How Does Acupuncture Work?
By Shawna E.M. Snyder, D.Ac., M.A.O.M.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture takes a holistic, or whole body, approach to health. In other words, an acupuncturist will take into account your whole self, not just your symptoms in order to address the root of your health concerns.  
In treatment, the objective is to correct the flow of energy by inserting hair-thin, sterile, single-use needles to specific points along the body. Changes in energy precede physical change, so acupuncture can act as preventative medicine, correcting energy flow before a serious illness occurs. However, if physical change has already occurred, further deterioration can be slowed by adjusting the flow of energy.  
Acupuncture restores the harmonious balance of the body. Acupuncture is an effective and safe compliment to western healthcare as it doesn’t interfere with prescription drugs.  

How Does Acupuncture Work?
Eastern Explanation
Traditional Chinese medicine is based on a medical model that describes health in terms of balance of energy flow, Qi.  When a person is healthy, Qi flows smoothly throughout the body but if, for some reason, the Qi flow is blocked, weak or excessive then symptoms and/or illness occur.

Western Explanation: 
Modern research has demonstrated that neurovascular nodes (acupuncture points) are areas of designated electrical sensitivity.  They also contain a high concentration of sensory fibers, fine blood vessels, fine lymphatic vessels, and mast cells. These nodes are distributed along longitudinal pathways of the body where the collateral blood vessels supply the capillaries and fine vessels. They also contain more sensory nerves, and have more fine vessels with sequestered mast cells than non nodes.
Inserting needles at these points stimulates various sensory receptors that, in turn, stimulate nerves that transmit impulses to the brain.  The brain, in turn, releases neurotransmitters and endorphins, the body’s natural pain-killing hormones.  Endorphins also play a big role in the functioning of the hormonal system.  This is why acupuncture works well for back pain and arthritis as well as P.M.S. and infertility.  The substances released as a result of acupuncture not only relax the whole body, they regulate serotonin in the brain which plays a role in human disposition.  This is why depression is often treated with acupuncture. Some of the physiological effects observed throughout the body include increased circulation, decreased inflammation, relief from pain, relief of muscle spasms and increased T-cell count which stimulates the immune system.

What Does Acupuncture Treat?
Acupuncture can treat a multitude of diseases as endorsed by the National Institute of Health as well as the World Health Organization. Acupuncture addresses the underlying root of a persons ill health which can help alleviate their symptoms as well as  deter further progress of the disease, thus improving quality of life.  If a disorder is caught early when only minor symptoms prevail then acupuncture may successfully restore a person’s health.  However, acupuncture cannot cure diseases such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, genetic disorders, etc. because these diseases are not only embedded in the body’s matrix but by the time such a patient comes to see an acupuncturist their disease has progressed to the point of irreparable damage.  However, for patients who are suffering from serious ill health, acupuncture can help with the symptoms of the disease, undesirable side effects of medical treatments, as well as promote recovery in conjunction with western treatment in other words acupuncture can improve your quality of life.  

How Many Treatments are Required?
The length, number and frequency of treatments will vary from person to person depending on the conditions being treated, your age and health, and how you respond to acupuncture. Acute disorders, such as a musculo-skeletal sprain/strain, 2-6 treatments are recommended.  With longstanding chronic disorders more treatments are needed, the longer one has lived with the problem, the longer it takes to treat (for every year a patient has suffered from the disease, at least 3 months acupuncture treatment is recommended) but it also depends on the condition.
A positive response to acupuncture treatments is generally seen within the first few sessions. If you are being treated for a menstrual problem or infertility, give the treatments three menstrual cycles for your body to respond.  You will schedule your appointments further and further apart once you have achieved your treatment goal.  If you are not able to schedule regular appointments as recommended, your acupuncturist may be able to prescribe Chinese herbs and show you acupressure points you can do yourself.  Also, recommending lifestyle modifications such as  dietary changes and exercises to quicken recovery.   However, acupuncture is not a quick fix nor can I guarantee anything

Does It Hurt?
Acupuncture needles are so thin that they can fit into a hypodermic needle.  A patient usually feels little to no discomfort.  However, when the needle is in it is normal to feel sensations of tingling, warmth, heaviness, or a dull ache at the needle insertion-this is the body reacting positively to acupuncture.  

How Deep Do the Needles Go In?
Anywhere from a few millimeters to several inches depending on the location and tissue layer.  

Are There Any Risks or Side Effects with Acupuncture?
No, as long as the practitioner is following what he/she learned from their studies at school.  There are contraindicated points for certain conditions. A minor exception would be a small temporary bruise. However, people react differently especially those who tend to be sensitive in general.  It is common to feel grounded, calm, or in some cases “bubbly”.  

Does Health Insurance Cover Acupuncture?
Contact you insurance provider to learn what kind of care is covered.  Here are a few questions to ask:
1) Will my plan cover acupuncture?
2) How many visits per calendar year?
3) Do I need a referral?
4) Do I have a co-pay?
5) Do I have a deductible? If yes, has it been met?
6) Do I have a Flexible Health Spending Account?

I hope this helps demystify acupuncture. There’s nothing magical about it-it’s a flesh and bones medicine that dates back atleast 3,000 years and has helped many people.

Shawna E.M. Snyder graduated with a Masters degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine from the New England School of Acupuncture in Boston, MA, a 4-year program.  Shawna is certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and is licensed as a Doctor of Acupuncture by the State of Rhode Island through the department of health.  

Read the book...
​If you're interested in learning more about acupuncture beyone the neurotransmitters, endorphins and Qi, I recommend reading Acupuncture Matters. 

​Acupuncture Matters examines how understanding acupuncture principles opens up possibilities and inspires new perspectives on health and life. This is how acupuncture really works.

Under the mainstream medical model—riddled with bureaucracy, over testing, undue dependence on pharmaceuticals and rigid research practices—we are steadily growing sicker, heavier and unhappier. Acupuncture Matters explains why acupuncture is an effective, safe and low-cost antidote to this vicious cycle.

But it’s not just about health. By teaching us to slow down and be more intentional, acupuncture provides a new lens for seeing all aspects of modern life. This brings awareness to our patterns and helps dismantle the ones that hold us back from realizing our full potential.

Just $19.99 for a full color PDF download
Click on the link below the book to purchase.
A clinic in Middletown, Rhode Island that offers acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and medical Qigong.
HomeDr. Ling ChengFeatured SpecialTreatmentMedical QigongTestimonialsAppointmentArticles