Acupuncture and East Asian Medicine

What to Expect at an Acupuncture Appointment

Because Bastyr Center for Natural Health is the teaching clinic for Bastyr University, you will meet a team of advanced acupuncture students under the supervision of a licensed acupuncturist through our Team Care approach. The licensed acupuncturist will approve your diagnosis and supervise your treatment.

On your first visit, the clinician will ask detailed questions about your health, history and lifestyle to better understand your underlying constitution and provide a treatment specific to you.

Another important part of diagnosis in East Asian medicine is the examination of the tongue and palpation of the pulse. The clinician will ask to see your tongue and examine its shape, color and coating. The pulse is felt on both wrists, using three fingers to feel three different areas of the radial pulse. The condition of the tongue and the speed, shape and quality of the pulse provide the clinician with information about the overall health of the body, the condition of internal organs, and other disease processes which may be occurring in the body.

After the initial interview and examination, the clinician will determine a diagnosis and treatment for your condition. Most treatments will involve the use of acupuncture needles inserted at various points on the body selected to treat your specific condition. The actual insertion of the acupuncture needles is done very quickly, and most people feel a slight pricking sensation during insertion. Once the needles are in place, patients report a “tingling, numbing or warm sensation.” This is a desirable sensation is known as “attaining qi.”

Read about other treatment methods used in East Asian medicine.

Your first appointment will last about 90 minutes, with followup appointments averaging about an hour. For most conditions, a series of several treatments is required in order for you to achieve maximum benefit. After an initial evaluation, the acupuncturist should provide you with a treatment plan that includes the modalities to be used as well as the frequency and duration of treatment. A normal series of treatments is from six to 12.

Treatable Conditions

Acupuncture is most popular for its effectiveness in alleviating pain. It also helps treat the following conditions:

  • Allergies/asthma
  • Fatigue and sleep disorders
  • Arthritis
  • PMS
  • Digestive disorders
  • Addictions

The World Health Organization (WHO) has listed several other conditions as treatable by acupuncture and East Asian medicine:

Upper respiratory tract

  • Acute sinusitis
  • Acute rhinitis
  • Common cold
  • Acute tonsillitis

Respiratory system

  • Acute bronchitis
  • Bronchial asthma (most effective in children and in patients without other complicating diseases)

Disorders of the eye

  • Acute conjunctivitis
  • Central retinitis
  • Myopia (in children)
  • Cataracts (without complications)
  • Disorders of the mouth
  • Toothache, post-extraction pain
  • Gingivitis
  • Acute and chronic pharyngitis

Gastro-intestinal disorders

  • Spasms of esophagus and cardia
  • Hiccough
  • Gastroptosis
  • Acute and chronic gastritis
  • Gastric hyperacidity
  • Chronic duodenal ulcer (pain relief)
  • Acute duodenal ulcer (without complications)
  • Acute and chronic colitis
  • Acute bacillary dysentery
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Paralytic ileus

Neurological and musculoskeletal disorders

  • Headache and migraine
  • Trigeminal neuralgia
  • Facial palsy (early stage, i.e., within three to six months)
  • Pareses following a stroke
  • Peripheral neuropathies
  • Sequelae of poliomyelitis (early stage, i.e., within six months)
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Neurogenic bladder dysfunction
  • Nocturnal enuresis
  • Intercostal neuralgia
  • Cervicobrachial syndrome
  • “Frozen shoulder”, “tennis elbow”
  • Sciatica
  • Low back pain
  • Osteoarthritis

Why Does Acupuncture Work?

There have been several proposed scientific explanations for acupuncture’s effects, primarily for its effect on pain. Acupuncture points are believed to stimulate the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) to release chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord and brain. These chemicals either change the experience of pain or release other chemicals, such as hormones, that influence the body’s self-regulating systems. The biochemical changes may stimulate the body’s natural healing abilities and promote physical and emotional well-being.

The Chinese and other East Asian peoples have used acupuncture to restore, promote and maintain good health for about 2,500 years. Stone needles were originally used, and later bronze, gold and silver needles. Today acupuncturists use sterile, single-use stainless steel needles. The first medical account of acupuncture was The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, which dates from the Han Dynasty (206 BCE to 220 ACE). This text outlines the principles of natural law and the movements of life: yin and yang, the five elements, the organ system and the meridian network along which acupuncture points are located.

Western science suggests there are three main mechanisms for acupuncture’s effects:

  1. Activation of opioid systems: Research has found that several types of opioids may be released into the central nervous system during acupuncture treatment, thereby reducing pain.
  2. Changes in brain chemistry, sensation, and involuntary body functions: Studies have shown that acupuncture may alter brain chemistry by changing the release of neurotransmitters and neurohormones. Acupuncture also has been documented to affect the parts of the central nervous system related to sensation and involuntary body functions, such as immune reactions and processes whereby a person’s blood pressure, blood flow and body temperature are regulated.
  3. Changes in blood flow: Acupuncture and Oriental medicine alters the circulation of blood to the affected area, resulting in removal of pain causing chemicals, and restoring normal function to the area being treated.