Understanding Acupuncture

Understanding Acupuncture

There are a variety of diseases and conditions that are not susceptible, or only partly responsive to traditional Western medicine. Millions of people throughout the world face this issue, and acupuncture may be a good alternative for them.

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a treatment that originated in China and has been practiced for thousands of years. It wasn’t until the mid to late twentieth century that the West began to accept it as a legitimate form of treatment, particularly for pain. In simplest terms, Acupuncture is the placing of fine needles by a licensed practitioner into specific areas of the body to help reach an equilibrium of the energy flow, termed qi or chi. Traditional Chinese medicine believes that by realigning one’s energy flow, a person can experience healing. Although Western practitioners perform acupuncture in the same manner, they feel that the desired effect is achieved because the needle insertion stimulates one’s body to increase blood flow, and release natural painkillers.

What is it used for?

This technique has been quite successful in treating pain related to particular conditions:

  • Neurological conditions – a migraine and tension headaches
  • Musculoskeletal disorders – osteoarthritis, lower back pain, neck pain, fibromyalgia
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology – labor pains and menstrual cramps
  • Oral health – TMJ and toothaches
  • Oncologic disorders – nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy

Side Effects

There are little to no side effects, contingent upon the acupuncturist performing this technique correctly. Potential risks include soreness, organ injury and infection. However, organ injury and infection can be prevented, provided the practitioner inserts the needle correctly and uses sterile needles.

Setting up an appointment

As with any health care provider, it is prudent to thoroughly research any person who will be treating you. A majority of states require licensure for acupuncturists. If, however, the state you live in does not, you should make sure that the acupuncturist is certified by the NCCAOM. Practitioners certified by this organization have either graduated from an accredited school or have apprenticed for a minimum of four years and passed a written and practical national board exam. It is also important to speak with the traditional Chinese medicine expert, so that he/she can explain what specific points will be targeted to help the condition for which you seek, and how many treatments would be needed. Finally, one of the best ways to find an experienced and reputable provider is through recommendation. A coworker, close friend, or relative may have tried this procedure, and may be able to suggest someone. Some insurances will pay for this treatment, so inquire if this is a covered benefit through your provider.

What happens at the visit?

Initially, a patient will be assessed to determine what the ailment is, and how long that ailment warrants a course of treatment. The first visit can last approximately one hour. The visits following are generally one-half of an hour, and for a single medical problem, treatments are usually one to two times weekly for four to eight weeks. This can vary depending on the specific condition being treated and how severe the condition is. If no improvement is seen within a few weeks, this may not be the appropriate form of therapy for you. Once the patient is assessed, the acupuncturist informs the patient on what area the needles will be inserted. It is important to note that the target area, may not be the part that is troubling the patient. An average of five to twenty needles is inserted into the area. This is generally painless. The practitioner then shifts the needle for several seconds. After ten to twenty minutes, the needles are easily removed.


Studies, with regard to the effectiveness of acupuncture vary. According to a report from the World Health Organization, acupuncture has shown to be efficacious in pain relief and boosting the body’s immune system against infections. However, other studies have shown no improvement in symptoms compared to placebo. Because of the low risks associated with this treatment option, it should be considered as an alternative method or adjunct to other treatments.


In this instance, an athlete was originally diagnosed with minor quadriceps muscle strain and was treated for four weeks, with unsatisfactory results. When he came to our clinic, the muscle was not healing, and the patients’ muscle tissue had already begun to atrophy.

Upon examination using MSUS, we discovered that he had a full muscle thickness tear that had been overlooked by his previous provider. To mitigate damage and promote healing, surgery should have been performed immediately after the injury occurred. Because of misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment, the patient now has permanent damage that cannot be corrected.

The most important advantage of Ultrasound over MRI imaging is its ability to zero in on the symptomatic region and obtain imaging, with active participation and feedback from the patient. Using dynamic MSUS, we can see what happens when patients contract their muscles, something that cannot be done with MRI. From a diagnostic perspective, this interaction is invaluable.

Dynamic ultrasonography examination demonstrating
the full thickness tear and already occurring muscle atrophy
due to misdiagnosis and not referring the patient
to proper diagnostic workup

Demonstration of how very small muscle defect is made and revealed
to be a complete tear with muscle contraction
under diagnostic sonography (not possible with MRI)


Complete tear of rectus femoris
with large hematoma (blood)


Separation of muscle ends due to tear elicited
on dynamic sonography examination

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