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As acupuncture grows in popularity, more and more Americans have questions about the Traditional Chinese Medical system and just what to expect at a typical visit. Even after a visit, patients may leave with more questions than when they came in and confusion or worry about what their acupuncturist is assessing with their different and somewhat peculiar intake and evaluation.
10 questions health assessment
Most visits will start with focused assessment of the individual's chief complaint, which is to be expected at any medical visit. From there on, things begin to take a different turn. The acupuncturist will then go through their own version of the traditional "10 Question" review of systems and health evaluation. This covers all aspects of your health. It addresses physical concerns like pains, sleep, energy, digestion, heart and lung function etc., but also looks at constitutional aspects of your health. This can includes qualities like your body temperature, mood, emotions, strengths and weaknesses within your system.
Stick out your tongue!
Perhaps the oddest part of the visit for most patients is when the practitioner kindly asks them to stick out their tongue. Why does the acupuncturist do this? The tongue is an immensely useful tool for evaluating health, confirming the TCM diagnosis and monitoring treatments. It gives them a window to view what is going on inside the body and can directly reflect the health of the gut and GI system. Furthermore, differences in shape, color, size, geography and coating are all connected to different disharmonies within the body. If you don't believe this, begin to monitor to your tongue at home and you will be amazed at the various changes it can undergo, especially when you are coming down with something or not feeling your best.
Detailed pulse evaluation
Another attention drawing aspect of the visit is the unique form of pulse taking that is very different and often longer than at the conventional doctor's office. Some TCM practitioners will take up to several minutes thoroughly palpating the pulse in the three positions on both wrists. Patients often get anxious and joke "Am I dead? Can you not find the pulse?" In TCM, much more than the rate is evaluated. The strength, vessel tension, depth, length, character and beat pattern are all important indicators and linked to different aspects of health, organs and areas of the body.
"Does it hurt?" Most of the time, no. There may be a small pinch or a zing when the needle breaks the skin and enters the body but it should not last more than a few seconds. The needles should not cause any strong lasting, burning, sharp and or stabbing pains. Some needles may develop a dull ache around them. This is sensation known as "de-qi" and is generally a good thing. It is sign of qi (or loosely translated, energy) moving at the point. All treatments are tailored to the individual, their condition, constitutional strength and pain tolerance.
"Where do they put the needles?" Again, the point selection is unique to the individual and the manifestation of their condition. The needles can be placed almost anywhere but are most often put at specific locations along the wrists and ankles, head, ears, back and abdomen. Licensed practitioners are trained in the proper depth and angle of insertion for each of the 359 standard acupuncture points in the body, as well as various other needling systems on the ears, scalp, abdomen, hands and feet. These points have been discovered, defined and safely used for centuries.
Intrigued? Schedule an appointment with your local licensed acupuncturists today!
Sources for this article include
Ni, Maoshing. The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine. Shambhala Productions. 1995.
Beinfield, Harriet; Korngold, Erfem. Between Heaven and Earth. Random House. 1991.
Deadman P, Al-Khafaji M, Baker K. A Manual of Acupuncture. Journal of Chinese Medicine Publications. England. 2001.
About the author:
Lindsay Chimileski: Dr. Lindsay is a Naturopathic Physician and Acupuncture specialist. After receiving her Bachelors in Human Development and Family Studies from University of Connecticut, she proceeded to receive her Doctorate from University of Bridgeport's College of Naturopathic Medicine and Masters of Acupuncture from University of Bridgeport's Acupuncture Institute.
I have a passion for health education, patient empowerment and the restoration of balance- both on the individual and communal level. I believe all can learn how to live happily, in harmony with nature and in ways that support the body's innate ability to heal itself.
Please note: I am not giving any medical advice, just spreading the word and love of natural living, and the pressing health revolution. Always contact your doctor before starting or changing your health regimen.
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