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Acupuncture: How does it work and is it for me?

What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a treatment method that originated in China more than 3,000 years ago. Although it is practiced all over the world and accepted as a standard treatment, only since the 1970s has it gained popularity in the United States. At that time, a United States New York Times reporter had required an appendectomy while traveling in China. He was astounded that his post-operative pain was managed with 3 needles—at that time, intraoperative and postoperative anesthesia was frequently provided only with acupuncture in China. He returned to the U.S. and published a front page article describing his experience. From that time, interest in acupuncture has grown both among patients for symptom relief, and medical professionals as we gain a better scientific understanding of how it works and see it as a useful treatment tool.

How does it work?
Acupuncture uses very small, single-use stainless steel needles inserted at various points on the human body. The acupuncture provider determines which points to use by evaluating the patient's symptoms and history, and then implements a complete plan to bring the patient's whole system back into balance. In Chinese medicine, symptoms appear when we are out of balance. Health is the balance of Qi, our energetic life force, which moves through energy channels of the body called meridians. When Qi is moving freely and we are in balance, we are in good health and feel our best. When we get out of balance or there are blocks in the flow of Qi, symptoms appear and if left unattended develop into deeper illness. Acupuncture is one method, in addition to improving our lifestyle and managing our stress, to free the movement of Qi and return to balance. Some say acupuncture helps them "feel more themselves." Others notice that ALL of their symptoms get better, not just that which brought them to acupuncture (such as their back pain). This is because Chinese medicine is a holistic system, and looks at the symptom as part of a whole: everything is connected.

Many scientific studies have now looked at the physiology of acupuncture. It is clear that endorphins (our bodies' natural painkillers) and other helpful substances are released during an acupuncture treatment. The meridians are identifiable and separate from our nerve, blood vessel, and lymphatic vessel pathways. Cell to cell communication occurs when a needle is inserted. But it is still not entirely understood how inserting a needle at one site on the body can have an effect at another site (e.g. a point on the lower leg can help shoulder pain, or a point on the hand can help headache): this is where Eastern medicine departs from our Western medicine understanding.

When does it work best?
Many use acupuncture as a preventive medicine of sorts, using regular acupuncture "tune ups" alongside living a healthy lifestyle to keep illness at bay. Others turn to acupuncture as a last resort. Scientific studies show acupuncture is useful for many conditions, especially acute and chronic pain, spasticity, insomnia, stress, anxiety, acute and chronic headache, fatigue, fibromyalgia, sinusitis, and any other symptoms (such as chronic abdominal or pelvic pain) that have either not improved or gone unexplained with the usual medical testing and treatment.

What are the side effects?
Most people enjoy their treatments and find them relaxing. Occasionally the needle feels like a small pinch that quickly goes away. There is risk for an allergic reaction if a person has a metal allergy, and sometimes there is mild bruising or bleeding—although bleeding is a good sign the energy is moving! If you take blood thinning medicine, let your acupuncture provider know, but this is not a reason to avoid getting treatment. After your treatment, you will most likely feel less pain, more energy, and a general sense of well-being. Overall, the risk for side effects from acupuncture is MUCH lower than taking a medicine!

How many treatments will I need?
For recent acute problems, some people feel better after their first treatment. If a problem has been there for years, many times it can take several treatments, one to two times a week, to make a big difference.

Is acupuncture covered by insurance?
Insurance plans vary. You can call your insurance company to find out if this is a covered benefit. Many acupuncture providers offer affordable cash prices.

How do I find out if acupuncture is for me?
We are excited to begin offering acupuncture through the Tecumseh Family Health clinic! Your first visit will be a consultation with me, Dr. Nicole Turner, to prepare for your acupuncture treatment at your second visit. Talk to your Tecumseh Family Health or Adams Primary Care provider and they can provide a referral, or if your primary care provider is elsewhere, just call the clinic at 402-335-2811 to make an appointment for an evaluation.

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