Investing in your Well-being with Acupuncture: A Primer on Treatment
In my practice, I often hear the question: What can Acupuncture do for me? Can it help with my… (headaches, back pain, anxiety…)? You may know someone who sought out Chinese Medicine when conventional Western approaches could not explain or address the root of their symptoms, and now swears by their Acupuncturist’s abilities, perhaps a little incredulous. Even those who have benefited from treatment are often unsure of the direct correlation between their Acupuncture sessions and the improvement in their quality of life. Few are aware that in recent years, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published clinical trials confirming Acupuncture as an effective treatment for a broad range of conditions, particularly those related to pain-relief and immune health.
As a Pennsylvania and New York licensed nationally board certified Acupuncturist, I think it’s important for people to know that they have options when it comes to managing their health that can save them both money and time. Beyond the much appreciated relief of pain, immune health, and emotional imbalances, patients who invest in treatment are empowered as they gain a better understanding of what triggers their symptoms, allowing them to be better stewards of their bodies and minds. In addition, as Acupuncture is clinically proven to boost immunity, patients report less frequent illness, increased productivity and improvement in overall quality of life.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) also cite studies that show Acupuncture as effectual in the treatment of pain. In 2003, clinical trials released by the WHO cited Acupuncture as a potent treatment for an extensive list of health issues. Among them are allergies, headache, low back pain, insomnia, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis and sciatica. The WHO also approved Acupuncture for the treatment of depression, solidifying Chinese Medicine as an alternative to pharmaceuticals in the treatment of mental health concerns. “Acupuncture is comparable with amitriptyline in the treatment of depression but has fewer side-effects.” 
My patients often report not only an improvement in their symptoms or central complaint, but they also experience a subtle shift in their day-to-day experience, a better ability to manage their stress. A patient might come in with digestive concerns, and find the results of their treatment to be increased energy, greater mental alertness, and improved digestive health—areas that are all interconnected via the spleen meridian or channel. In tandem, patients gain awareness of how one’s symptoms can act as cues of health or disease, which creates greater trust and comfort with one’s body, a valuable benefit that western medicine does not typically provide. The future of healthcare, I believe, will see patients benefit from an integrative approach, the shared mutual input of both eastern and western medicine. Now more than ever western hospitals and clinics are using Acupuncture to treat patients with complex case histories, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and long-term addiction. A 2007 survey found that nearly forty percent of hospitals offer “alternative medicine” therapies, such as Acupuncture.
I’d like to address claims from some clinical trials that find the effects of Acupuncture to be no different from the placebo treatment. While this is not the case with all trials, many unfortunately utilize standardized treatment protocols or “medical Acupuncture,” an approach that utilizes a standardized treatment approach for a specific set of symptoms. This is a failure of allopathic medicine to grasp the conceptual differences between Oriental and Western medicine. A cornerstone of Chinese Medicine is the practitioner’s ability to assess the truly individual makeup of the patient, each having a unique genetic endowment and environmentally acquired constitution. Creating a standardized treatment for one type of disease is not the practice of Chinese Medicine, and would be highly unlikely to deliver a specific treatment goal.
Beyond the obvious difficulties of grafting a medicine with eastern ideologies onto a western clinical context, acupuncturists work with substances for which western medicine has no name; such as qi, jing, and Shen. Fortunately, these substances-while they have an energetic manifestation-are also quantitatively and qualitatively measurable. They are palpably reflected in the quality, relative vitality, and volume and or lack thereof in the patient’s pulse. An acupuncturist assesses the health of twelve different organ systems on a patient’s pulse, each associated with a corresponding meridian, or energetic pathway throughout the body, as well as numerous pulse qualities that reflect the wellness of the body, spirit, and mind. A pulse diagnosis is further confirmed by the patient’s overall presentation, primary complaint, and health history.
When a patient steps into my acupuncture office, I treat her or him as an individual, take the time to listen to specific concerns, and create a treatment plan to address the root cause of imbalance or illness. Often, patients find a huge amount of relief in finally being heard, and knowing that their symptoms are manageable with treatment. Health, to me, is not only addressing a symptom, but providing reassurance-healing is possible-and empowerment-here are the tools and treatment needed to recover-to the patient. I believe that the body is geared towards healing, naturally. Sickness, injuries, and diseases are often your body’s reminder to prioritize balance. In a culture where it is easy to be overwhelmed by stress, and the rapid pace of life, Acupuncture serves as the perfect reminder of how to return to your center.
 National Institutes of Health, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Acupuncture for Pain, 2011.
 The World Health Organization Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials, 2003.