The first thing to note is that Acupuncture is nothing like having an injection! Our needles are much finer and flexible, and often the patient does not feel the needle being inserted at all.
Acupuncture involves the insertion of extremely fine needles into special locations on the body referred to as acupoints. These points have a lower electrical resistance than other areas on the body.
How does it work?
By stimulating these acupoints, the clinician is able to stimulate the circulation of Qi, not only in the local area, but also in areas far away from the needle site on the same meridian and in the organs that the meridian connects to.
What does it feel like?
As the needle is inserted, often nothing much is felt at all. After the needle is in place it is carefully manipulated to cause a very important sensation called Deqi. This sensation is often described as a mild ache, warming sensation or some other strange sensation that surprisingly feels nothing like a needle. Sometimes the sensation can be felt moving along the respective meridian.
What are the needles like?
The needles are so fine, they can be bent over double and spring back into shape. This is why insertion is painless. They are sterile, single-use disposable items.
Traditional Chinese Acupuncture v. Western Medical Acupuncture
In modern times, there are two types of acupuncture practised: traditional Chinese acupuncture and so-called Western ‘medical’ acupuncture. Medical acupuncture does not use the theoretical framework through which acupuncture has developed over the last few thousand years and instead applies it according to the principles of modern medicine. As such, its applications are limited. A skilled medical acupuncturist can successfully treat painful conditions. However, in order to understand the pain in relation to the patient as a whole it is often necessary to seek the help of a traditional acupuncturist.
Medical’ acupuncture is a bit of a misnomer as acupuncture is only used for medicinal purposes. Maybe a more appropriate term for acupuncture-like techniques that have been learned on a short course would be ‘dry-needling’. This would distinguish it from the use of a hypodermic syringe that is used for injecting a therapeutic solution into the patient (‘wet-needling’) e.g. a vaccination.
The techniques of ‘medical’ acupuncture are effective if performed well. However, they are a very small part of a traditional acupuncturists work. By far the largest part of our work is using a theoretical framework and medical philosophy that helps us acquire a holistic appreciation of the patient’s circumstances and how they arrived there. It is only in this way that a sustainable solution can be arrived at.
The training of a traditional acupuncturist typically consists of a three year full-time degree. During this time they study the theoretical framework through which acupuncture was developed in China over the last few thousand years that enable them to treat the patient holistically.
Generally, one way to know whether your acupuncturist is fully trained or not, is to ask yourself, did they take my pulse and ask to look at my tongue. If not, it maybe worthwhile consulting someone else.