How Does Acupuncture Work?

There are two very important elements that help acupuncture to work as effective as it does. One is in the diagnosis. And the second is in the treatment.

The diagnosis is achieved by taking into consideration a patient’s signs and symptoms. Signs are things that can be seen or felt, for example: a person’s breath, the color of the whites of someone’s eyes, how loud or quiet one’s voice is, or bruises on the skin. Symptoms are things that need to be described and are not validated by sight, hearing, smell, or sense of touch. Examples of symptoms are: being nauseated, having a headache, sore arms or legs, and feeling hot but not running a temperature. The difference is that signs can have an objective observer whereas symptoms are felt by the patient only.

A detailed intake of the patient’s health history, dietary habits, stress management, lifestyle are all taken into account usually at the first treatment in addition to questions revolving around signs and symptoms. These questions are asked in order to get a bigger picture of the person rather than just focusing on the patient’s condition.

TCM is an entirely different way of approaching healing a person. It uses elements of nature to describe conditions such as heat, cold, wind, damp, fire, excess, deficiency.

Let me break it down a little bit more (but not extensively, this will give you an idea):

Heat- we attribute a condition to heat when there are heat signs: you can have diarrhea that burns, you can have eyes that burn, you can have a feelings of heat in your palms and soles at night. These are all conditions that are attributed to heat.

Cold- we say a condition is cold related when the body feels cold to the touch (it could be anywhere, depending on the condition), when there are cold sensations in the back or knees, when the lips are blue, when you feel chills.

Wind- wind is attributed to conditions that move. If you have ever had pain that one day was in your chest, the next day it was in your abdomen, another time it was in your hips- that is pain that has wind attributed to it. Parkinson’s is another condition that is attributed to wind because the body moves as if wind were blowing it around.

Damp- damp is a condition that is associated with feeling sluggish, waking up groggy, being overweight, and having edema.

Fire- fire is a condition not seen often as it is an acute condition and rather serious. It has similar signs and symptoms as heat, but to a greater extent.

Excess- excess is a term when things are not balanced, but of an excess. You can have excess heat and excess cold. When you have excess dampness, you are more than likely either obese or morbidly obese and you everything you do takes a lot of energy because of how weighed down you are.

Deficiency- deficiency is seen when there is not enough of something. You could have deficiency qi, deficiency yang, deficiency yin. Each kind of deficiency has it’s own specific symptoms so when you come in and you have feelings of thirst and get hot sensations in your hands and feet at night, you don’t have enough yin so you are deficient in yin.

So, depending on your signs and symptoms will depend on your diagnosis, which is why the headache you have may not be the same as the headache your mom is having. Once you have a diagnosis, the treatment follows. It is important to know acupuncture is not a quick fix. Just like you go for your routine chiropractor’s adjustments, getting treatment with an acupuncturist usually is between two to three times a week for around four weeks –this number varies depending on the severity of the condition and how quickly you respond. Once you have reached a level that your condition has stabilized, you go into the maintenance phase, where you get treatments less often as a way to keep the condition from returning and keep your body at a healthy place.

Lori Earley