Professional Empowerment for Practitioners

FAQs

Q?

Do medical aids in South Africa cover acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine?

A.

Yes, many do cover acupuncture quite generously. It is up to you to phone your medical aid and find out. If the answer is yes, then ask your acupuncturist or Chinese herbalist to provide the necessary codes on your invoice so that you can claim back.

Q?

How many sessions will I need?

A.

This depends on the condition and the constitution of the patient. A young, otherwise healthy adult with an acute condition may respond quickly in relation to a middle-aged patient who has been suffering from a chronic condition for years. Some patients experience immediate relief, others may take months or years to achieve results. Patients with severe pain usually have at least two sessions per week, the frequency of which decreases as the condition improves. On average, one should ideally plan for at least four to six sessions to see results. Thereafter, you can return for occasional 'maintenance' or 'tune-ups'.

Q?

How long does a session last?

A.

A typical session lasts anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. Needles normally stay in place for 25 minutes. When the needles have been removed, the patient should ideally rest a few minutes and then get up slowly.

Q?

What can I expect at a typical visit?

A.

Your acupuncturist or Chinese herbalist will usually take a comprehensive case history, ask many questions which may appear unrelated to your immediate problem. This is because the practitioner is trying to form a diagnosis relating to your constitutional patterns. He or she will probably ask to see your tongue, the colour, coating, shape, size of which provide clues on the health of organs and meridians. In addition the practitioner may feel the pulse on both hands, again to obtain information about specific meridians and organs.

Q?

Which conditions can be treated by Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Herbal medicine?

A.

It is perhaps better to ask which conditions cannot be treated by Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese herbal medicine. Obviously if you are involved in a serious car accident you should go straight to hospital. It is also true that some conditions benefit from an integrated approach, not one or the other exclusively.

In summary, the following groups of illnesses can be treated: neurological and musculo-skeletal;  gastro-intestinal; respiratory; cardiovascular; gynaecological disorders; ear, nose and throat problems; psycho-emotional problems; endocrine and metabolic disorders; urological conditions.

You will need to ask your practitioner about your specific condition, but remember that traditional Chinese medicine does not compartmentalise illnesses in the way that Western orthodox medicine does. For example, to treat sinusitis, traditional Chinese medicine will not focus purely on your sinuses and allergies understood in terms of antibody/immunoglobulin E responses. It will find your body's imbalances, excesses and weaknesses and necessarily address those in the treatment of sinusitis.

Q?

How does acupuncture work?

A.

According to traditional theory, the body has an organised system of energy paths which connect with the vital organs and move through different layers of the body. Vital energy or 'Qi' (pronounced 'chie') flows along these energy paths or channels and has a dynamic relationship to the Blood. When this flow is disturbed or blocked, the flow of Qi (and consequently the flow of Blood) is also disturbed or blocked. As a result, the normal physiological processes of the body are hindered and illnesses start to develop.

According to Western 'scientific' theory, there are a number of possible explanations. One is the 'gate control theory': nerve impulses travel through nerve fibres to the thalamus, where an overcrowding of impulses blocks perception or causes the 'gate' to close, thus preventing the person from feeling pain. Yet in experiments in which nerves were cut, acupuncture still relieved pain. Further research has revealed that acupuncture stimulates nerves to release endorphins and encephalins, morphine-like substances, which also block the ability of the brain to perceive pain.

Acupuncture also has a homeostatic influence: it restores the body's internal environment to an optimal state: blood pressure decreases, blood flow improves, immune response increases, muscles relax, stress diminishes, and the patient often falls asleep in a treatment. Acupuncture is able to promote healing through multiple mechanisms, even if these are poorly understood in terms of Western 'science'.

Q?

Do I need to ‘believe’ that acupuncture will work?

A.

The placebo effect is part of every type of medicinal practice, from orthodox medicine to shamanistic healing. It is difficult, if not impossible (and undesirable), to remove the placebo effect from a treatment scenario. But no, it is not necessary to 'believe' that acupuncture will work for it to have a positive effect. If acupuncture has been shown to help horses and tortoises, to whom we do not normally attribute 'opinion' and 'faith', then something very real is happening.

Q?

What is the difference between acupuncture and ‘dry needling’?

A.

Acupuncture usually refers to treatment based on a Chinese medicine diagnosis, i.e. based on a comprehensive examination of the patient in terms of Chinese medicine theories. A practitioner will create a point formula that acts locally and distally to 'the problem area'. The training required to become an acupuncturist is between three and five years and usually includes the study of both Western and Eastern medicine.

Dry needling as it is taught today in post-graduate courses usually takes place over six weekends or less. It usually understands the effect of filiform needles on the body in terms of nerve physiology, neurotransmittors, 'myofascial trigger points', 'intramuscular stimulation' and conditions such as 'spinal segmental sensitization'. In general it focuses on the treatment of musculo-skeletal problems.

Physiotherapists and chiropractors generally tend to use dry needling, although in South Africa today, there are Western medical doctors who are registered with both the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa (AHPCSA), i.e. they practise both Western and Chinese medicine.

Q?

Should I stop taking my prescribed medication if I go for acupuncture or herbal treatments?

A.

Do not stop taking prescribed medication without guidance from the doctor who prescribed your medication. Many people seek help from alternative medicine when they are dissatisfied with drug treatment, and it may be possible to reduce or eventually discontinue drugs, but only in joint consultation with your prescribing doctor and acupuncturist or herbalist.

Q?

Are acupuncture needles painful?

A.

Acupuncture needles are a fraction of the thickness of a typical hypodermic syringe needle, which is in fact a hollow tube used to inject substances into the body. Acupuncture needles are filiform (solid) and thinner, so some types can even fit into a hypodermic needle. Acupuncture needles also have a doweled (rounded tip). This means that a good quality needle combined with good technique often results in the patient not feeling the insertion at all. Some areas of the body are more sensitive than others, for example the face, hands and feet have more nerve endings. In general, needling does not have to be painful.

Once needles are in place, the patient may feel pressure, tingling, heaviness, or an 'electric' sensation up and down the affected meridian. The acupuncturist will also twirl the needles once or twice to stimulate the flow of Qi.

If someone is genuinely too scared to try acupuncture, they can receive other forms of Chinese medicine treatment, such as acupressure, tuina, cupping, moxibustion or herbal formulas.

Q?

Are acupuncture needles clean?

A.

By law, all registered acupuncturists are required to us sterile needles. Most acupuncturists use sterile disposable needles, i.e. needles that are packed individually or in groups of ten, in sterile packaging and only used once, i.e. the needles are disposed of in a sharps bin after removal.

Q?

Are there any side-effects?

A.

Acupuncture has few side effects. Some patients feel deeply relaxed after a session, others feel energised. The reaction depends on the constitution of the patient and it is important to give this feedback to the practitioner.

Acupuncture usually doesn't cause bleeding, but a small bruise may form, or a few drops of blood may be released when the needle is removed. Rarely, a patient may feel lightheaded or dizzy during or after a session, this may be either due to a subconscious fear of needles, or because the patient has had a treatment on an empty stomach, however this passes after a short time.

Occasionally an existing pain is exacerbated for a day or two before it lifts, i.e. it gets worse before it gets better. This is often a sign that blocked Qi is now moving, much like the pain that results when you stand up after sitting for long periods on your legs.

Q?

Are there any side-effects?

A.

Acupuncture has few side effects. Some patients feel deeply relaxed after a session, others feel energised. The reaction depends on the constitution of the patient and it is important to give this feedback to the practitioner.

Acupuncture usually doesn’t cause bleeding, but a small bruise may form, or a few drops of blood may be released when the needle is removed. Rarely, a patient may feel lightheaded or dizzy during or after a session, this may be either due to a subconscious fear of needles, or because the patient has had a treatment on an empty stomach, however this passes after a short time.

Occasionally an existing pain is exacerbated for a day or two before it lifts, i.e. it gets worse before it gets better. This is often a sign that blocked Qi is now moving, much like the pain that results when you stand up after sitting for long periods on your legs.

 

 

Q?

How can I prepare for an acupuncture session?

A.

  1. Wear loose, comfortable clothing. It is often not necessary to remove all your clothes, but the acupuncturist will need to at least access your lower legs and forearms.
  2. Have a light snack, not a heavy meal, before your session.
  3. Stop brushing your tongue at least three days before the session to facilitate tongue diagnosis.
  4. Bring a list of your current medications, any blood test results, X-ray or scan reports.
  5. Tell the acupuncturist or herbalist if you are menstruating or pregnant.
  6. Do not overexert yourself immediately after the session, permit time to relax or rest.