Naturopathic acupuncture is part of a system of healing that has been practiced in China and other East Asian countries for over 2500 years. Although often described as a means of pain relief, it is in fact used to treat people with a wide range of illnesses. In fact, the World Health Organization has cited the effectiveness of acupuncture for over 43 conditions (eg: digestive, respiratory, musculo-skeletal, neurological and reproductive). Chinese medicine is a comprehensive system for the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic disorders. Its focus is on improving the overall well being of the patient, rather than the isolated treatment of specific symptoms. According to traditional Chinese philosophy, our health is dependent on the body’s motivating energy – known as Qi (pronounced “chee”) – moving in a smooth and balanced way through a series of meridians (channels) beneath the skin.
Qi consists of equal and opposite qualities – Yin and Yang – and when these become unbalanced, illness may result. By inserting fine needles into the channels of energy, an acupuncturist can stimulate the body’s own healing response and help restore its natural balance. The flow of Qi can be disturbed by a number of factors. These include emotional states such as anxiety, stress, anger, fear or grief, poor nutrition, weather conditions, hereditary factors, infections, poisons and trauma. The principal aim of acupuncture in treating the whole person is to recover the equilibrium between the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of the individual.
What illnesses/ailments can acupuncture help treat?
Many people come to acupuncture for help with specific symptoms or conditions. These might include addictions, anxiety states, arthritis, asthma, back pain, circulatory problems, depression, facial paralysis, fibromyalgia, head ache, high blood pressure, indeterminate aches and pains, infertility, menstrual problems, migraines, rheumatism, sciatica, skin conditions, ulcers, etc.
Acupuncture is a safe treatment for all, although for babies and children, pressure rather than needles may be used. Acupuncture has proved to be effective in pregnancy management and for the relief of pain in childbirth. It is also helpful for people trying to overcome addictions such as those related to smoking, alcohol, food or drugs. Some people may have acupuncture as a preventive measure to strengthen their constitution, or because they feel unwell in themselves without being ‘ill’ in the Western sense. It can also be used alongside conventional medicine in the treatment of both acute and chronic disease. As with any therapy, the response to acupuncture can differ from one person to another.
What does it feel like?
Most people’s experience of needles is of those used in injections and blood tests. Acupuncture needles bear little resemblance to these. They are much finer and are solid rather than hollow. When the needle is inserted, the sensation is often described as painless, a slight prick, or a tingling or dull ache. Needles are inserted either for a second or two, or may be left in place for 30 minutes or more, depending on the effect required. During treatment, patients commonly experience a dullness or heaviness in the limbs or a pleasant feeling of relaxation. The benefits of acupuncture frequently include more than just relief from a particular condition. Many people find that it can also lead to increased energy levels, better appetite and sleep as well as an enhanced sense of overall well being.
What happens at a typical visit?
Your first consultation may be longer than subsequent sessions. The acupuncturist needs to assess your general state of health, in order to identify the underlying pattern of disharmony and give you the most effective treatment. You will be asked about your current symptoms and what treatment you have received so far, your medical history and that of your close family, your diet, digestive system, sleeping patterns and emotional state. To discover how the energies are flowing in your body, the acupuncturist is likely to feel your pulses on both wrists, noting their quality, rhythm and strength. The structure, colour and coating of your tongue also gives a good guide to your physical health. Once enough information has been gathered to determine the likely causes of your problems, the acupuncturist can select the most appropriate treatment. The aim is to discover which energy channels need adjusting for your specific complaint to improve, and which require treatment to boost your overall energy and vitality. Loose, comfortable clothing should be worn, and you should be aware that the acupuncturist may need to access points on your torso as well as on your arms and legs. Stimulation of specific areas on or beneath the skin affects the functioning of certain organs in the body. However, those areas may not be close to the part of the body where the problem is experienced. For example, although you may suffer from headaches, needles may be inserted in your foot or hand.
There are around 500 such acupuncture points on the body, and a properly trained and experienced acupuncturist will use a selection of perhaps ten or twelve of these for each treatment. It is quite usual that, during a course of treatment, different points will be selected as the patients condition changes. The acupuncturist may supplement the needle treatment with moxa, a smouldering herb which is used to warm acupuncture points to encourage the body’s energy to flow smoothly. Other methods of stimulating acupuncture points include using lasers or electro-acupuncture. Massage, or tapping with a rounded probe, are techniques particularly suitable for small children or for people with a fear of needles.
How often will I need treatment?
In traditional acupuncture philosophy each person is considered as unique, and therefore the number of treatments required depends on the individual. Some change is usually felt after five treatments. Sometimes the effects of the treatment are dramatic, and only one or two treatments are required. With other patients, the effects are more subtle and they may need treatment over several months. Normally you are recommended to visit your acupuncturist once or twice a week at first, although some conditions may need less frequent attention.
Is it safe? Who performs the treatment?
Acupuncturists are taught to abide by stringent standards of hygiene and sterilization for needles and other equipment. Single-use, disposable, pre-sterilized needles are used to reduce the likelihood of infection. The acupuncture is performed by the naturopathic doctor, Dr. Rahim B. Habib. He has trained in traditional acupuncture in a four year program, and is in his tenth year of naturopathic practice.
How much does a treatment cost?
Your first assessment visit is sixty minutes in length and costs $120. Each subsequent treatment costs $60, and treatments can last up to 45 minutes. Note that many employee/extended health benefits plans cover acupuncture, and it can also be covered under naturopathic medicine coverage as well (these are often listed under ‘paramedical services’ in benefit policies).