What is Acupuncture?
Is there anything you would like to know about acupuncture?
Well today is your lucky day, as I interviewed Eric Martin, LAC one of Bastyr Clinic’s finest acupuncturists.
On top of that, Eric is a walking Rolodex of herbal information. I first met Eric in an advanced Botany class, as he was one of the teachers at the time, and I stuck to him like glue writing down everything he said about every plant we walked by.
So, since so many friends and family ask me about acupuncture, I thought I would take you all straight to the source. The following interview questions are the ones I most commonly get:
How does the philosophy of Chinese Medicine differ from Traditional Western medicine?
There are far more differences than similarities between Chinese medicine and Western medicine. The analogy I like to use is that Western medicine tends to view the body like a machine, whereas Chinese medicine views the body like a garden. In the western “machine” paradigm, you tend to view the body as unique, individual, yet connected parts. If someone has a bad knee, you take it out a put in a new one. Are you low on a particular nutrient? Just take a supplement.
In the garden paradigm, there is a focus on the balance of the entire system. Primarily Chinese medicine is asking are things too hot or too cold? Too wet or too dry? If, for example things are too wet, we need to know why things are too wet. Again just like a garden, is there too much rain? Not enough sun? Or maybe the soil simply is not draining properly. Any of these conditions would lead to too much dampness, but each would be remedied differently.
Interestingly, I think both the machine and garden systems of thinking are useful. In many ways the human body is like a machine; but I believe the human condition is much more like a garden.
Another fundamental difference between the western and eastern view, is that while western medicine is focused largely on form, Chinese medicine is almost entirely concerned with function. This can be clearly seen when contrasting the “spleen” in western and eastern medicines.
A western medical doctor could tell you where the spleen is located, what size it is, what types of cells it is composed of, etc. Chinese medicine on the other hand, views the spleen entirely as a set of functions. The “spleen” in Chinese medicine is all about the metabolism of nutrients, from digestion, absorption, and utilization throughout the body. From a western stand point these processes take place across multiple organs, but in Chinese medicine the entire process of absorbing and utilizing the energy stored in food is attributed to the spleen.
Does acupuncture hurt?
This is a tricky question. No, acupuncture does not hurt, but neither is it without sensation. First, acupuncture needles are extremely thin, a little thicker than the width of a human hair, a bit thinner than your cat’s whiskers.
The sensation of an acupuncture needle is nothing at all like a hypodermic needle. Acupuncture needles, when correctly inserted, will often illicit a dull, or heavy sensation at the point of insertion. Most patients actually enjoy the sensation. As my patients grow more comfortable with the process they actually will let me know if they are not feeling anything, because they know that heavy “Qi” sensation means the needle is working.
Are there any side effects to acupuncture?
Serious side effects of acupuncture are very rare. The most common side effect of acupuncture is bruising at the site of needle insertion. Some patients may experience what is known as “needle sickness” which is a temporary sense of faintness or light headedness. If you have had problems with needles in the past (fainting with piercings, or injections) you should discuss this with your acupuncturist prior to treatment
What do you recommend for patients with a fear of needles?
Acupuncture is not for everyone. If you have a serious aversion to needles, you may want to consider other options. I do work with several patients who I do not needle, but instead use tuning forks held at acupuncture points and Chinese herbal medicine.
What kinds of conditions does acupuncture best help?
Almost anything. Acupuncture is a complete system of medicine developed over thousands of years, as such its application is very wide. That is not to say that every patient will benefit, but the vast majority of patients will find some level of benefit, regardless of the condition.
That being said, the most commonly used and widely accepted application of acupuncture is for pain. Both chronic and acute pain responds well to acupuncture, and there is a growing body of research that supports the use of acupuncture for pain relief.
The World Health Organization has done an extensive review of acupuncture research conducted over the past 20 years and in 2003 published the following list of conditions:
1. Diseases, symptoms or conditions for which acupuncture has been proved-through controlled trials-to be an effective treatment:
- Adverse reactions to radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy
- Allergic rhinitis (including hay fever)
- Biliary colic
- Depression (including depressive neurosis and depression following stroke)
- Dysentery, acute bacillary
- Dysmenorrhoea, primary
- Epigastralgia, acute (in peptic ulcer, acute and chronic gastritis, and gastrospasm)
- Facial pain (including craniomandibular disorders)
- Hypertension, essential
- Hypotension, primary
- Induction of labour
- Knee pain
- Low back pain
- Malposition of fetus, correction of
- Morning sickness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Neck pain
- Pain in dentistry (including dental pain and temporomandibular dysfunction)
- Periarthritis of shoulder
- Postoperative pain
- Renal colic
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Tennis elbow
2. Diseases, symptoms or conditions for which the therapeutic effect of acupuncture has been shown but for which further proof is needed:
- Abdominal pain (in acute gastroenteritis or due to gastrointestinal spasm)
- Acne vulgaris
- Alcohol dependence and detoxification
- Bell’s palsy
- Bronchial asthma
- Cancer pain
- Cardiac neurosis
- Cholecystitis, chronic, with acute exacerbation
- Competition stress syndrome
- Craniocerebral injury, closed
- Diabetes mellitus, non-insulin-dependent
- Epidemic haemorrhagic fever
- Epistaxis, simple (without generalized or local disease)
- Eye pain due to subconjunctival injection
- Female infertility
- Facial spasm
- Female urethral syndrome
- Fibromyalgia and fasciitis
- Gastrokinetic disturbance
- Gouty arthritis
- Hepatitis B virus carrier status
- Herpes zoster (human (alpha) herpesvirus
- Labour pain
- Lactation, deficiency
- Male sexual dysfunction, non-organic
- Ménière disease
- Neuralgia, post-herpetic
- Opium, cocaine and heroin dependence
- Pain due to endoscopic examination
- Pain in thromboangiitis obliterans
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (Stein-Leventhal syndrome)
- Postextubation in children
- Postoperative convalescence
- Premenstrual syndrome
- Prostatitis, chronic
- Radicular and pseudoradicular pain syndrome
- Raynaud syndrome, primary
- Recurrent lower urinary-tract infection
- Reflex sympathetic dystrophy
- Retention of urine, traumatic
- Sialism, drug-induced
- Sjögren syndrome
- Sore throat (including tonsillitis)
- Spine pain, acute
- Stiff neck
- Temporomandibular joint dysfunction Tietze syndrome
- Tobacco dependence
- Tourette syndrome
- Ulcerative colitis, chronic
- Vascular dementia
- Whooping cough (pertussis)
The entire WHO report can be found here
Are there any research studies showing acupuncture to be efficacious?
There is a lot of research validating the effectiveness of acupuncture. The National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine says this about the current body of acupuncture research:
“There have been many studies on acupuncture’s potential health benefits for a wide range of conditions.”
Summarizing earlier research, the 1997 NIH Consensus Statement on Acupuncture found that, overall, results were hard to interpret because of problems with the size and design of the studies.
In the years since the Consensus Statement was issued, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) has funded extensive research to advance scientific understanding of acupuncture. Some recent NCCAM-supported studies have looked at:
- Whether acupuncture works for specific health conditions such as chronic low-back pain, headache, and osteoarthritis of the knee.
- How acupuncture might work, such as what happens in the brain during acupuncture treatment.
- Ways to better identify and understand the potential neurological properties of meridians and acupuncture points.
- Methods and instruments for improving the quality of acupuncture research.
Eric Martin is a licensed acupuncturist and supervises clinical shifts at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health where he works with patients in both Team Care and Practitioner Care settings. Eric is also an adjunct faculty member at Bastyr University where he teaches classes on backpacking and the use of herbal medicine in the wilderness.
Additionally Eric is the owner of GoodMedizen Acupuncture and Herbs located in downtown Seattle. With
training and degrees in acupuncture, Chinese herbalism and western/scientific based botanical medicine, Eric is uniquely qualified in the field of natural health.
Eric Martin practices a different style of Oriental medicine from most acupuncturists in the United States. Rather than inserting needles directly into, or in close proximity to, the area of pain or discomfort; only points well away from the area of pain are used.
The acupuncture points used in this style of treatment are located from the elbows to the fingers, from the knees to the toes, on the scalp and ears. As a result, the patient never has to take off their clothes and the treatments are efficient, comfortable and effective.
More information about acupuncture and Eric Martin, LAC is available at: www.goodmedizen.com