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Acupuncture: Not Just Needles

Cupping AcupunctureMost people have heard of the field of acupuncture by now, but the scope of Chinese medicine practice encompasses so much more than needles.  Let’s explore this ancient therapy in modern day practice.

The practice of Chinese medicine starts with a diagnosis. The practitioner asks many questions to assess the patient’s health history; this includes asking about digestion, appetite, diet, sleep patterns, bowel movement urination, pain, reproductive health, lifestyle, and stress levels. The acupuncturist will also be noting voice pitch, hair luster, skin color and tone, as well as posture and mood of the patient as these give additional clues to the patient’s diagnosis.  Additionally, the tongue and pulse are assessed within the framework of Chinese medicine to provide significant information about the patient’s pattern of balance/imbalance.  After taking this history, a diagnosis and treatment plan is determined and the practitioner will include different interventions in that plan to move the patient toward better health and balance. 

Needles: Acupuncture needles are very fine, sterile, painless and safe. They are the main component of most treatment plans. They are placed into certain acupuncture points on the body, either locally (at the pain site) or distally (away from the pain). The needles are retained anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes and most people find the treatment to be relaxing and calming.

Herbal formulas: Chinese medicine includes herbal formulas for the most part. The herbs and acupuncture needles work together to bring the body into harmony naturally. Herbal formulas come in either patent formulas, or the practitioner may make you your own formula. What is special about formulas is that they are designed to not overdo the amount of one herb that might cause harm in another part of the body; for example, if you are trying to get rid of heat, there will be herbs to clear heat (by promoting urination perhaps) but also herbs to mitigate the strong effects a heat-clearing herb might have on other organs. In this way, there is always a balance. Herbal formulas are designed not only to treat the symptoms, but also the root cause.

Nutritional counseling: In Chinese medicine, food is medicine, and if you don’t get an herbal remedy, you will probably get dietary advice tailored to your specific constitution. For example, if someone has a pale tongue with a white coating, and it is puffy with teeth marks on the side, this might indicate this person has too much cold in the stomach, which is hampering the digestive fire. Chinese medicine rates food according to its temperature, season, color, shape and whether it’s right for your individual body. Cold foods include too many cold, raw vegetables, iced drinks and smoothies. A food such as ginger might be considered for one’s diet in this case.

Cupping and Gua Sha: Cupping uses glass cups heated with a small flame to create a suction on the skin. This dissipates stagnation of blood and lymph fluid, promotes blood flow, eases stiffness, encourages better circulation to muscles and tissues, and feels great. It leaves a purple bruise and “cup” mark, but only temporarily.  The Olympic champion, Michael Phelps, has made cupping more famous because the world got to see the cupping bruise marks on his shoulders.

Gua sha uses a flat edged tool that is scraped in one direction on the skin, usually on large areas such as the back. Gua sha is used for many ailments, but especially for pain and stiffness. Like cupping, it removes blood stagnation and promotes the smooth flow of oxygen and blood. Waste and toxins are removed, and the scraping helps circulate fluid and nutrients, encouraging microcirculation in soft tissue.

Moxibustion: Moxibustion is a technique where a herb called mugwort is heated; usually the heat is held over an area of the body  or an acupuncture point to warm and increase energy circulation. It’s especially good for menstrual cramps and chronic pain.

As you can see, the wide practice of acupuncture is much more than just needles. In addition to the above mentioned supplements to treatment, some practitioners use massage techniques, a form of manipulation called Tui Na, or acupressure.

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