What are acupuncture and Traditional Asian/Chinese Medicine (TAM/TCM)?

Acupuncture is a critical tool of TAM. TAM is a comprehensive approach to health care with a continuous clinical history based on Chinese Taoist principles and adapted and applied in many Asian countries for over 3000 years. TAM includes pattern diagnosis, acupuncture, Chinese herbs, bodywork, and dietary, lifestyle and exercise counseling.

The ancient Chinese recognized a vital energy, or Qi (pronounced chee), behind all life forms. Qi flows throughout the body along pathways called meridians. Each meridian is associated with a particular energetic and physiological system and internal organ.  If the balance of Qi in a given meridian is disturbed, either through blockage or deficiency, then illness or pain can result. TAM uses a thorough system of pulse and tongue diagnosis, palpations, medical history and other signs and symptoms to create a pattern diagnosis which guides treatment with various traditional modalities (see services).

How does acupuncture work?

Acupuncture itself is the insertion of very fine needles into specific points on the body to impact the flow of Qi. Acupuncture is regulating. It helps the body to find balance by promoting the smooth flow of Qi. When Qi or vital energy flows abundantly and freely through the meridians or pathways of the body, it promotes the body’s ability to heal itself. From a western physiological point of view we now understand that acupuncture influences functions such as the release of natural pain killing chemicals by the brain, restoration of proper circulation in diseased areas, and stimulation of hormonal glands and immune system function to name a few.

What should I expect during my treatment?

On the first visit you will be asked a series of medical history questions as well as those regarding your present condition. In addition there will be a physical exam pertinent to your complaint including pulse and tongue diagnosis, abdominal palpation, muscular-skeletal evaluation. From the information obtained, a pattern diagnosis will be established and course of treatment determined. Acupuncture needles (sterile and disposable) will be inserted into appropriate points and retained for 20-30 minutes and depending on the diagnosis other modalities including moxibustion, massage, cupping or electrical stimulation may be used (see services page for explanation). You may also be prescribed an herbal formula to take for the days/weeks subsequent to the treatment. A course of treatment will be discussed (from one treatment to ongoing treatment depending on the condition) and any appropriate referrals given. After a treatment you may feel energized or like you want further rest…it takes you where you need to go.

Is acupuncture painful?

Acupuncture is not at all like the feeling of receiving an injection since the main source of pain form an injection is the larger diameter, hollow needle and the medication being forced into the tissues. Acupuncture needles are sterile, disposable, very fine and flexible and insertion is generally performed without any discomfort. You may experience a sense of heaviness, tingling or warmth from increased circulation in the area of insertion. Most people find it relaxing and some even fall asleep during a treatment.

What is Chinese Herbal Medicine?

Chinese herbal medicine involves the prescription of an herbal formula deemed appropriate for the patient based on their pattern diagnosis. A formula is a combination of a variety individual herbs (mostly plant based) that have been traditionally found to be effective for a given pattern. Licensed Acupuncturist/Herbalists (L.Ac.) study an extensive pharmacopoeia of herbs categorized by their actions on the body as part of their studies of TAM.
Herbs are typically imported from China in their raw form (a dried leaf, stem or root for example) though some are grown in the west as well.  They can be prescribed in the raw form to be cooked into decoctions/teas or, as is often the case, made into powders or pills by western manufactures making preparation safe and administration more feasible for some. Practitioners will work with a patient to determine which form is most appropriate. It is often the case in the West that western herbs and supplements are included in formulas when their effectiveness for a given condition has been proven.

What is an L. Ac.?

L. Ac. stands for Licensed Acupuncturist and is the most common way practitioners of TAM/TCM refer to themselves at least in the state of California. It is somewhat of a misnomer because in order to become an L. Ac. California you most pass a comprehensive exam covering all aspects of TAM including theory, diagnosis, acupuncture meridian and technique, and Chinese herbal medicine. Californians can verify licensure on line at www.acupuncture.ca.gov.