acupuncturist will examine the patient’s tongue, feel the pulses on both wrists and may palpate certain acupuncture points on the body. The acupuncturist will make a diagnosis based on the theories of Chinese Medicine prior to the acupuncture treatment.

Traditional Chinese Medicine views health conditions as the result of imbalances or disruptions in the body’s vital energy (Qi). TCM believes that this vital energy (Qi) flows throughout the body in channels or pathways called meridians. Each meridian is associated with a particular organ. TCM believes that an imbalance in one meridian can affect another meridian depending on their energetic relationship. Acupuncture is used to manipulate the energy in these channels, balancing disharmonies or imbalances of the body. Most diseases do not occur overnight, they are due to a disharmony within the body that occurs over time. An acupuncturist is able to identify the patterns of disharmony based on the history of the patient, observation of the tongue, feeling the pulses on both wrists, and palpation of certain points on the body. Once the pattern is identified, an appropriate treatment plan can be developed.

Acupuncture laws vary from state to state. When searching for an acupuncturist in New York it is important to make sure that they are licensed to practice acupuncture by the state of New York. New York requires the acupuncturist to be certified by the NCCAOM (National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine) in acupuncture before granting a license to practice. The NCCAOM also certifies practitioners in herbology but this certification is not necessary to practice in the state of New York. Patients should ask if the acupuncturist is also certified by the NCCAOM in herbology if herbs are going to be used in the treatment. The next article will focus on Chinese herbology. It is important to feel comfortable with the acupuncturist. The patient should feel free to ask questions before, during and after the acupuncture treatments.