There seems to be rampant, albeit anecdotal, evidence of friends (or friends of friends) who went in for a few sessions of acupuncture and were immediately cleared of back pain, sinus headaches and the like. Eyes may roll and skeptics may scoff, but there are many who swear by acupuncture as part of a general wellness plan to improve overall health, energy and mood. Graciela Alimanestianu, the licensed acupuncturist at Ciel, part of Geomare Wellness Center in Southampton, is one. She explained that even skeptics may benefit from going under the needle. “It doesn’t matter if you believe or not,” said Alimanestianu. “The medicine will work anyway.”
According to its adherents, acupuncture works by unlocking the body’s blocked energy, what traditional Chinese medicine calls qi (pronounced chi). Fatigue, stress and even childhood trauma can lead to energy blockages according to Alimanestianu. The half-inch to several inch-long needles are believed to activate the body’s natural healing mechanisms and get the energy flowing again by tapping into meridians and unlocking blockages.
Robert Lutz is an acupuncturist who works at New York College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, a Mineola-based school that trains practitioners in the four main branches of this discipline: Energy exercises, diet, tui na massage and acupuncture. “There are both Eastern and Western explanations for how acupuncture works,” he said. “Eastern thought views the body as an energy body. And through detailed diagnostics we identify imbalances and inherent weaknesses and strengths in patients. We use the needles to either sedate or energize, depending on what’s needed.”
Lutz points out that even according to Western medicine, there are quantifiable effects of acupuncture that can be measured, like changes in brain chemistry, increased neurotransmitters—the happy chemicals like endorphins and serotonin are boosted—and a relaxed heart rate and lowered blood pressure during and after treatment. Acupuncturists also examine pulse rate and look at the patient holistically. “We don’t view patients as being separate from their environment,” said Lutz. “We view them as part of larger cycles and environments and take into account climate and natural rhythms.” When Alimanestianu treats a new patient in her serene spa-like office, she too takes a detailed health history, including a tongue examination to look for telltale signs of illness or imbalances.
Even patients with a fear of needles need not fear treatment. The needles are very small, much smaller than standard injection needles, and only prick at the surface. Alimanestianu says most of her patients don’t even realize the needles are there once inserted and if a needle tugs or feels uncomfortable, she adjusts it. Some even fall asleep on the table. “Many patients report an out-of-body experience,” Alimanestianu said. “Or they just feel very relaxed.” Some people laugh, many cry and a few even get ill, what Alimanestianu called “a healing crisis.”
The scientific jury is out on acupuncture—numerous studies show efficacy, while others don’t—but believers don’t mind. The idea is that everything in your body is connected along meridians and intertwined in a way Western medicine allegedly fails to address. Acupuncture can often improve symptoms in as few as three sessions. Alimanestianu said that many who fail to see results after three may not be easily responsive to the treatment. Others see marked improvement then hit a wall. And sometimes patients will even have a temporary increase in symptoms as they heal. She tries to counsel them in more holistic health approaches, including diet or even cupping and moxibustion (burning of Chinese mugwort near the body).
Everything from the location of the needles to how long they stay in depends on the patient’s particular health history and needs. Sinus headaches, allergies, chronic pain and other ailments might respond to a single session or may require several treatments. According to Lutz, preventive wellness care is integral to harnessing the power of Chinese medicine. “Once the body is sick, it’s much harder to treat the patient. They have less reserves to draw from. It’s easier for us to find more subtle imbalances and work on them before they manifest as diseases.”
Lutz recommended looking at both credentials and education as well as interviewing a potential acupuncturist. “It’s both art and science, left and right brain, coming together.” However, the hemisphere of thought the process stems from is irrelevant to patients who keep coming back to the table for more East meets West pricking. The results must speak for themselves.
The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine maintains a database of licensed practitioners at NCCAOM.org. As always, consult your physician before undergoing any treatments.
The body is composed of 20 meridians that are considered to be the pathways to the more than 400 acupuncture points in the body. 12 principal meridians, divided into yin and yang groups, correspond to each organ and lead to an extremity. 8 extraordinary meridians are thought to be energy reservoirs.