Lesli answers your frequently asked questions about acupuncture.
I taught acupuncture for seven years and enjoy answering people’s questions about this amazing form of health care. If you don’t see your question here, please feel free to contact me by phone, 206.323.3277 or Email. I also offer half-hour consultation appointments at no charge, so you can meet me, see the clinic and have all of your questions answered in person.
What conditions can acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine treat?
The World Health Organization has determined that acupuncture is an effective therapy for over 200 clinical conditions. The benefits of acupuncture are so far-reaching, I can recommend it for almost every condition. Read more about specific conditions treated by acupuncture.
How much do your treatments cost?
First visits are $90, subsequent 1-hour follow-up visits are $75 and deluxe follow-up visits are $85. Learn more about my fees, services and payment policies here.
Will my insurance pay for acupuncture?
If you are seeking acupuncture for relief from injury due to anyaccident involving a motor vehicle, all of your fees are likely covered. In these cases, I am happy to bill the insurer directly. Otherwise, I am happy to provide you with a detailed receipt that you can submit to your insurance provider. Read additional information about insurance policies for my practice.
What does the interview/exam involve?
In order to determine your diagnosis and course of treatment, I need first to listen to what you can tell me about your symptoms and health history. Then I "listen" to what your body tells me. The shape and color of your tongue; your build, posture and complexion; the quality of your pulses, texture of your muscles and skin on your arms, legs and abdomen; determination of sensitive or weak areas; and even the sound of your voice all provide me with important information regarding my treatment approach. I may ask you a myriad of questions about topics that seem unrelated to your concerns, such as your hobbies, moods or sleep patterns. In addition, we will examine your lifestyle from diet and exercise to work posture and movement habits.
What does a treatment involve?
First-time treatments are usually very simple, involving only a few needles. I use some of the slenderest needles available and will often insert them only a few millimeters. As you become more comfortable with acupuncture and I get to know you better, I may incorporate moxibustion, cupping, herbal medicine, electro-acupuncture and stretches or simple exercises into your treatments and self-care recommendations. I often teach patients how to do moxa at home.
The first visit is usually an hour and a half, to allow for a complete history-taking and exam. Follow-up visits are approximately fifty to sixty minutes. Ninety-minute follow-up visits are available as well, by patient request.
How does acupuncture feel? Does it hurt?
Many new patients are nervous about receiving acupuncture. Almost always, as soon as patients feel the sensation of an acupuncture needle, their fears dissolve. The sensation is not one of sharp pain, but might be a tugging, warming or heavy feeling. It is common for patients not to feel the needles at all. Usually there is a general sensation of deep calm and relaxation. I tailor each session to the preference of the individual—from the extremely sensitive to those who enjoy strong needle sensations. Learn more about what to expect from an acupuncture treatment.
Is acupuncture safe?
Yes. Acupuncture is extremely safe. It has no unpleasant side effects and does not interfere with any medical treatment you may already be receiving. Needles are sterile and used only one time. Occasionally, patients may get a small bruise or feel light-headed for a few moments.
How many treatments are necessary?
This varies based on a number of things, including how long you have had your current problem and how much you are willing to be an active participant in your own return to health.
An old saying among Chinese doctors is “a month of treatment for every year of suffering.” This is a vast generalization, but it is often true that long-term problems require a longer course of treatment. I am committed to trying to alleviate most of your complaints in 10 treatments or less. These will often be given over a 7–8 week period.
Your course of treatment will be shortened by the extent to which you participate in your own healing process. I may give you nutritional advice, show you exercises, or give you moxibustion “homework.” If you are diligent with this self-care, you will reach your health goals more quickly.
While many of my patients come to me for resolution of a specific problem, others choose to come in regularly, perhaps once or twice a month, in order to maintain in optimum health. Other regular clients come for a couple of visits at the beginning of allergy season each year, or when life stress seems a little overwhelming. It all depends on what your health goals are.
What is acupressure?
Acupressure consists of pressing acupuncture points with the tips of the fingers. There are many types of acupressure, such as all forms of shiatsu.
What is moxibustion?
Moxibustion consists of burning moxa (compressed sticks of the herb mugwort, or Artemisia Vulgaris) near the surface of the skin. This provides a comfortable, penetrating heat to specific areas and acupuncture points. Moxibustion in its many forms is a large part of acupuncture practice. (A literal translation of the Chinese words for acupuncture is “needle heat therapy.”)
What is cupping?
Cupping consists of creating suction between glass, plastic, or bamboo jars and the patient’s skin, most often on the back. A suction pump or heat is used to create the suction. When the cups are moved along the muscles, the feeling is similar to that of massage. Blood flow is stimulated and tight, strained muscles can relax and heal. You may have seen cupping in movies, including The Madness of King George, Delicatessen and Harriet the Spy. See a video demonstration of cupping here.
What is electro-acupuncture?
Sometimes, to relieve cases of localized pain, I will connect two needles with a mild micro-current. The intensity is just strong enough for the patient to barely feel. This sensation has been described by patients as “buzzy,” “like fairy dust” and simply “weird.”
Chinese herbs – are they safe? Are they easy to take?
Yes and yes. Chinese herbal medicine has been practiced and refined for over 2,000 years. I am certified in Chinese herbal medicine (beyond what is required the state of Washington) and will often prescribe herbs for my patients. I use granulated, pharmaceutical-grade herbs that are extremely clean and pure and have already been thoroughly cooked. They are easily taken by simply stirring them into hot water. In addition, I sometimes prescribe “patent herbs,” which have been compressed into tablets.
If you are already taking prescription medicines, I will avoid using herbs that may interfere with your medication.
How do I choose an acupuncturist?
In Washington, all acupuncturists holding the title E.A.M.P. (East Asian Medical Practitioner) are licensed by the state to practice acupuncture, herbal medicine, Chinese massage, electro-acupuncture and additional related therapies. All licensed acupuncturists in Washington have passed a National Board written and practical exam and have completed an average of three years of graduate studies in acupuncture and Chinese medicine.
In other words, although you might want to seek a practitioner with many years of experience or one who is recommended to you personally, you are in safe, qualified hands with any practitioner who holds a Washington state license.
Most importantly, you want to feel completely comfortable with your acupuncturist. If you do not feel listened to or feel at all uncomfortable with the care you are receiving, as with any health care professional, you might be better off finding a different practitioner.
How does acupuncture work?
Chinese Medicine is a complete medical system based largely on the understanding of yin and yang, the five elements and channel theory. In addition to describing medical situations, these concepts can be applied to an understanding of everything in our world, from weather patterns to human interactions.
When working from a perspective of Chinese medical philosophy, it seems both inappropriate and impossible to transpose the art of acupuncture onto a Western paradigm. Any attempt to do so inevitably shrinks the art of acupuncture down to a tiny fraction of its scope.
However, friends and patients often ask “How does it work?’” They are seeking an understanding of acupuncture in terms familiar to them. For an introductory explanation of yin, yang and the theories of Chinese medicine, I recommend Between Heaven and Earth by Beinfield and Korngold or The Web That Has No Weaver by Kapchuck.
Following are several theories, including two recently presented proposals on how acupuncture works from a Western medical perspective (1 and 5), which I have attempted to summarize. None of these theories contradicts any other and I believe there is truth in all of them. I don’t profess to present a complete picture. I am certain other theories abound—I just haven’t heard of them yet.
1. Japanese immunologist Dr. Abo Toro, believes that acupuncture regulates white blood cell production by creating a state of healthy balance between the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems (which correspond to states of yin and yang). I will attempt a simplification of his theory. For a more thorough explanation, see NAJOM, Vol. 10, nos. 28,29, 2003.
Disease, inflammation and pain are caused by the predominance of the sympathetic nervous system in our bodies—the ‘fight-or-flight’ state. How do we reach a state of sympathetic dominance to begin with? Stress, injury, exhaustion, irregular diet, allergens, toxic exposure—any combination of these can elicit a sympathetic/fight-or-flight response. When we are in this state of sympathetic dominance, circulation and digestion slow down and our immune function is compromised. We become very susceptible to illness.
Any pain or anxiety we are experiencing serves to keep us locked in this sympathetic state. It is difficult to heal when we are stressed or in pain because circulation and our capacity to heal are compromised. We get stuck in a cycle of disease.
2. Acupuncture, moxibustion, herbs and massage all work partly by increasing blood circulation, which increases the supply of oxygen to stressed areas. Dr Abo has taken many measurements of white cell production before and after acupuncture. He has found that acupuncture increases lymphocyte production, which is a sign of parasympathetic dominance in the body, the desired state for healing. Circulation, digestion and immune function can all work at their maximum potential when the patient is relaxed, in a parasympathetic-dominant state.
3. Many people have read that acupuncture increases the level of endorphins, putting patients into a relaxed state. Many patients do attain a state of deep relaxation. I believe that endorphins are part of the effect of acupuncture, but not the whole story. However, in a relaxed state, the body can rest from stress mode (sympathetic dominance) and begin to recharge the immune and circulatory systems.
4. By creating micro-traumas (tiny injuries), the needles and/or moxa stimulate specific enzymes, healing responses to the areas chosen by the acupuncturist.
5. The meridians, as described in Classical Chinese medical texts, are the pathways of least resistance in the body. We function by a vast network of electrical exchanges. The overall flow of electrical energy takes the paths of least resistance. Acupuncture points work like tiny sand traps in this flow where electrical energy tends to get stuck. They are also the points where the internal body is most accessible. (It can be shown that reactive acupuncture points, as measured on the skin surface, are small, defined areas of increased electrical conductivity.) Therefore, acupuncture needles work like tiny antennae to release “stuck” electrical flow.It is interesting to note that many pain researchers consider areas of pain or distress to be areas of high concentration of positive ions (positive charges). If acupuncture does allow for free electrical flow, these areas would achieve electrical balance with the rest of the body.
6. Last, but not least, Dr. Jeffrey Dann, Ph.D., has found that an acupuncture needle, inserted barely under the skin and quickly rotated back and forth, causes a liquid crystalline electrical discharge, which spreads like a wave through the fascial sheath deep into the body. He believes that bundles at the skin surface, consisting of nerve/artery/vein, along with abundant neural receptors, are the means by which the surface action of the needle can access deeper areas of the body. The connective tissue thus affected penetrates deeply into cells at the skeletal level and can work to realign the pelvis, vertebrae or other skeletal areas. Dann also pointed out large overlaps between human structural theories from Western researchers and the channel theory of acupuncture.
How does acupuncture treat the “whole person”?
The beauty of acupuncture is that even if for some strange reason it doesn’t relieve your knee pain, you might find that after a few visits you are sleeping through the night, have more energy and experience much less anxiety.
In other words, acupuncture, if done properly, truly does treat the whole person, with benefits that go well beyond just relieving your immediate health problem. It’s a method of complete health care that generates and supports health on all levels—physical, mental and emotional.