What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture has become very popular over the past few years. What most need to understand is that it is actually only one form of treatment utilized in the ancient medical practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM.) TCM is the fundamental cornerstone and basis for the practice of Oriental Medicine, which includes Acupuncture, Chinese herbology and Tui-Na (Chinese massage and bodywork). This full system of medicine, along with its ancient diagnostic techniques, has an impressive history that dates back over 2500 years. Oriental medicine balances energy levels in the body the same way Western medicine balances chemistry levels in the body. Both eastern and western medicine agree that balance, or homeostasis is necessary for optimal health. Acupuncture uses fine needles that act like antenna to directly manipulate the body’s energy levels. Inserted properly, they act like a switch that reprograms the body to a healthier state.

It comes as no surprise that the use of Acupuncture and Chinese herbs have gained such an enormous amount of media exposure over the past few years. The NIH, WHO and FDA have all given their stamp of approval on various aspects of the ancient practice of acupuncture. Life magazine featured two cover stories “The Healing Revolution” and “The Healing Power of Touch” within a twelve-month period of time. Time magazine, U.S. News and World Report, Newsweek as well as the NY Times, Miami Herald and The Wall Street Journal have all featured articles about America’s fascination and trend towards embracing this ancient medical art.

What is Oriental Medicine?

Acupuncture is only one of many treatment modalities utilized by Oriental Medicine. The term Oriental Medicine (OM) includes the various styles that developed as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) spread from China to many different countries such as Korea, Japan and then into Europe. Currently, American practitioners are developing an American style of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.

What makes this medical art so different and unique is the use of ancient diagnostic techniques that evaluate a patient’s individual condition. Each person is evaluated and diagnosed to determine his/her imbalance. This means that two patients with the same named Western disease can have a completely different diagnosis according to Oriental Medicine and therefore will be treated differently. Understanding the diagnostics is vital to achieve the best results. Once the patient is properly diagnosed, a treatment protocol can then be outlined using acupuncture, herbal prescriptions as well as other various modalities as indicated by that condition.

Acupuncture is the ancient Eastern science and art of directly balancing and manipulating your energy levels to bring them into balance. In Chinese this energy is called “Qi” pronounced “chee” and is the “life force” of the body. It is fundamental to both Eastern and Western medical science that optimum health is achieved through homeostasis, the optimum balance of the bodies systems. Acupuncture acts directly on your energy levels (Qi) to bring them into balance, thereby promoting optimum health.

How does it work?

Energy fields surround the human body. In western medicine, the grossest of these are measured with devices like EKG (Electrocardiogram – a device to test the heart used by cardiologists), EEG (Electroencephalograph – a device used by neurologists to test the brain), EMG (Electromyograph, used to test the muscles and nerves) and many other devices. Science has long known that changes in body function can be evaluated by measuring changes in these energy fields. It is known that these fields change with the function and it has been demonstrated that function changes when these fields are directly manipulated. Acupuncture works by directly affecting the body’s energy fields and thereby changing the function of the related systems.

How does it do that?

Tiny, sterile needles (about the size of a strand of hair) are inserted into the skin at very special points. These needles focus the energy of the body’s energy fields the same way an antenna focuses radio energy. The needles are placed at the points that will balance the energies that will restore homeostasis to the body. It is important that the needles be placed in exactly the right place, since the location of the needles will determine how the energy field is changed. These special points occur where the energy fields of the body interact. Each system and organ will manifest its own energy level and can be weakened or strengthened by the energy fields around it. Acupuncture focuses these fields to bring them and the underlying body systems into balance.

Can this energy be measured?

Not with today’s technology. There is no doubt that the body is surrounded with energy fields. It is a basic law of physics that when electricity flows along a conductor it creates an energy field. This is why electric generators work. We also know that a field will affect other fields – this is why electric motors and radios work. We can measure the stronger fields created by the brain and large nerves with devices like the EEG, EMG and EKG, but these are the exception rather than the rule. The problem is that the fields manipulated by acupuncture are too small to measure with today’s technology. (Today’s environment also makes measuring these fields very difficult. You are subjected to millions times more electromagnetic radiation than your parents and billions of times more than your grandparents.)

How do you know where to put the needles?

An understanding of how this energy flows and interacts predicts which points will create the desired effect. It is therefore necessary for a practitioner to have a complete understanding of the over 3000 years of research and experimentation that have gone into the development of this system of medicine. In that much time, researchers and practitioners have isolated and identified these fields and their interactions with the biochemical systems of the body through trial and error and observation. Over thousands of years, we have learned how to affect this energy to restore balance.

Why is balance so important?

Life is based on balance. Rest and exercise, work and play, give and take, sugar and protein are all examples of things we know should be balanced. We know that blood chemistry should balance in a certain manner. When you are tense, upset, ill or injured, some system in your body is out of balance. Western medicine directly balances the chemistry in the body. In the case of a disease “caused” by germs, Western medicine often seeks to restore the balance by directly attacking the offending organism with some drug that is poison to the “germ”. However, people exposed to germs don’t always get a disease. This is because they do not have an imbalance that has already weakened the body’s immune system. Oriental medicine directly balances the energy fields in the body, allowing the body’s systems to balance and heal. Most diseases of which you are aware create symptoms by creating an imbalance of some form. Acupuncture restores the balance, thereby eliminating the symptoms and strengthening the body’s own systems to cure the problem.

What does Western medicine think of acupuncture?

In the 1950’s and 60’s Western medicine considered anything not taught in American medical schools to be quackery or ignorant practices. In the 70’s and 80’s this viewpoint began to change as “miracle drugs” were discovered in ancient herbal remedies. Even the much-ridiculed practice of allowing leaches to suck the blood of an ill patient was vindicated to some degree when a powerful antibiotic was discovered in leach saliva. (This is still not a common procedure for obvious reasons.) In the 90’s, Western science has embraced Oriental medicine as a complement to Western medicine and reams of research have been published on the effective use of acupuncture for conditions ranging from post surgical trauma to PMS symptoms to addiction, stress, muscular-skeletal pain and even the common cold. Many hospitals now have Acupuncture Practitioners on staff and the National Institutes of Health just released the results of a consensus conference recommending acupuncture be covered by federal health programs.

Herbology and Oriental Medicine

There is a general public opinion that just because something is natural, it is safe. This is not true about Chinese herbology. The practice of Chinese herbology uses both single herbs as well as herbal formulas containing several herbs. Ancient texts document various herbal formulas that can be used to treat various conditions. When herbs are combined there is a synergistic effect and this results in precise effective treatment. TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) developed the practice of herbology to coincide with treating the energy (Qi) imbalance in the body. Ancient texts categorize the herbs according its properties, channel entered, organs affected, taste, temperature, toxicity and disease or symptom. A disease can only be treated after the imbalance in the energy levels (Qi) of the body has been identified.

The oldest known significant Chinese medical text “Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic” (Huang Di Nei Jing) was compiled between 200 B.C. and 100 B.C. This ancient text outlines the theoretical and philosophical foundation of TCM. With an understanding of this foundation, a practitioner can diagnose the imbalance and then incorporate herbs and acupuncture into a treatment protocol.

A disease classified by Western medicine, like sinusitis, can actually be broken down into many different types or imbalances according to TCM. This is probably why some people respond to certain drugs for this condition and others do not. Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) can be differentiated according to TCM diagnostics into at least five different categories. Therefore, the treatment protocol and herbal recommendations depend upon the proper TCM diagnosis of the imbalance. Herbal prescriptions are not based on just a symptom or disease. In fact, a condition could worsen if the wrong herb or formula is recommended. So remember, just because it worked for someone else with the same disease or symptom does not mean that it is appropriate for you. The patient must be diagnosed according to TCM diagnostic techniques before herbal recommendations can be made. Another example is asthma; it can be broken down into several different types according to TCM. So just because a particular herb or herbal formula worked well for your neighbor’s asthma, does not mean it will have the same effect for you. In fact, it could even make you worse if your imbalance is the opposite of your neighbor’s. For any disease, it is recommended that you seek the advice of a qualified, licensed TCM/ Oriental Medical practitioner before experimenting with herbs for the treatment of disease.

What conditions does acupuncture treat?

Since acupuncture and Oriental Medicine works by restoring the body’s natural balance, it will work to some degree on any non-optimum health condition. Even cancer patients undergoing radiation or chemotherapy often experience relief from symptoms and side effects and even a resurgence of energy and vitality.

How do I choose a licensed acupuncture physician?

The same way you choose an auto mechanic, computer technician, or medical doctor. Oriental medicine is a very broad subject, with millions of pages of texts and a wide variety of disciplines. Though it requires thousands of hours of training to be licensed as an Acupuncture Physician in the State of Florida, no one can know it all. Any competent auto mechanic can change your oil or solve an obvious mechanical problem, but if you have serious problems you go to a mechanic that specializes in your type of car. If you have a serious medical problem, you go to a physician, Eastern or Western that specializes in your type of condition. Most physicians, eastern and western, have a general practice that addresses most common conditions and a specialty in one or two fields in which they are expert. You should pick a practitioner that you like and can establish a good relationship with. If you have some special condition, your practitioner should have some extra expertise in that area.

In the United States a practitioner is commonly referred to as an Acupuncturist, Licensed Acupuncturist, Acupuncture Physician, Doctor of Acupuncture, Doctor of Oriental Medicine or Oriental Medical Doctor. The titles vary according to the State’s licensing regulations. If seeking out a practitioner, it is recommended that anyone practicing hold a professional license in the practice of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. If an allied health professional has incorporated any part of Oriental Medicine into their practice, such as acupuncture or Chinese herbology, it is recommended that they be certified by or have equivalent education as outlined by the National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). Many schools throughout the United States have similar curriculums to that of the schools in China and it takes many years to attain minimum competency. It is very important to remember that Acupuncture is not a development of Western medical science. Many allied health care professionals have legislatively included the practice of Acupuncture or Oriental Medicine into their scope of practice with little or no training required and have their certifications issued by their own colleagues and professional boards. It’s like the Board of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine certifying a practitioner to do surgery. This is clearly absurd. That is why it is important for the consumer to check credentials, certifying agency and most importantly, length of training before undergoing care.

For information regarding a qualified, board certified specialist in your area, you can contact

The National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) at (202) 232-1404;

and in Florida,

The Florida State Oriental Medical Association (FSOMA) at (800) 578-4865,