Frequently Asked Questions
About Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs
What conditions can you help me with?
What can I expect on my first visit?
Can TCM be used together with Western medicine?
What is acupuncture?
How does acupuncture work?
What does acupuncture feel like? Do the needles hurt?
What is moxibustion?
What are Chinese Herbs?
How do I take Chinese Herbs?
What is tuina?
What do treatments cost?
How much do Chinese herbs cost?
What conditions can you help me with?
In short, a lot of them! Many people think of acupuncture when they are in pain (and for good reason) but Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has much more to offer. In China, the emphasis is actually on herbal medicine and internal disease. For a quick overview, here is a list of conditions the World Health Organization considers treatable by acupuncture. And that’s just acupuncture – it doesn’t even address the possibilities with herbs and manual therapies like tuina. This article will discuss a few of the areas in which TCM is particularly beneficial.
TCM, and especially acupuncture (including auriculotherapy, electrical and laser stimulation) is an excellent treatment for pain, including muscular and joint pain and dysfunction, as well as many types of headache. “Arthritis Today” has a good article about rheumatologists who are incorporating alternative medicine into their treatments for arthritis with excellent results. For musculo-skeletal problems, treatments are much enhanced when combined with skilled bodywork, plus an evaluation of the patient’s postural and movement patterns. There are also numerous ways to choose acupuncture points; one method may be ineffective for a particular case, while another can work very well. If you’ve been disappointed by a simplistic acupuncture treatment in the past, please give us a chance to show you what a skilled practitioner can do.
For internal medicine, TCM is especially useful with so-called “functional” problems, for which Western medicine often has few satisfactory solutions. Some examples of these are Irritable Bowel Syndrome (and many other digestive problems), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Premenstrual Syndrome and Menopausal Syndrome. Allergies are frequently treated with TCM, which is favored by many who dislike taking medications. Many people get relief from anxiety and depression by using acupuncture and herbs. TCM treatments can also be great for the common cold (best when you treat it early!) and for acute digestive upsets, such as the diarrhea and vomiting associated with “stomach flu.”
In America, TCM treatments are now being recognized for their usefulness as supportive treatments in serious diseases like cancer. Acupuncture can help reduce the nausea from chemotherapy, improve appetite, reduce pain, and generally enhance the patient’s quality of life.
If you would like to discuss how TCM might help your own condition, feel free to call or email for more information.
What can I expect on my first visit?
Your first consultation may be longer than subsequent sessions. Your practitioner needs to assess your general state of health, identify the underlying pattern(s) of disharmony related to your current issues, and evaluate your constitutional condition, in order to give you the most effective treatment.
You will be asked about your current symptoms and what treatment you have received so far, your medical history and that of your close family, your diet, digestive system, sleeping patterns and emotional state.
To assist in the diagnosis, your practitioner will feel your pulses on both wrists, noting their quality, rhythm and strength. The shape, color and coating of your tongue also give insight into your physical health. Once enough information has been gathered to determine the likely causes of your problems, your practitioner can select the most appropriate treatment.
Traditional Chinese Medicine can evaluate your health from a variety of different aspects or paradigms. There is a lot of overlap between these inter-connected points of view, and all share a comprehensive holistic approach. But each has its advantages in different situations. Meridian theory is especially helpful in selecting acupuncture points. “Zang Fu” or organ function theory is more commonly used by herbalists. Your health can also be evaluated in terms of “Vital Substances” (such as Qi, Essence, Blood) or as affected by the traditional categories of pathogens (such as Wind, Heat, Phlegm, etc.)
For your visit, loose, comfortable clothing is appropriate. You should be aware that your acupuncturist may need to access points on your torso as well as on your arms and legs. Stimulation of specific areas on or beneath the skin affects the functioning of certain organs in the body. However, those areas may not be close to the part of the body where the problem is experienced. For example, if you suffer from headaches, needles may be inserted in your foot or hand.
There are around 500 acupuncture points on the body, from which your acupuncturist will use a selection of perhaps ten or twelve of these for each treatment. It is common that during a course of treatments, different points will be selected as your condition changes. Usually acupuncture is done with you lying comfortably on a treatment table, but sometimes it is more appropriate to have you sitting. In some cases, especially for pain problems, you will be asked to move the affected part of the body while treatment is applied to another area (that is related to the pain by meridian connections).
Acupuncture may be supplemented with moxa, a smoldering herb which is used to warm acupuncture points to encourage the body’s energy to flow smoothly. Other methods of stimulating acupuncture points include using lasers or electro-acupuncture. Chinese bodywork(Tuina)is particularly suitable for small children or for people with a fear of needles, but it is also used before or after needling for conditions affecting the muscular levels of the body.
- You should not receive acupuncture on an empty stomach, when intoxicated, or if unusually weak and debilitated.
- Don’t scrape or brush the coating off your tongue, and avoid eating or drinking things that could change the color of your tongue (coffee, juice, gum) for a couple of hours before your session.
- Wear loose fitting, comfortable clothes.
- Bring a list of the drugs/supplements you are taking.
- Come 15-20 minutes early to complete your patient information and health history forms (or download them here)
Yes! We have a great deal of respect for the knowledge, training, and responsibilities of your medical doctor, and have no desire to interfere with the care you receive from your MD. On the other hand we are pleased to offer TCM options where they seem well suited for our patients. We are happy to discuss our TCM treatments with your doctor so that they may be fully appraised of our treatment strategies. This can be particularly appropriate when you are taking nutritional supplements or herbs at the same time as pharmaceuticals.
In America, Integrative Medicine is becoming a hot topic. The term “CAM” (Complimentary and Alternative Medicine) is sometimes used in reference to treatments like acupuncture, nutritional supplements and physical medicine that many Western MD’s are integrating into their treatment plans. Ted Kaptchuck, a Chinese-trained Oriental Medicine Doctor is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Hospitals are putting acupuncturists on staff. In New Mexico, acupuncturists are licensed as Doctors of Oriental Medicine and are considered primary care physicians.
In modern China, traditional medicine has long been practiced alongside Western medicine, even within the same hospitals. In fact, both traditional and Western trained practitioners are considered Doctors, and their scopes of practice overlap. TCM doctors might prescribe antibiotics, for example, and perform minor surgical procedures. Western-trained doctors are somewhat familiar with Chinese herbs, and may prescribe them to their patients. Braxton’s training has been with TCM doctors who have learned this integrated approach, and he supports it wholeheartedly.
Herbal medicine in Europe rather well accepted. Germany’s Commission E has published monographs on medicinal herbs that are considered authoritative in their review of safety and efficacy criteria. They are heavily relied upon in Western publications, including the Physicians Desk Reference (PDR) for herbs.
The American medical community has less experience with medicinal herbs, and your doctor may be reluctant to recommend them. However, Chinese herbology has 50 years of clinical experience combining with Western medicine, particularly in the treatment of serious in-patient conditions. More and more research is becoming available. There are now English language texts on the pharmacology of Chinese herbs, new research is being published, and there is at least one well-referenced online resource available to patients and practitioners about drug-herb interactions. This is the Safetychecker database, maintained by Healthnotes, Inc. and licensed to various health care companies.
On the other hand, natural does not automatically mean safe. Medicinal herbs do affect your body, and can do so in adverse ways. Some herbs are toxic if not properly prepared or if given in the wrong dosage. Almost any herb can cause adverse effects if its properties are not those you need. It takes years of specialized training and supervised clinical application to become adept in the clinical use of herbs. For your safety, please insure that anyone recommending Chinese herbs to you is NCCAOM Certified as a Diplomate in Chinese Herbology or in Oriental Medicine (which includes the herbology certification). Other certification programs may be acceptable, however most state legislatures and Oriental Medicine colleges recognize the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine for these purposes. www.nccaom.org
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medical treatment using very fine, sterile needles inserted at particular points on the body. (Actually, we have some needle-free alternatives, mentioned later.) Acupuncture can be used for a wide range of internal, neurological and musculo-skeletal problems, although in the West, many people know it only for its excellent ability to treat pain.
Point selection is based on a number of criteria, taking into account not only the actions of each point, but how they interact with other points, and how they affect your overall health, as well as the specific problem you are being treated for. Each point can be manipulated using a different technique, depending on your particular needs. There are also several overall systems of treatment, such as Wrist and Ankle Acupuncture, Scalp Acupuncture, Korean Hand Therapy, Balance Method, Auriculotherapy and Five Element approaches. An advanced practitioner will be able to apply the system that best suits your condition, and chose the best combination of points and needling techniques within that system.
There are some interesting specialty applications of acupuncture, including facial treatments (rapidly gaining popularity as an alternative to cosmetic surgery) and modern versions of Scalp Acupuncture which are used in China as the primary treatment for stroke victims (after the patient has been stabilized with allopathic care in a hospital).
Acupuncture points can also be stimulated without needles. Pressure from hands or mechanical devices can be used, as can electrical stimulation, heat, cold, or laser light. These alternative stimulating methods allow us to use this incredible healing system on even the most sensitive or immune-compromised individuals.
A diseased state can occur in your body as the result of various causes, such as trauma, toxic substances, or dysfunction of the body’s internal mechanisms. Our emotional state can also affect the function of the body (and of course, our state of mind is affected by the physical state of our bodies). Internal physical and emotional problems can manifest externally, in skin and muscle tissue. Specific points or regions can become painful, tense, or sensitive. Traditional Chinese Medicine developed a system of therapy that uses these points both for diagnosis and treatment. Acupuncture and other traditional therapies affect the body’s internal condition by manipulating these outer layers of tissue. The mechanism of acupuncture has been explained by Oriental medicine for centuries using traditional concepts, while modern medicine is really just beginning to propose explanations for its effectiveness.
A MODERN MEDICINE PERSPECTIVE
Here are a few known mechanisms recognized by modern allopathic medicine. Ongoing research suggests other possibilities, which are still being studied.
Biochemical Defense Mechanism: The tiny prick of an acupuncture needle creates a site of injury at the cellular level. The body s response to injury is a release of chemicals vital to cellular repair. In this way, an acupuncture needle insertion initiates both tissue and cellular biochemical defenses. This helps to reduce local inflammation and relieve pain.
Endorphins: Acupuncture and tuina stimulate the body to produce its own pain-relieving chemicals called “endorphins”, which are also known as “anti-stress hormones”.
Gate Control Theory: Pain is transmitted from the periphery to the brain via the spinal cord. There is a mechanism (or “gate”) in the spinal cord, which stops pain messages from reaching the brain. The insertion of the thin needles of acupuncture, or the manual manipulation of the tissues, can close this gate, thus lessening the sensation of pain. Endorphins (above) can also block pain pathways by acting on these gates.
Electrical Conduction: It has been noted that acupuncture points have different electrical potentials than other areas of the body. It is not known exactly why these different electrical potentials exist but research suggests that acupuncture, on one level, works by affecting electrical conduction in the body. Research into this phenomenon continues.
Autonomic Nervous System: The autonomic nervous system is responsible for coordinating and conducting all of the body’s involuntary functions. Acupuncture and tuina “turn on” the conserving, healing function of the autonomic nervous system while overriding the fight-or-flight function which, when overactive, puts a great deal of wear and tear on our bodies and minds.
Trigger Point Theory: Through clinical research, western physicians have discovered specific points of tension in the body that, when released, are particularly effective in the alleviation of musculo-skeletal pain. The locations of these points correlate considerably with the acupuncture points of Oriental medicine. Acupuncturists in Colorado can also do injection therapy (of vitamins, saline or herbal solutions) which is an especially effective method for treating Trigger Points.
AN ORIENTAL MEDICINE PERSPECTIVE
The traditional explanation of Oriental medicine’s effectiveness is based on an energetic model rather than the biochemical model of western medicine. Ancient oriental physicians proposed that our energetic life-force, called Qi (“Chee”) in Chinese, circulates along channels or meridians throughout the body and links all of the body’s parts and functions. Qi maintains and nurtures our physical body as well as our mind. It keeps the blood circulating, warms the body and fights disease. When a person is healthy, Qi flows smoothly through the channels but if, for some reason, the flow is blocked, weak, or excessive, then symptoms and/or illness occurs.
In treatment, the aim of the therapist is to correct the flow of Qi by inserting needles or applying other techniques to specific points along the channels. In so doing, a change in the function of the body is achieved. Changes in Qi precede physical change, so acupuncture and tuina can act as preventive medicine, correcting energy flow before a serious illness occurs. If physical change has already occurred, it can be reversed by adjusting the flow of Qi.
Most people’s experience of needles is of those used in injections and blood tests. Acupuncture needles bear little resemblance to these. They are much finer and are solid rather than hollow. When the needle is inserted, the sensation is often described as a tingling or dull ache. Needles are inserted either for a second or two, or may be left in place for 30 minutes or more, depending on the effect required. During treatment, patients commonly experience a heaviness in the limbs or a pleasant feeling of relaxation. The benefits of acupuncture frequently include more than just relief from a particular condition. Many people find that it can also lead to increased energy levels, better appetite and sleep as well as an enhanced sense of overall well being.
Moxibustion, or moxa for short, is an ancient form of heat therapy. Moxa uses the ground up leaves of the plant mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris or “ai ye” in Chinese). The burning of moxa is believed to expel cold and warm the meridians, which leads to a smoother flow of blood and Qi. It is used specifically for patients suffering from cold or stagnant constitutions. It should not be used on anyone diagnosed with too much heat.
Moxa is especially good for some kinds of joint pains, fatigue and deficiency, digestive disorders, menstrual cramps, irregular periods, and infertility (when these symptoms are without signs of excess heat in the body)
There are two types of moxibustion: direct and indirect. In direct moxibustion, a small, cone-shaped amount of herb is placed on top of an acupuncture point and burned. The patient will experience a pleasant heating sensation that penetrates deep into the skin, but should not experience any pain, blistering or scarring unless the moxa is left in place for too long. Indirect moxibustion is currently the more popular form of care because there is a much lower risk of pain or burning. In indirect moxibustion, a practitioner lights one end of a moxa stick, roughly the shape and size of a cigar, and holds it close to the area being treated for several minutes until the area becomes flushed. A modern application uses small pre-formed pieces of moxa mounted on a thin base with a gentle adhesive that keeps the moxa in place and controls the amount of space between the skin and the embers.
Moxa can also be burned on the exposed end of an acupuncture needle, known as warm needle technique. This simultaneous use of moxibustion with the acupuncture needle, when appropriate, intensifies the therapeutic benefit of the given acupuncture point.
Chinese herbology is a very sophisticated system of analyzing and administering herbs according to their properties (individually and when combined together into a formula). These properties are described in the same terms as the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) system of disease diagnosis. Because of this, an herbal formula can be designed specifically for your particular state of heath, and will be reformulated as your health changes.
The properties of the herbs and their interactions have been studied for thousands of years; modern formulations are still built upon the proven principles outlined in the traditional texts. This is a great strength of Chinese herbal medicine which is almost totally lacking in Western herbology and supplement use. TCM has a highly refined system of determining which herbs are best for you according to a comprehensive, holistic analysis of your health, and we have unmatched clinical experience of actually using the herbs in a multitude of combinations. However, a thorough knowledge of TCM and the herbal materia medica is necessary to properly diagnose (according to TCM principles), develop a treatment plan, and create an appropriate herbal formulation to carry out that plan. Any one disease in allopathic terms may have several variations in TCM terms (according to the specific symptoms that are seen), and each is treated differently.
Modern research also brings a deeper understanding of the herbs. For example, we now have evidence of which herbs help lower cholesterol. Even so, of those herbs, a Chinese herbalist would still choose the ones are best for the patient’s overall health situation, based on the herbs’ other known properties. In this way, the patient’s treatment is optimized and side effects are avoided.
There are thousands of herbs recorded for medical use in China, but in modern times we focus on a few hundred of them. (For convenience we commonly refer to all the medicinal substances as “herbs”, but in fact, non-herbaceous plants and even a few non-plant substances may be used, including shells, minerals and animal products.) Some of these are familiar in the West (such as astragalus) but many are not. At the same time, some useful Western herbs are not part of the TCM materia medica. However, by analyzing the properties of those herbs in TCM terms we can understand their possible place in an herbal formula for any particular patient.
One caution: herbal medicine can be powerful. Just because they are “natural” does not mean they are safe in untrained hands. It takes years of specialized training and supervised clinical application to become adept in the clinical use of herbs. Your herbalist should also know how to stay current with research on herb-drug interactions. In Colorado, any Licensed Acupuncturist can legally recommend herbs and dietary guidelines, but there is NO requirement to be specifically trained or certified in herbal medicine. For your safety, please insure that anyone recommending Chinese herbs to you is NCCAOM Certified as a Diplomate in Chinese Herbology or in Oriental Medicine (which includes the herbology certification). Other certification programs may be acceptable, however most state legislatures and Oriental Medicine colleges recognize the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine for these purposes. www.nccaom.org
Traditionally, Chinese herbs are used in their raw (or dried) form and simmered in water to make a medicinal tea (decoction). The herbs themselves are usually discarded afterwards, except for a few valuable ones, which may be eaten. Alternatively, the raw herbs might be ground into a powder and taken that way, or made into pills. Some herbs can be soaked in alcohol to make a tincture.
The traditional teas are still popular in mainland China, and with some Western herbalists. But there are some drawbacks. Almost all herbs must be soaked for quite a while before cooking, and it takes time to simmer the tea. Many herbs should be prepared before simmering by various methods (stir frying in other substances, or charring them, for example). Some herbs are toxic if not properly prepared. Some herbs must be cooked a long time, others must be cooked a short time in a closed pot to avoid losing the active aromatic oils. Medicinal minerals must be ground, and sometimes baked first. Some effective substances will only dissolve out into alcohol, and not into water.
The chances of a patient preparing everything optimally, and routinely, are really not that good. Either the patient does not get all the possible benefit from the preparation, or because of the time required, doesn’t get them prepared at all. (In China, the pharmacy usually prepares the decoctions with semi-automated cookers.) So, in the last 30 years or so, pre-decocted, granulated forms of the herbs have become much more popular, especially in Taiwan, Japan, and the West. In the factories, the precise preparation method for each herb or formula can be carried out in a controlled environment. Even the aromatic oils that would be lost in your kitchen are captured and put back into the final product.
To take them, the granules are simply measured out with a small scoop according to the herbalist’s directions, and dissolved into hot water. It’s as easy as making instant coffee (and unfortunately, may not taste much better).
Another form of Chinese herbs are the so-called “patent” medicines. There are ready-made formulas in pill form. Many of the traditional formulas are available as patents, and there are many modern formulas as well. Patents are great for convenience, but cannot be customized for you. The standard dosages are also fairly low. But they are good for prescriptions that need to be taken long term, or those which taste especially bad in tea form, and for formulations which are very complex and/or use herbs that are hard to get or prepare.
There are also herbal treatments for topical use, which may come in powders, adhesive patches, lotions or liquids. Other items, such as cough syrups are also available.
Tuina (pronounced “TWEE-nah”)is a form of bodywork developed over many generations in China. It was mentioned in medical texts as early as the Qin dynasty over 2000 years ago. Modern tuina training incorporates the classical concepts of Qi, Blood, Channels, etc. but also references modern anatomical and physiological knowledge. In China, a Dr. practicing tuina has a much wider scope of practice than in America, and can use techniques ranging from massage to bone setting and resetting dislocated joints. In America, our focus is on correcting soft tissue dysfunction, mobilizing joints, improving range of motion, etc.
A few tuina techniques are similar to Swedish style massage, others are more like manual Trigger Point therapy, while still others seem to be unique to the Chinese system. It takes years of training and supervised practice to become skilled in the techniques, and to develop the clinic knowledge necessary to choose the right techniques for any particular patient.
Tuina can be used to treat both internal illnesses, and external, musculo-skeletal problems. Most commonly, it is used for pain and dysfunction of joints, muscles, fascia and other soft tissue, and for rehabilitation after injury. Neck pain, low back pain, frozen shoulder, sciatica, carpal tunnel, and tennis elbow a just a few conditions that tuina can help.
Tuina is used less commonly for internal medicine, but may be used for patients who do not like needles or herbs, or who want a treatment they can safely learn to practice at home. Digestive disorders are perhaps the most common internal condition to be treated with tuina.
The specialty of pediatric tuina, however, actually focuses on internal medicine. While the TCM diagnostic theory is the same as for adults, pediatric tuina treatment focuses on the hands and the spine. In fact, while some of the traditional body points for adults are used, there is a complete set of special points used in pediatric tuina.
Pediatric tuina is considered appropriate for children up to 12 years old, but is especially effective in children three and younger. (With older, more developed children, we begin to apply more of the adult treatment techniques). This form of treatment is typically used for respiratory and digestive problems, diarrhea, bed wetting and night crying. Many parents also like to learn general health care techniques that help tonify their child’s “Protective Qi”. Their tuina sessions are not only very special bonding times, but also help to optimize the healthy function of their child’s internal systems.
At Ponder Natural Health, we strive to keep treatments affordable, while spending enough time with you to fully understand your needs and concerns, treat you appropriately, and educate you about your part in returning to your optimal state of health. Fees shown below are discounted for Payment at Time of Service. When fees are billed for payment at a later date (as with insurance claims) then the non-discounted fees apply.
$90 Now only $70
Your initial visit includes an in-depth review of your medical history and our comprehensive intake form. Treatment strategies and techniques are chosen according to which are best suited to your condition. Possibilities include acupuncture (or a needle-free variation), tuina (bodywork), auriculotherapy, electrical stimulation, and moxa. Herbal and nutritional recommendations are also included. (The actual cost of any herbs/supplements you may need is extra).
Follow-up treatments: $70
During these visits, your progress will be evaluated, and a treatment chosen according to your current condition. If you are taking herbs, your prescription will also be reviewed, and adjusted as appropriate.
Follow-up Herbal consultation only: $55
Although most conditions benefit from a combination of herbal medicine and acupuncture (or related techniques) some can be effectively treated with herbal medicine alone. In fact, sometimes herbs/supplements and/or dietary changes are the most important part of a treatment. For those cases, we offer herbal consultations (after your initial visit) during which your progress will be reviewed, and your herbal prescription adjusted accordingly. (The actual cost of any herbs/supplements you may need is extra).
Chinese “Patent medicines” or ready-made pills typically cost from $9-$20 per package. At standard dosages (relatively low) a package lasts about a week.
Customized granulated formulas (which are mixed with hot water to make an herbal tea) are charged by weight and value of the herbs in the formula. Average cost is $15-$25 for a week’s dosage.
Herbs in the raw form cost about the same price per equivalent dosage as the granule form. Although we don’t stock many of these, we have made arrangements with a highly regarded Chinese herbal pharmacy (Mayway) to custom make any required raw herb formulas and deliver them by mail, packaged and ready to cook.
We also carry Western vitamins and supplements from a few trusted manufacturers with very high quality standards and well researched formulations.