In a world filled with modern medicine advancements, the ancient technique of acupuncture is captivating curiosity and gaining popularity. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), this traditional Chinese medicine technique, originating thousands of years ago, is now a procedure commonly used in treating a variety of health conditions, often in conjunction with other medical treatment or as an alternative for managing symptoms.
For those who may not know much about acupuncture, Ryan Gauthier, D.A.O.M., R.A.c., L.M.T., a doctor of acupuncture and oriental medicine with Henry Ford’s Center for Integrative Medicine, breaks down the basics.
What Is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a technique involving the insertion of thin, sterile needles at specific points on your body to restore the balance of energy. According to traditional Chinese medicine, these acupuncture points correlate with six different energy systems believed to flow within your body. When stimulated, the needles agitate the channels causing specific physiological effects. For example, if you are experiencing a frontal headache, Dr. Gauthier may suggest applying pressure to the point L.I.4, which is the crease between your thumb and pointer finger on your right hand. This should help alleviate the pain associated with your headache.
How to Prep
Surprisingly, not much is required for the patient to do prior to an acupuncture session. Dr. Gauthier recommends to hydrate with water, wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing, and have a light meal before your appointment. A banana is the perfect snack to have prior to the procedure. Continue to take medications as prescribed, unless you have received instruction from the prescribing physician to do otherwise. As for over-the-counter medications, like Claritin or Motrin, Dr. Gauthier notes that these could potentially interfere with tracking your underlying issue. Similarly, having a cup of coffee beforehand may limit your ability to relax during the acupuncture session.
What to Expect
Arrive 20 to 30 minutes before your first appointment to complete a health history questionnaire. Your first appointment can be anywhere from one hour to one-and-a-half hours long. Follow-ups range from 45 minutes to an hour.
Dr. Gauthier discusses family/medical history with his patients, as well as personal health goals and lifestyle. “I want our patients to have an active role in their personal care,” explains Dr. Gauthier. “Uncovering the purpose of the appointment and discussing my patient’s goals gives me a clearer understanding of their desired outcome.” Be prepared to answer questions ranging from your sleeping habits to your daily diet and cravings, to emotional or relationship issues.
In order to determine the most appropriate acupuncture treatment, the practitioner will take your pulse on both wrists and examine your tongue health. By observing the tongue’s coating, color, texture, sublingual veins and thickness, an acupuncturist can get a better understanding of the overall health of your body. Once paired with your medical history, the practitioner will be able to achieve the best diagnosis and perform the most appropriate treatment.
Lastly – do not fear acupuncture needles! The typical needle used in acupuncture is the size of three human hairs, which is pretty tiny. About 30 acupuncture needles can fit within an average hypodermic needle. The area being treated determines how deep the needle is placed. Most of the time acupuncture is a fairly painless procedure.
So Why Try It?
According to the NIH, while the effects may vary from patient to patient, acupuncture has proven effective in treating symptoms of common problems, such as addiction, the common cold, emotional problems, headaches, osteoarthritis, sleep disturbances, smoking cessation and several more.
Acupuncture causes the body to release neurotransmitters, like serotonin and endorphins. Serotonin stimulates the adrenal gland, secreting cortisol, which regulates immune functions, blood pressure and glucose metabolism. Endorphins are the body’s natural opiates to relive pain and to increase your relax response.
Intrigued? Discuss acupuncture with your physician or speak to an integrative medicine practitioner to see if acupuncture is the right fit for you.
Ryan Gauthier, D.A.O.M., R.A.c., L.M.T., specializes in acupuncture and oriental medicine, practicing at Henry Ford Medical Center – Cottage (in Grosse Pointe).