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What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a treatment which assists your body in healing and improves day-to-day functioning.  Thin, sterile needles are inserted through the skin at precise locations.  The needles may be warmed or stimulated with a weak electrical current. 

What conditions may be treated with acupuncture?

Acupuncture is effective for many pain problems such as stress, anxiety, headache, neck pain, back pain, and muscle/joint pain.  Inflammatory and overuse syndromes like plantar fasciitis and tendonitis of shoulder, elbows, hips and knees are usually very amenable to acupuncture.   In addition, it is helpful in many medical conditions including digestive, respiratory, neurological, and reproductive disorders.  Acupuncture can be used along with traditional therapies and drugs to treat medical problems.

Can acupuncture or cupping help treat rheumatologic disease?

Yes, there is accumulating evidence that acupuncture and cupping (wet cupping in particular) help relieve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis including morning stiffness and improves functionality and well-being.  How does it accomplish this? Both acupuncture and cupping have immune regulating and anti-inflammatory effects (they act as immunomodulators - changing the immune system without suppressing it)

How long does a treatment take?   How many treatments will I need?

Generally a patient lies with needles in place for 15 to 30 minutes.  The entire treatment takes about 45 minutes.  The number of treatments needed depends on the problem being treated and the individual’s response to the treatments.  Usually a patient has 3-5 treatments to determine if acupuncture is helpful.  If so, a total of 5-10 treatments is then recommended depending on the problem.  Some problems, like frozen shoulder, may take up to 10 to make sustained progress. 

When will the treatment take effect?

Some people notice improvement immediately.  Others don’t feel the effects until the next day.  Some people actually feel a bit worse after the treatment but then begin to improve.  This transient worsening may still mean that the patient will respond favorably to acupuncture.

What are the risks of acupuncture?

Acupuncture, properly performed, is a safe therapy, and complications are rare.  There is a risk of infection any time a needle enters the skin, but the risk is minimal and has never occurred in thousands of sessions that Dr. Zarbalian has seen patients for acupuncture treatment.  Other possible complications include bleeding or bruising, puncture of the lung or other organs, and broken needles. You cannot get HIV or hepatitis from acupuncture because only disposable, sterile needles are used.  

Do the needles hurt?

The sensation felt when the needles are placed varies from person to person.  Acupuncture needles are thin (a little thicker than a human hair) and solid (not hollow like needles used for drawing blood or giving injections) so there is little discomfort when needles are inserted.  Some patients feel a small pinprick while others feel no pain at all.  A dull ache is sometimes felt when the needle comes into contact with the targeted area and is a good sign.  

Are there any side effects?

Some people feel deeply relaxed after a treatment.  Others may feel tired or sluggish for the remainder of the day.  A few people experience an elevated mood.  These changes in emotional state pass within a short time and can be overcome with rest.  

Is there anyone who shouldn’t have acupuncture treatments?

Acupuncture is not usually performed on young children and pregnant women (unless they are in 3rd trimester and preparing for delivery).  Patients with pacemakers or other electronic devices or seizure disorders can be treated but without the use of weak electrical currents.  Acupuncture is not known to interfere with medications a patient may be taking.  However you should inform your doctor if you are taking a blood thinner, aspirin, steroids, or narcotics.

Are there any guidelines for me to follow on the day of a treatment?

Yes.  To get the most benefit from a treatment, follow these directions:

  • Don’t eat a large or heavy meal just before or after your treatment.

  • Keeping well-hydrated is important before and after acupuncture and cupping. 

  • Don’t do strenuous exercise, have sex, or drink alcohol/caffeine 6 hours before or after your treatment.

  • Arrange your schedule so that you are able to take it easy for several hours after your treatment.

  • Keep taking medicine as prescribed by your personal doctor.

  • Keep track of your response to the treatment and share this information with the doctor at your next visit. This will assist in developing the best treatment plan for you.

How do acupuncture and cupping work? 

In Chinese medicine acupuncture helps regulate the flow of energy called Qi (pronounced “chee”) that runs in channels inside and over the surface of the body.  The movement of Qi allows the organs to function properly. Modern science has shown that acupuncture changes pain messages sent to the brain.  It also causes the nervous system to release natural chemicals that relieve pain and promote healing.  The needles help direct, add, or disperse energy depending on what is needed. 

From a Western biomedical perspective, there are countless  research studies to investigate this question and books have been written synthesizing all of the various lines of evidence on how acupuncture and cupping exert their therapeutic effects.

Some book recommendations to learn more :

The Spark in the Machine - Dr Daniel Keown

The Web that has no Weaver - by Ted Kaptchuk 

Some medical literature : 

The medical perspective of cupping therapy: Effects and mechanisms of action

Do you treat chronic and terminal illness?

Yes, the treatment of anxiety and stress associated with chronic and terminal illness can be complemented with acupuncture, sometimes allowing less medication intake.

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