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Frequently Asked Questions about Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine

Q&A About Acupuncture
What problems can be treated by acupuncture?
How does acupuncture work?
Does acupuncture hurt?
How can we make sure the needles used are clean?
How many treatments will each patient need?
What to do when receiving acupuncture treatment?
What to expect after treatment?
What criteria should one use in choosing an acupuncturist?
Q&A About Chinese Herbal Medicine
In what ways does Chinese herbal medicine differ from Western folk herbalism?
Do Chinese herbal medicines have side effects?
What is Chinese herbal medicine good for?
Are all the herbs used in TCM vegetable in origin?
How are Chinese herbal medicines taken?
How long does it take to see results with Chinese herbal medicine?
Can pregnant women take Chinese herbs?
How do I know if a practitioner is professionally trained in Chinese herbal medicine?

Q&A About Acupuncture

Acupuncture is defined as the insertion of fine needles into the human body at specific points to treat specific health problems. These points are determined and mapped by the Chinese two thousand years ago, and are continuously being developed over time.

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What problems can be treated by acupuncture?

Acupuncture is more effective in treating the following problems:

  • Pain-related disorders such as low back pain, headaches, migraines, facial paralysis, nerve pain, partial weakness after a stroke, certain types of muscle atrophy, inflammation of nerve endings, frozen shoulder, tennis elbow, sciatica, sports injury and osteoarthritis.
  • Ear, nose, and throat disorders such as toothaches, earaches, sinus inflammation, nasal inflammation or dryness.
  • Gastrointestinal disorders such as inflammation of the stomach or colon, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Disorders of reproductive system and endocrine system such as PMS, menopausal syndrome, infertility and impotency.

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How does acupuncture work?

Traditional acupuncture theory is based on ancient Chinese theories of the flow of Qi (pronounced Chee), or Energy and Xue (pronounced suih), or Blood, through different but distinct meridians (pathways) that covers the body just like the normal nerves and blood vessels do. According to this theory, acupuncture allows Qi to flow toward areas where it is deficient and flow away from areas where it is excess. By using this method, the acupuncturist can regulate and restore the energetic balance of the human body. Modern research on acupuncture pain relief suggested that acupuncture needles stimulate human body to produce endogenous small peptides such as endorphin, which leads the body to a deep relaxation and reduces the pain.

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Does acupuncture hurt?

It should hurt just a little bit but nothing like injection or withdrawing blood. Once the needles are inserted at the right acupuncture points with the right stimulation, the patient should feel some soreness, cramping, heaviness or tingling sensation around the needle. This feeling can also move along its own meridian (i.e. energy pathway). Summing it up, if you do experience discomfort in an acupuncture treatment session, it should be mild.

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How can we make sure the needles used are clean?

The best practice today in the US is to use only sterilized, individually packaged, disposable needles. No needles should be reused after each treatment. This eliminates the possibility of transmitting a communicable disease by a contaminated needle.

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How many treatments will each patient need?

Because each individual responds to treatment differently, a series of six to fifteen treatments are generally needed, due to the duration, severity and nature of your problems. For certain acute conditions, however, one or two treatments may resolve your complaint. On the other hand, certain degenerative conditions may require more than fifteen treatments over time.

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What to do when receiving acupuncture treatment?

You can do the following:

  • Wear loose clothing, women should avoid tight stockings or one-piece dress. Wear least amount of jewelry.
  • Relax during treatment. Do not hesitate to ask your practitioner if you have any questions along the way.
  • Avoid sudden move or change of body positions. Let your practitioner know if you are uncomfortable.
  • If you are nervous, you can experience dizziness, cold sweat, shortness of breath or faintness during treatment. If this happens during treatment, inform your practitioner right away.

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What to expect after treatment?

Some patients may experience an immediate total or partial relief of their pain and other symptoms after the first treatment or first couple of treatments. This relief may last or some pain may return as time progresses. Some others may start to feel the relief after 4-6 treatments. It depends on your body’s reaction to acupuncture therapy.

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What criteria should one use in choosing an acupuncturist?

Choosing an acupuncturist can be a tough decision, since you want to find the best practitioner for your problems. The usual question to ask is how long the practitioner has been trained in acupuncture, because a couple months of training is often not enough for a thorough training. Also inquire where the practitioner got his/her training, how long has he/she been practicing, and if the practitioner is properly licensed in the U.S. Acupuncture is a licensed and regulated healthcare profession in more than half the states in this country, including Illinois. Acupuncturists should also be certified by the National Certification Commission for the Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).

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Q&A About Chinese Herbal Medicine

Chinese herbal medicine is the main treatment method within Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM is the world's oldest, continually practiced professional medicine, with more than 2,500 years of history. In recent years, Chinese herbal medicine has become a popular and effective alternative therapy in the West.

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In what ways does Chinese herbal medicine differ from Western folk herbalism?

Western folk herbalism primarily treats diseases or symptoms by using individual herbs or, occasionally, a combination of a few herbs. Chinese herbal medicine, when practiced as part of TCM, used combination of many herbs (usually six to eighteen depending on each patient and diagnosis), and is based on an individualized pattern diagnosis as well as a disease diagnosis. Your pattern is made up of your signs and symptoms, your emotional temperament and the overall composition of your body. To put in a simpler way, two patients with same symptoms of migraines may be diagnosed and prescribed totally different herbal formulas, rather than both being treated by the same single herbs in the Western folk herbalism method.

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Do Chinese herbal medicines have side effects?

Most of the components of Chinese herbal medicine have a very low toxicity compared to common Western drugs. When they are prescribed according to a correct TCM pattern diagnosis, they should have few, if any, side effects. If you experience discomfort while or after taking Chinese herbal medicine, tell your practitioner who can modify the formula until there are no side effects.

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What is Chinese herbal medicine good for?

By promoting the body's ability to heal and recover itself from illness, Chinese herbal medicine can treat the full range of human diseases. It can be used to treat:

  • Chronic diseases, such as allergies, gynecological disorders, autoimmune diseases and chronic viral diseases. It can be one of the few alternatives to treat menopausal disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression and fibromyalgia.
  • Acute diseases, like intestinal flu, viral flu and the common cold.
  • Chronic pain when sometimes combined with acupuncture
  • Degenerative diseases due to aging.

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Are all the herbs used in TCM vegetable in origin?

Chinese herbal medicine may include vegetable, animal, and mineral ingredients, yet majority of ingredients is from vegetable sources. Leaves, flowers, twigs, stems, roots, tubers, rhizomes and bark, are among the parts of vegetable or plant used. Most of Chinese herbs come from China, with only a small percentage comes from outside China.

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How are Chinese herbal medicines taken?

The most common method of taking Chinese herbal medicine is drinking a liquid, prepared by boiling the prescribed herbs. The taste of this liquid can be a challenge for some patients at the beginning. But when adding sugar or honey to it, patients can usually get used to the taste in a couple of days. There are also herbal capsules and powdered extracts for those with a busy schedule or cannot take the liquid form. However, the liquid form allows the patient to obtain the maximum result from Chinese herbal treatment. Capsules can be used for prolonged administration for chronic disease, or to continue therapeutic results after a successful initial treatment with liquid herbal medicine.

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How long does it take to see results with Chinese herbal medicine?

In acute conditions, results may occur in a matter of minutes. In chronic conditions, some results should be seen within two weeks. Although chronic conditions may require taking Chinese herbal medicine for a long time, signs that the medicine is working should be apparent to the patient and practitioner from the first few weeks.

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Can pregnant women take Chinese herbs?

It is generally NOT recommended for pregnant women to take Chinese herbal medicine unless it is necessary. If choose to do so during a pregnancy, the patient should inform her Chinese herbal doctor of her pregnancy before any treatment begins.

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How do I know if a practitioner is professionally trained in Chinese herbal medicine?

Although Chinese herbs are safe when prescribed by a well-trained, knowledgeable practitioner, they are strong medicine. Chinese herbal doctor generally needs longer training than an acupuncturist does. Ask your practitioner about where the training had taken place, how long the training was, and how long he or she has been in practice. Patients should also ask if the practitioner has passed a certification exam for Chinese herbal medicine, set up by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).

For more information, please read Dr. Hong's official website and Dr. Hong's Blog.

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