Where did acupuncture originate?

Acupuncture is generally considered Chinese in origin. However, it is becoming increasingly accepted that acupuncture was practiced in many different cultures around the world over 5000 years ago.

Chinese history contains the most thorough records of acupuncture and has been the most influential culture in developing the systems of this ancient medicine. The Huangdi Neijing (Yellow Emporer’s Classic of Internal Medicine) was compiled in the 1st century BC and is considered to be the oldest medical textbook. The complex theories and philosophies of acupuncture form the foundation of the traditional medical system in China and are currently practiced in conjunction with modern medicine. 

In 1991, Otzi the Iceman was found in the Otzatler Alps near the border of Italy and Austria. His 5200 year old body is marked with distinct tattoos that coincide with particular acupuncture points used for treating sciatica. Discoveries such as this open the possibilities that acupuncture’s origins are wider than we previously believed.

How does acupuncture work?

The practice of acupuncture is based on the principle that health depends on the harmonious flow of Qi (pronounced “chee”) or “vital energy” within our body. Qi flows through the body via pathways called meridians. There are 12 major meridians in the human body each of which correspond to major internal organs and their functions. Disease, dysfunction or illness arise when there is a disruption to the flow of Qi in one or more of the meridians. Acupuncture therapy involves inserting very fine sterile needles into specific points on a meridian called acupoints. There are over 300 acupoints on the human body. When a needle is inserted into an acupoint, it clears blockages and stimulates the natural flow of energy within the meridian. As the body’s Qi flows unobstructed, health is restored and symptoms are relieved. 

What can I expect during a treatment?

Initial patients need to come early to fill out a health questionnaire. This information will be discussed privately between you and your acupuncturist at the beginning of your first treatment. Every practioner is different but generally, your acupuncturist will then take your pulse, look at your tongue and prepare you for treatment. Tiny needles will be inserted in various areas of your body - mainly on your arms, legs, hands and feet. If your acupuncturist needs to access points on your back or abdomen, you will be asked to remove the required clothing and be covered with a blanket. You will then be left to relax. Many people fall into a state of deep relaxation and some even fall asleep. Your acupuncturist may check in during this time to adjust needles and ensure your comfort. After 20 - 30 minutes, your needles will be removed and you may make your way back to the reception area.

What does acupuncture feel like? Does it hurt?

Many people cringe at the word “needle”. Acupuncture needles are very different from hypodermic needles and the sensation associated with them is not the same. Acupuncture needles are hair-fine, solid, and finely tapered to a point to allow for smooth insertion. Many first time patients are shocked to feel only a slight prick as their first needle is inserted. The sensation at the site of the needle is often described as tingling, heaviness, numbness, warmth, or pulsing. This indicates the movement of energy.

Is acupuncture safe?

Absolutely. We use only sterile, single-use needles at Arbutus Health. Each hair-thin stainless steel needle is prepackaged and opened directly before insertion. Immediately after use, needles are discarded into a biohazard container the same as those used in a hospital. The risk of needle contamination or subsequent infection is virtually nonexistent. 

How many treatments will I need?

The number of treatments you need depends on the individual. It is rare for symptoms to be completely alleviated after just one treatment. Generally, a course of treatment is recommended with patients coming for treatment once a week over a specified period of time. For very acute conditions, it may initially be recommended to come 2-3 times a week. Our approach to treatment focuses on healing the root cause of disease, not only the displayed symptoms. During your initial consultation, your acupuncturist will suggest a treatment plan specific for you.

Can acupuncture be used in conjunction with other therapies?

Yes. Acupuncture is very effective when used in a dynamic treatment program including other therapies such as massage, counseling, chiropractic and physical therapy.

What are the qualifications of an acupuncturist in BC?

In BC, acupuncturists must be registered with the regulatory body CTCMA (College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of British Columbia). A licensed acupuncturist carries the designation of Registered Acupuncturist, R.Ac. This designation requires the individual to have completed a three year program at an accredited school. Other health professionals can receive training to perform acupuncture. However, they are not registered acupuncturists but rather, they use acupuncture as an adjunct therapy in their practice.  Licensing mandates are different in each country, state and province so be sure to research the regulations in your area. If you are unsure of your practioner’s qualifications, don’t be afraid to ask for proof of their legitimacy.

Is acupuncture covered by my insurance?

Many insurance plans offer either full or partial coverage for acupuncture treatments. If this is a factor in you receiving treatment, please check with your insurance provider ahead of time. Many people don’t know that, as of 2008, MSP (Medical Services Plan) added acupuncture as a supplementary benefit for individuals who qualify for premium assistance.

Are there any side effects from acupuncture?

The side effects of acupuncture are generally positive. Most people experience a deep feeling of relaxation and others feel very energized after treatment. Negative side effects are rare but may include the following: dizziness, nausea, slight bruising or muscle aching. Any of these symptoms should be short-lived. If you have any cause for concern, don’t hesitate to contact your practitioner.

Are there any reasons an individual cannot receive acupuncture?

There are very few situations where acupuncture is not advised. However, some conditions do require special attention. If you are pregnant, have a blood disorder or a pacemaker please advise your acupuncturist so that they can take the necessary precautions to ensure your well-being.

Is acupuncture safe for children?

Children usually respond very quickly to acupuncture. If receiving needles is difficult for your child, acupoints can be stimulated using acupressure (hands-on pressure). 

Is acupuncture safe during pregnancy?

Yes. Acupuncture is an effective, safe, drug-free alternative therapy for many pregnancy related conditions. It is useful for common problems such as morning sickness, insomnia, back pain, heartburn and headaches. It can also treat potentially serious conditions such as bleeding, premature labor or malposition of the fetus. Stimulating acupoints using pressure or needles during labour is an effective form of pain relief.

What conditions can acupuncture treat?

Acupuncture treats both the symptoms and the root of an illness by focusing on the individual as a whole. It is predominantly known in the west as an effective pain management technique. But acupuncture is not just for treating pain. The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes acupuncture as an effective treatment for approximately four dozen conditions, including the following:
    •    Anxiety, depression and various other psychological conditions
    •    Headaches, migraines, trigeminal neuralgia, paralysis and other neurological disorders
    •    Musculoskeletal problems (including acute or chronic pain, frozen shoulder, tennis elbow, sciatica, low back pain and osteoarthritis)
    •    Respiratory disorders, such as sinusitis, bronchitis, asthma and allergies
    •    Gastrointestinal problems (including diarrhea, constipation, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome and gastritis)
    •    Gynecological conditions, such as premenstrual syndrome, irregular or heavy periods, infertility and menopausal symptoms
    •    Urinary tract infections, incontinence and other urinary tract disorders
    •    Drug/addiction withdrawal such as cigarette smoking