Vital Alchemy

Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine


Frequently Asked Questions


What is the difference between acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine?

Acupuncture is a modality/tool within the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine take a holistic approach to understanding normal function and disease processes and focus as much on the prevention of illness as on the treatment.


What is acupuncture?

The origins of acupuncture in the East can be traced back at least 2000 years, making it one of the most long-standing systems of medicine in the world. While generally recognized as originating in China, there is archeological evidence that shows much older roots.

An acupuncture treatment involves the insertion of fine, hair thin sterile needles into specific sites (acupuncture points) along the body's meridians to clear energy blockages and encourage the normal flow of Qi-loosely defined as the vital energy in our body.


How does acupuncture work?

Western Bio Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine use different language and concepts of the world to discuss this. An appropriate answer to this question will take pages of text dedicated to first defining terms, as there are not only the two different medical perspectives to consider but also two different ideologies about the nature of life. Due to necessity this answer will be at best an introductory explanation.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture treatment is said to work by regulating the flow of Qi, vital energy, in the body. Although Qi is often loosely defined in western terms as energy it is understood in Chinese culture to be much more. It is a central tenet to Traditional Chinese Medicine and disruptions in the flow of Qi are thought to be responsible for all disease states. The causes of this disruption of Qi can be due to external factors such as environmental conditions, internal factors such as diet or emotional states or lifestyle choices and trauma. Acupuncture stimulates points on or under the skin to release the Qi so that it may travel uninhibited through meridians in the human body called channels.

According to Western medicine current studies have demonstrated that acupuncture causes biological responses. These responses can occur locally, i.e., at or close to the site of application, or at a distance, mediated mainly by sensory neurons to many structures within the central nervous system. Insertion of needles and manipulation at these acupuncture points leads to activation of pathways affecting various physiological systems in the brain as well as in the periphery. In the use of acupuncture for pain relief, for example, the analgesic effect can be partially explained by evidence supporting the idea that opioid peptides are released during an acupuncture treatment causing the analgesic effect. From a Western medicine perspective acupuncture triggers physiological changes in bodily systems including vasodilation, stimulation of hormones and neurotransmitters, and stimulation of the Parasympathetic nervous system which supports Rest and Digest and the very deep relaxation states needed for healing and homeostasis to occur.


What Conditions does acupuncture treat?

In 2003 the World health Organization released a report entitled “Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials”. In this report the classification of conditions listed below are cited as being benefited from regular acupuncture treatment. Please note acupuncture has a much longer history than Western Medicine, there are conditions which centuries of empirical data have shown acupuncture effectively treats, but for which there is little or no modern Western research.




Gastrointestinal conditions

Ear Nose and Throat conditions

Psychological conditions

Emotional conditions

Neurological conditions

Gynecological conditions

Respiratory System conditions

Cardiovascular conditions

Musculo-skeletal conditions


What should I expect during a first visit?

A first visit will generally take about 2 hours and subsequent visits about 1 hour.

In Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese medicine, we believe in treating the individual, not just the symptom(s). Since every individual comes with a unique pattern of symptoms and health issues it is necessary to gather as much information as possible in order to create a customized diagnosis and treatment plan at the outset.

At the time of your visit if you have not already downloaded and filled out the Initial Intake Form you will be asked to fill one out in our office. Your acupuncturist will then review your intake form with you, ask a series of questions, take your pulse, observe the surface of your tongue and if necessary palpate specific areas of your body related to your chief complaint. These actions are designed to create an in-depth assessment of biological, physical, emotional and lifestyle concerns to help your practitioner identify pattern diagnosis and develop a practical approach to your treatment.

After the assessment, you will be asked to comfortably relax on a treatment table and your acupuncture treatment will begin. A treatment involves the insertion of hair thin needles into very specific points along the body. These points are spaces along certain channels or meridians where the Qi of the body can be accessed.


I have a fear of needles. Does acupuncture hurt?

When we think of needles we may imagine the shots we get at our Doctors office. Acupuncture needles are nothing like the needles used by your doctor. An acupuncture needle is about the thickness of a human hair.

Upon the initial insertion some people have stated they feel an initial small prick but many report that they feel nothing. After insertion the needle may be manipulated to achieve the desire therapeutic effect and again many say they feel no pain. No pain however does not mean no sensation. People use different words to describe the sensation. Some say they experience a sensation like electricity running through their body, some say they feel a warm sensation, some describe it as a tightness, some describe it as simply a good feeling. Most describe the overall experience as quite relaxing and are able to rest quite comfortably for their treatment time.


How long until I get better? How often do I have to come for treatment?

This depends on a number of conditions including what your chief complaint is, how long it has been present, your general state of health and your compliance. Typically, short-term (acute) conditions will respond within just a few treatments, while longer-term (chronic) conditions may take up to ten or more treatments before consistent change occurs. Often a maintenance schedule is suggested to keep systems running smoothly and steadily.


Do I have to take herbs?

No. While herbal medicine may be the best course of treatment for some conditions and can greatly support your acupuncture treatments, not all conditions require herbal medicine.


If I have acupuncture as a treatment can I stop seeing my Doctor?

No, in fact we recommend that for any medical concern you may see us for you continue to visit your primary medical practitioner. We practice an Integrative approach and believe that Western and Eastern medicine work in harmony.