What Is Acupuncture

An Ancient Remedy for Modern Times. Acupuncture is a therapeutic method used to encourage natural healing, reduce or relieve pain and improve function of affected areas of the body. Acupuncture is safe and effective and is often successfully used as an alternative to medications or even surgery. Relief is often obtained when traditional medical therapy has failed.

Acupuncture involves the insertion of very fine needles through the skin and tissues at specific points on the body. There is no injection of any substance and the treatment itself causes minimal discomfort. “Classical” acupuncture was developed in China as a system of diagnosing and treating pain and disease. It defines acupuncture as one component of Traditional Chinese Medicine which aims to balance energy and blood in the body in order to keep it functional and healthy. Although proven successful for hundreds of years without the benefit of modern medical knowledge, it is only in recent years that the scientific and medical communities of Europe and North America have begun to study acupuncture to understand and explain its effectiveness. “Anatomical” acupuncture refers to a more modern approach taken today by the Acupuncture Foundation of Canada Institute (AFCI) and other western trained acupuncture therapists. When combined with a knowledge of anatomy, physiology, modern therapists can use acupuncture effectively.

Modern technology has allowed variations in acupuncture treatment. Electro-acupuncture involves stimulation of inserted needles with gentle electrical impulses. Rubber electrodes or moistened cotton-tipped applicators can also be used to deliver electrical stimulation to acupuncture points (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation or T.E.N.S.). Low power laser may also be used instead of needles to stimulate appropriate points.

How Does Acupuncture Work?

Acupuncture stimulates the body to produce its own pain relieving chemicals called “endorphins.” These chemicals mimic morphine by attaching to opiate receptor sites found throughout the nervous system. Endorphins help to block pathways that relay pain messages from the body to the brain, resulting in relief of pain, general relaxation and biochemical restoration of the body’s own well-being.


Acupuncture is very effective in treating a variety of painful disorders, both acute and chronic.

The World Health Organization has identified the benefits of acupuncture in the treatment of a wide range of medical problems including:

  • Digestive disorders: gastritis, hyperacidity, spastic bowel, constipation, diarrhea
  • Respiratory disorders: sinusitis, bronchitis, asthma
  • Neurological and muscular disorders: headaches, neck and back pain, neuralgia, frozen shoulder, tennis elbow, tendonitis, sciatica, arthritis
  • Urinary, menstrual and reproductive disorders
  • Addiction, insomnia

In treating any illness or affliction, a correct diagnosis is important before any decisions are made regarding therapy. Once the diagnosis is established, a qualified practitioner can advise whether acupuncture is appropriate
Are there any adverse effects or risks to the treatment?
One of the most striking aspects of acupuncture is the almost complete absence of adverse effects and complications from its use. Most patients find that the treatments are relaxing and cause minimal discomfort.

People with pacemakers should avoid electrical stimulation unless approved by their cardiologist. Women in early pregnancy and haemophiliacs should be treated with caution.

The AFCI recommends that only sterile disposable needles be used, preventing any risk of transmission of the AIDS or hepatitis viruses when sterile disposable needles are used.

Does it hurt?

People experience differing sensations with acupuncture. Most patients feel only minimal discomfort as the needles are inserted: some feel no pain at all. Once the needles are in place, there should be no significant discomfort.

Acupuncture needles are extremely fine and are made from stainless steel. Two or three needles would fit inside the barrel of a regular hollow needle used for injections.

How many treatments will be required?

The number of treatments will vary with each individual and the condition being treated. For acute problems, only a few treatments may be required. In some cases, one treatment will be sufficient.

For complex or longstanding conditions, one or two treatments a week for several weeks may be recommended with less frequent treatment as improvement occurs. Treatment sessions usually last between 15 and 30 minutes. Relief may be immediate or occur within a few hours, or after a few days.In some conditions, several sessions may be required before improvement is noticed Eighty to ninety percent of patients respond well to acupuncture with noticeable improvement. Acupuncture can be used as the only form of therapy or it may be combined successfully with other forms of medical or physical therapy.

Do I have to believe in acupuncture for it to work?

No. Acupuncture is used successfully on cats, dogs, horses and other animals. These animal patients do not understand or believe in the process that helps them get better. A positive attitude towards wellness may reinforce the effects of any type of treatment. A neutral or negative attitude (“I don’t know if I really believe in this”) will not block the effects of acupuncture.

Is there any special advice to follow before an acupuncture treatment?

Acupuncture treatment can be done at any time. Patients are advised not to eat unusually large meals before or after treatments. It is best to avoid alcohol or sedatives for four hours prior to treatment. Pain medications may be taken as required.

What about after treatment?

If possible, a short rest after treatment is desirable, but not essential. Some patients feel unusually relaxed and prefer to plan activities accordingly. Strong exercise is not recommended immediately after treatment.

For painful conditions, avoid strenuous activity for 48 hours after treatment. Alcohol, and ideally caffeine and cigarettes, should be avoided for at least two hours. Medication, as directed by your physician, may be taken as required.

  1. Eliminate exposure to dogs, cats, carpets, rugs, upholstered furniture, and other surfaces where allergens can collect.
  2. Make sure the bedroom is as allergen-free as possible.
  3. Encase mattresses in allergen-proof plastic, wash sheets, blankets, pillowcases, and mattress pads every week.
  4. Install an air purifier; HEPA (high-efficiency particulate-arresting) filters are most effective and can be attached to air conditioning and heating units.
  5. If rugs and carpets are present, use a vacuum cleaner with an efficient filtering system.
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  4. Meschino J. Nutrition and women’s hormonal health.
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  6. Meschino J. The natural management of menopause.
  7. Fanti MC et al. Soy and bone health. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998; 68(suppl): 1517S- 8S.
  8. Feskanich D, Willett WC, & Colditz GA. Calcium, vitamin D, milk consumption, and hip fractures: a prospective study among postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003; 77: 504-11.
  9. McKenna DJ, Jones K, Humphrey S, & Hughes K. Black cohosh: efficacy, safety, and use in clinical and preclinical applications. Alt Ther in Health and Med. 2001; 7(3): 93-101.
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  1. Dairy products (skim or whole milk, goat milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.)
  2. Corn
  3. Meats (beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish, etc)
  4. Wheat (bread, pasta, etc)
  5. Eggs
  6. Citrus fruits
  7. Potatoes
  8. Tomatoes
  9. Nuts
  10. Coffee
  1. Brown rice
  2. Cooked or dried fruit (cherries, cranberries, pears, prunes (not citrus, bananas, peaches, apples or tomatoes.
  3. Cooked green, yellow and orange vegetables (artichoke, asparagus, broccoli, chard, collard, lettuce, spinach, string beans, summer or winter squash, sweet potatoes, tapioca and taro (poi).
  4. Water, plain or carbonated.
  5. Modest amounts of salt, maple syrup and vanilla extract.
  1. Alpha – linolenic acid (ALA) : vegetables, beans, fruits, flaxseed oil, canola oil, wheat germ, walnut oil. Take 1 tbs or 4 capsules of flaxseed oil daily.
  2. Gamma – linolenic acid (GLA) borage oil, evening primrose oil, black currant oil, hemp oil. 1.4 gms of GLA daily.
  3. Vitamin E: 400 IU or 100 IU with high blood pressure.
  4. Ginger: 1 tsp. (1-2 gm) takes up to 12 weeks for results.
  5. Clove oil, garlic, cumin, turmeric (up to 5 gm).
  6. Thunder god vine.
  7. Increase anti-oxidants (Vit A, C, E, selenium).
  8. Avoid high iron concentrations in your blood.
  9. Reduce estrogen levels: avoid fats and increase fiber in your diet.
  10. Try capsaicin on painful areas (Zostrix or Dolorac) by prescription.
  1. For 4 weeks, generous amounts of food from the pain safe list.
  2. Avoid the major triggers, even small amounts.
  3. Foods not on either list can be consumed as long as you are following the instructions from #1 and #2.
  4. Use treatment recommendations to control pain in various joints.
  5. Results may occur in less than 4 weeks but once you find the diet combination that controls the symptoms then don’t deviate from it, even slightly.
  1. Inflammation.
  2. Repair.
  3. Remodeling and Maturation.
  1. Application of ice/cold to the injured area for 30 minutes or more, every hour or two.
  2. Application of a cold pack (ice) to the injured area for approximately 3 minutes followed by the application of heat to the injured area for approximately 3 minutes, repeated for 30 minutes. This process is repeated every hour or two.
  3. Application of heat to the injured area for approximately 30 minutes, applied every two to three hours. To further help control swelling, use a compressive bandage or a brace on the injured area. Finally let gravity help you reduce swelling by keeping the injured area elevated above the level of your heart. If your leg is injured then lie down and keep your leg up. If it’s your arm that’s injured, keep it elevated above your shoulder. To remember these four methods for controlling inflammation, we use the acronym RICE which stands for:
  1. Over-training (usually in distance, occasionally in speed).
  2. Alignment problems : flat or high arched feet, over-pronated feet, mal-aligned knees, leg discrepancies.
  3. Improper footwear: ill fitting, inadequate support, inadequate cushioning.
  4. Weakness in foot, leg, pelvic or trunk stabilizing and propulsive muscles.
  5. Lack of flexibility.
  6. Poor running form: over-striding, poor foot plant, inefficient arm carriage and trunk rotation.
  7. Slippery, uneven or rough running surfaces.
  8. Lack of rest.
  9. Poor nutrition and hydration.
  10. Previous unresolved injuries either from running or other activities.
  1. Set your goals.
  2. Make a plan, review it frequently and stick to it.
  3. Find something enjoyable about each run.
  4. Respond immediately to any pains or different sensations.
  5. Make sure you have good equipment.
  6. Build your distance and speed slowly and gradually.
  7. Work on your flexibility (warm up and cool down)
  8. Do strength training for prevention and as part of your recovery. (at least 2 to 3 times per week)
  9. Cross train, if injured or feeling over-tired.
  10. Take rest days on a regular basis.
  11. Nutrition is very important: balanced meals, plenty of fluids and maintain acceptable body fat level.
  12. Consult knowledgeable people or books for advice on training or injuries.
  1. If there is no pain walking or going up or down stairs.
  2. If the pain or stiffness is only present at the start of the run.
  3. If the pain does not worsen as you you keep running day after day.
  4. If you are able to modify the causative factor so that factors 1 – 3 above apply.
  5. If stretching or ice before your run keeps it under control.
  6. If the benefits of running exceed the negative effects and you are not creating chronic problems which will affect your activities of daily living.
  1. If there is substantial bruising or swelling.
  2. If the pain is intense and gradually worsening as you run.
  3. If the pain after the race is disabling.
  4. If you have an upper respiratory problem which is concentrated in your chest.
  5. If you have to drastically alter your running form in order to run.
  1. Continue to run, but spend more time stretching in your warm-up and/or automassage.
  2. Start with a slower paced run.
  3. You can warm-up by walking, cycling or other aerobic activities.
  4. Consider running later in the day if you are a morning runner.
  1. You can continue as long as the pain does not continue to worsen.
  2. If the pain is intense when it starts, stop and stretch or walk and try to resume running.
  3. Try to stop running before the normal onset of your pain if you know it won’t go away until you stop. (i.e) ITBFS
  4. Do part of your workout running and cross train for the rest.
  5. Try different shoes or terrain or modify your shoes with padding or arch supports.
  1. Cut your work out distance in half until the problem is brought under control.
  2. Make sure you stretch and ice after your run, even before the pain or stiffness starts.
  1. Start with at least 50% of your usual training volume.
  2. Increase your volume by 10% per week if all goes well.
  3. Take rest days and do some cross training.
  4. Don’t race until you are ready.
  1. Do not run hard or long for one day for each mile that you have raced. (i.e.) 6 days for a l0K race.
  • Eat a variety of foods (avoid consuming the same foods repeatedly for long periods of time).
  • Avoid foods with additives, artificial colourings (azo dyes), preservatives (benzoates, nitrites, sorbic acid), flavourings (salicylates, aspartame), synthetic antioxidants (hydroxytoluene, sulfite, galate), and emulsifiers/stabilizers (polysorbates, vegetable gums) which have all been shown to produce allergies.
  • Avoid pesticide exposure (consume certified organic fruit and vegetables as often as possible, &/or make sure produce is cleaned properly or peeledbefore consumption).
  • To decrease the inflammatory response: decrease intake of animal fats while increasing consumption of omega 3 oils found in flaxseed oil and cold water fish (ex. mackerel, herring, sardines, salmon; if you can, try to have fish at least 3 times a week).
  • A vegetarian diet alone can be therapeutic in treating many inflammatory disorders.
  • Eliminate excess fats: butter, hydrogenated oils (margarine and shortening).
  • Avoid sugar, refined carbohydrates.
  • Consume garlic, onions, beets, currants, berries, cherries more often.
  • Shoulders are different heights.
  • Head is not centered directly above the pelvis.
  • Rib cages are at different heights.
  • Uneven waist.
  • Appearance of a raised, prominent hip.
  • Changes in look or texture of skin overlying the spine (dimples, hairy patches, color changes).
  • Leaning of entire body to one side.
  • Use cold for 10 – 20 minutes every few hours to decrease blood flow.
    Relative rest of the injured area but movement is usually beneficial if pain free.
    Compression and elevation if swelling or bruising is evident.
  • Use cold for 30 minutes or longer.
  • Or use heat for 30 minutes or longer.
  • Or use contrast bath. (Alternate hot and cold 3 minutes each for 30 minutes or more).
  • Massage.
  • Mobilize and stretch.
  • Pain relief.
  • Improved range of motion.
  • Decreased muscle spasm.
  • Improved coordination.
  • Improved balance.
  • Improved posture.
  • Improved strength.
  • Improved nerve function.
  • Improved circulation.
  • Improved health of the joint.
  • Separation of the bones of the joint means less contact between them and less friction in movement.
  • Separation of the bones of the joint results in a rapid stretch of the local muscles that causes them to relax.
  • Ligaments, capsules and fascia of the joint are stretched which can restore normal movement to the injured joint.
  • Joints that have menisci or meniscoids (cartilage discs) such as the knee, jaw or vertebral joints, may have these structures repositioned restoring normal motion and reducing pain.
  • Restoring the normal movement pattern in a joint helps to maintain normal pressure on the joint cartilage, which helps to keep it healthy.
  • Restoring the normal movement pattern in a joint helps to keep the synovial fluid moving within the joint so that it can lubricate and nourish all structures within the joint and prevent early degeneration.
  • The adjustment stimulates nerve endings in the soft tissues of the joint (mechanoreceptors), which in turn inhibit pain receptors.
  • The stretch reflex is short-circuited allowing muscles to relax.
  • Spasm and trigger points (knots in muscles) are deactivated resulting in less pain, improved muscle strength and function, better posture, balance and coordination.
  • Reduction in muscle hypertonicity improves blood and lymphatic circulation.
  • Slowing down the conduction of nerve impulses from the injured tissues results in normalizing impulses in the autonomic nervous system which can have far reaching effects such as a reduction in pain, improved tonus of smooth muscles in blood vessels and organs improving circulation and organ function.

~Acupuncture Foundation of Canada Institute