Question 1: What conditions can acupuncture be used to treat?
Answer: Acupuncture is an independent branch of medicine that can be used to treat essentially all medical conditions, ranging from cold to cancer; it is not just limited to treating pain symptoms, that is really an entry level understanding of the practice.
Question 2: How does the treatment work?
Answer: To make it easy to understand, the human body has a number of channels for energy flow. When these channels are blocked, there are symptoms of disease, such as pain, infection, or dysfunctions of various kinds. On the other hand, if you restore the flow of energy, the symptoms go away. The goal of acupuncture treatment is to unblock the energy flow by stimulating the body with needles.
Question 3: How soon should we expect to see a change?
Answer: If you do it right, for pain symptoms, you should see changes in a matter of minutes, or less, unless it is an extreme condition.
Question 4: How many sessions are needed for my condition?
Answer: It depends on the severity of your condition. The best way to make a prediction is to extrapolate from progress made already.
Question 5: Are there any risks with acupuncture treatment?
Answer: There could be minor bleeding/bruising, which is rare. Some patients experiences pain, but it does not last a long time, it should be gone in a few hours. In cases where patients are extremely nervous, they may experience light-headedness, which happens to probably 1% of patients.
Question 6: How long does a session of treatment last?
Answer: It is recommended to leave the needles in for 30 minutes to achieve good results. Usually the longer you leave them in the better.
Question 7: How often should I get treated?
Answer: For minor issues, once every other day would be good. If you experience serious problems, best to have treatment done daily. If you wait for a long time in between sessions, some improvement could fade away, unless of course after a session of treatment all your problems got resolved.
Question 8: Is it painful?
Answer: It is just like a mosquito bite. In fact, even 6-year olds can take them, so there is not much to worry.
Unlike others, we use minimal number of needles to achieve the same results whenever possible, so there is less pain for treatment compared to at other places.
Question 9: How long does the effect of the treatment last?
Answer: If you problems is corrected in one session, which does happen often here, you do not need to worry, unless you have another episode of the same problem.
Depending on how your problem started in the first place, we have different expectation of the situation. If it is the result of an accident, when you symptoms go away, unless you have another accident, you should not get your problems back; however if your problem is related to your diet or lifestyle, unless you have the root corrected also, likely eventually the problem will come back. We do assist our patients to overcome these problems also.
Question 10: Any precautions after the treatment?
Answer: No food or drinks within one hour after the treatment, if possible. No spicy food or alcohol before your next session.
Question 11: How about before treatment, any preparation needed?
Answer: Best not to eat or drink too much before the appointment.
Question 12: My previous acupuncturist placed a number of needles near where I had pain, do you do the same?
Answer: That style is typical of entry level expertise. The original Chinese acupuncture system utilizes the energy flow in the body to treat different symptoms, usually that is away from the site of the problems. Also if you do it right, you do not need to use many needles, one or a couple should be sufficient, but you get far better results. The modern school of acupuncture treatment is an extension of the thoughts from electro-physiology, rather than from ancient Chinese philosophy, with mostly Taoist thoughts. That is why not only the methods are drastically different, but also the results.
Knee pain is a fairly commonly seen problem. Some patients are even advised by specialists to have a knee replacement to stop the pain. The reason provided is that their knees are “bone on bone” because an X-ray or MRI exam showed that there is no tendon in-between the bones.
This problem more often happens to older people, due to degeneration of the cartilage in the knee structure. It is often associated with overweight. Patients complain of pain when walking or stiffness of the joint. Often knee movement is restricted and the condition can be different every day. The knee can be swollen or even deformed, with atrophy of the muscle due to lack of use. In Western medicine it is generally categorized as osteoarthritis.
Strategy for treatment in Traditional Chinese Medicine aims to strengthen the liver system, which nourishes the tendons in the body. When the tendon system undergoes repair, it is not surprising pain associated with it would reduce. Additional care should be taken to remove any bone spur if present. My experience with such cases is that, depending on severity of the case, in a few sessions, there should be substantial reduction of pain and improvement of knee functions. In other words, there can be an alternative to having a pair of metal knees for the condition.
Additionally, while undergoing acupuncture treatment, one should take care not to harm the tendons any further. In particular, one should avoid spicy food, including ginger, to not make the condition worse. With a proper post-treatment care plan, the pain should not come back.
A common health issue that seniors face is deterioration of their muscle strength. Because of that they find it increasingly difficult to perform simple daily tasks, such as walking, and as a result most end up having to use a walker sooner or later, or even a wheelchair when it becomes worse.
However, this is not the only solution to the problem. Rather than providing external support, their physical strength can be improved. In the view of traditional Chinese medicine, people lose their muscular strength due to deteriorating spleen function. If you can improve the function of the spleen, a direct result is that the person’s muscle becomes stronger. In other words, it is possible to rejuvenate their life and health, so that seniors can enjoy a younger life style, one that is not dependent on external equipment in their daily life.
The above rejuvenation can be achieved with either taking herbal medicine, or using acupuncture. For herbal medicine, the idea is to strength the spleen with ingredients such as licorice, but not to the point of weakening the function of the kidney system, otherwise there can be less bladder control. Relating to diet, one should avoid chicken, plums or anything that tastes sour, because these items strengthen the liver and as a result weaken the spleen. This method of treatment requires fine balancing of ingredients used in the recipe, and thus has to be personalized to the individual. As a result it requires much personal attention.
On the other hand, with a well-designed system of acupuncture, the objective of strengthening the spleen can be easily achieved. This is because of the ease associated with manipulating the points and needles when providing treatment to a patient. Although it also requires personal attention, it can be implemented very easily. In my experience, most people show visible improvement in strength after just a few sessions of treatment. In fact, it is not surprising to see improvement after the first session.
Although it is a relatively new concept in Western medicine to tie the treatment plan with the life rhythm of a patient, such techniques have been in use since the start of Chinese medicine, as documented in the Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Internal Medicine, which dates back to roughly 3,000 B.C.
In theory, it has to do with the sequential dominance of a particular organ/system relative to its peers in the body. It is directly related to the theory of the Five Elements, which I will detail in a later posting.
In practice, such strategy can be used in the diagnosis and prognosis of a patient’s condition, as well as in implementing treatment plans. Some people may know of Chinese fortune-tellers, but most probably dismiss those as superstition. In fact, the trend of a person’s life can be predicted, according to the Five Elements theory, such that an individual with a certain bodily composition is most vulnerable at a certain time of his life, which can be broken down to the year, season, day, up to the hour of a day, when he most likely would have problems. The opposite is true also, anyone has his most fortunate hour, day, season and year of his life. However in real life, the vast majority of people have no idea about this system to look into the future, even among the Chinese.
Specifically for the practice of acupuncture, there are techniques to treat a patient according to the specific season or time of the day, which work wonders for time-related symptoms, such as allergies or certain sleep disorders. There are also time related techniques that is used to treat non-time sensitive symptoms, which in most cases work very well also.
In the past decade, Chinese medicine has gained substantial popularity and acceptance in Canada, as a form of alternative medicine. However although it has a history of over 5,000 years in China, it is still considered new by the general Canadian public. In fact, the average Canadian knows little about Chinese medicine, and thinks that the practice is probably similar to other professions in the Western world, meaning anyone in the profession is more or less the same compared to the rest of the group. In fact, that is not true, for reasons discussed below.
In fact, at the present time all over the world including in mainland China, the practice of Chinese medicine has been diluted in a sense that it has incorporated substantial Western concepts, such that from diagnosis to treatment, the spirit of Chinese medicine has essentially been replaced by its Western counterpart, to the extent that for most practitioners, it is impossible to provide service without the guidance of Western medicine. In other words, the service under the mask of Chinese medicine provided to a patient is in most cases a hybrid, in a sense that it is performed with Chinese instruments, but guided by thoughts in Western medicine. An analogy to illustrate the situation is for someone to drive a car on train tracks, and hope that it is going to work well. Obviously it is not going to work well, and if it does work it is going to be a bumpy ride. It is no wonder then that the service provided as Chinese medicine is often not very effective, in some cases it does not work at all. This makes people think that Chinese medicine does not work.
The truth is the contrary, not only Chinese medicine does work, it often works like a miracle, but you have to find the genuine practice. This may be puzzling to some, as in people’s mind, if two people have the same credential, they are more or less equivalent to each other. This is true with Western medicine, as everyone gets trained in a similar way prior to starting their practice. It is however not true with Chinese medicine, as practitioners can have very different background in the field, although everyone has the same qualification to practice. This is because during its long history, Chinese medicine developed many branches, and each branch has its own strength and weakness. The matter is further complicated due to the assimilation of Western culture into Chinese medicine, which produced a type of hybrid Chinese medicine that implements Western thoughts with tools in Chinese medicine. In fact most modern practice is a mix, very few practitioners still practice Chinese medicine that is true to its roots.
To be more specific, genuine Chinese medicine originated from the principles discussed by the Yellow Emperor, and it focuses on the Five Elements, the Ying and the Yang, the theory detailed in the Book of Changes, etc.; whereas the hybrid type of Chinese medicine is more concerned about the anatomy of the human body, the molecular mechanisms of diseases, the vitamins, cholesterol, etc., which really reflects Western thoughts and has no connection with genuine Chinese medicine whatsoever. The actions or remedies that stem from these thoughts are obviously going to be vastly different, despite the fact that both kinds use similar tools.
It is important to distinguish between these different streams of Chinese medicine, as the therapeutic effects are dramatically different. For example, a condition known as Frozen Shoulder takes about 14 sessions of treatment to be corrected, even by leading practitioners in China; however such a case can sometimes be corrected in a single session with genuine Chinese medicine. Facial paralysis known as Bell’s palsy can take more than 60 sessions for recovery with hybrid Chinese medicine, yet the same case can take as few as 7 sessions to achieve the same effect with the genuine practice. For simple problems it is a matter of sessions needed for recovery, for complex problems it is about whether the treatment works or not in the end.
It is worth noting that although in most cases such hybrid type practice label themselves as combining both Chinese and Western medicine in their offering, seemly representing a more advanced system, it actually only leads to a service that is inferior in terms of its effectiveness. Unfortunately most people get misled by its dual approach, thinking that it is more effective to combine the two. In fact it is just the contrary.
In a way, the discussion above is somewhat academic to the general public, but it is important to understand the difference in order to find the more effective treatment. The question then becomes, how does one find a practitioner that practices genuine Chinese medicine?
To answer this question, one should make sure that the spirit of the practice remain true to its tradition, in other words, it should be a practice that reflects genuine thoughts of Chinese medicine. For a layperson to the field, all that one can do is to make sure that the kind of diagnosis or treatment you are getting does not mimic Western medicine. In plain language, if the TCM practitioner you are seeing focuses on your blood glucose or cholesterol level and is going to take steps to lower the level to an acceptable range, or uses a blood pressure monitor or stethoscope for diagnosis, you know you are in the wrong hands. Alternatively, if your acupuncturist hooks up the needles with a machine that generates electrical current, you can tell they are infusing modern electrophysiology into the practice of acupuncture, which is not a part of genuine Chinese medicine.
It is important to stay loyal to the tradition of Chinese medicine, as then the service provided is the product of a 5,000-year clinical trial; on the other hand if the practice deviates from tradition and experiments with new ideas, then it has a maximum 50-year knowledge base. From this contrast alone, one can gain an appreciation as to why genuine Chinese medicine is far superior than the modern hybrid type: the reason is that the wisdom that has accumulated in its 5,000 years of history is an inherent part of genuine Chinese medicine, but it is not a part of the new hybrid Chinese medicine, no matter who the practitioner is.
Mark Ma is the principal at Acupuncture One, which is a clinic dedicated to practicing pure, original Chinese medicine. Mark inherited the knowledge and skills directly from Grand Masters in the field. This rare heritage enables Mark to provide exceptional services to clients.