Common Questions

Your TCM questions answered here. If not, feel free to email me.

Does acupuncture hurt?

The needles are so thin that ten to fifteen acupuncture needles can be placed in one hypodermic (injection) needle. The sensation that is expected from acupuncture is not painful, i.e. not what you would expect from a needle. The sensation is called “de qi” and it can include numbness, aching, tingling, warmth, distension, heaviness, or lightness. The sensation can be local or it may radiate. Most of my patients find acupuncture is actually very relaxing and often fall asleep.

What does TCM treat?

Traditional Chinese Medicine treats a wide variety of symptoms and illnesses, including: pain, injuries, headaches and migraines, stress, addictions, digestive problems, menstrual disorders, menopausal symptoms, fatigue, immune system disorders, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and allergies. This is not an inclusive list by any means, but it does offer some indications. TCM can also be used to maintain optimal health in the absence of illness.The World Health Organization (WHO) lists nearly 50 different illnesses that can be treated effectively by acupuncture.

Over its 2500 years of development, a wealth of experience has accumulated in the practice of acupuncture, attesting to the wide range of diseases and conditions that can be effectively treated with this approach.

[Note: This report has 293 references!]

— World Health Organization (WHO)

Some of these diseases are:

Neurological and Musculo-Skeletal Disorders

→ Headache/migraine
→ Back pain
→ Frozen shoulder
→ Tennis elbow
→ Knee pain
→ Sciatica
→ Arthritis
→ Trigeminal or intercostal neuralgia
→ Meniere’s Disease
→ Facial paralysis (Bell’s Palsy)
→ Paralysis following stroke
→ Neurogenic bladder dysfunction
→ Peripheral neuropathies

Gastrointestinal Disorders

→ Diarrhea, acute bacillary dysentery
→ Constipation
→ Acute and chronic gastritis
→ Colitis
→ Gastric hyperacidity
→ Chronic duodenal ulcer (pain relief)

Respiratory System

→ Acute sinusitis, acute rhinitis
→ Common cold
→ Acute bronchitis, acute tonsillitis, acute and chronic pharyngitis
→ Bronchial asthma (esp. children and in those without complications)

Disorders of the Mouth

→ Toothache
→ Gingivitis
→ Post-extraction pain

Disorders of the Eye

→ Acute conjunctivitis, central retinitis
→ Myopia (in children)
→ Cataracts (without complications)

This is not a list of limitations for acupuncture, as acupuncture can treat many other diseases, but it is an indication of some of the disorders that the WHO has deemed effective based on clinical experience.

How safe is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is very safe. In British Columbia, acupuncturists must be licensed (see question below regarding designations). This requires 3-5 years of full-time schooling and ongoing training.

In addition, all acupuncturists are required to take a two-day acupuncture safety course which includes clean needle technique (including disposable sterile needles) and acupoint safety. As with any medical treatment, there may be risks involved for the individual and it is important to discuss these with your practitioner.

Generally speaking, acupuncture treatment is safe, if it is performed properly by a well-trained practitioner. Unlike many drugs, it is non-toxic, and adverse reactions are minimal. This is probably one of the chief reasons why acupuncture is so popular in the treatment of chronic pain in many countries. As mentioned previously, acupuncture is comparable with morphine preparations in its effectiveness against chronic pain, but without the adverse effects of morphine, such as dependency.

— World Health Organization (WHO)

Is acupuncture covered by medical insurance?

Many extended health insurance plans do cover up to $500 of acupuncture each year. Check with your health insurance provider for details.

What other options for treatment do I have if I do not want needles?

Traditional Chinese Medicine offers more treatment options than just acupuncture. Acupressure, cupping, and moxibustion are alternative options. Chinese herbs can also be combined specifically to suit your needs and your body’s constitution. Food suggestions can also be made.

How do I take the Chinese herbs?

There are many options now available. Traditionally, most Chinese herbs are given uncooked to the patient who boils them and drinks the resulting broth. As many people may find this to be time-consuming, there are easy alternatives.

I use concentrated herbal powders that can be combined specifically to suit your needs. The powders are simply mixed in warm or hot water and consumed two to three times daily. The powders can also be put into capsules. Pre-made Chinese herbal formulas are also available in capsule, tablet, tea, and tincture forms.

How do I know about the quality and safety of the Chinese herbs?

Because the properties of each herb are inherent on the soil in which they are grown, it is important that they are grown in the right region to optimize their medicinal benefits. Thus, most of the herbs are grown in various areas of China.

To ensure their quality and safety, the herbs are tested, processed, and packaged in plants that comply with GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) requirements. Most of the herbal companies that I use are located in the United States and have their own regulations through the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). When the herbs are imported into Canada, they must again pass rigorous Canadian standards and testing.

For more on this, check out my blog post, “What pharmacy students asked me about Chinese herbs.”

There are so many different titles of Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners. How do I choose one and what do the designations mean?

Every province (and state) is different, but these are the regulations in BC:

There are 4 levels of registration for TCM in BC and each allows a different type of assessment and treatment. Both Registered Acupuncturist (R.Ac.) and Registered Chinese Herbalist (R.TCM.H.) require 3 years of training with a minimum of 1900 hours of study and training. A Registered TCM Practitioner (R.TCM.P.) can practice both herbs and acupuncture and they receive a minimum of 4 years with at least 2600 hours. A Registered Dr. of TCM (Dr.TCM) has the highest level of training of 5 years at 3250 hours.

In addition to the schooling, we also need to pass 2 examinations for each (written and practical), take safety courses for each, maintain requirements for good standing of the regulatory body, complete 50 hours of continuing education credits every 2 years, and be insured for liability and malpractice for minimum amount required by the college.

Lotsa hoops to jump! But all of that should be reassuring to you that we’re well-trained and practiced in what we do! All of this happens through the CTCMA (College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Association). The role of the CTCMA is to protect the public by making sure that we follow the rules. If you want to know if someone is a registrant (they should not be practicing in BC if they are not!), check out the listing here:

Can I combine TCM treatment with conventional medicine?

Acupuncture is easily combined with conventional medicine, including prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. If, however, you are taking blood thinners or immuno-suppressive medications, it is suggested to inform your acupuncturist.

Chinese herbals can also safely be combined with pharmaceutical medication, western herbs, homeopathic medicines, or vitamins and minerals. An initial consultation allows me to assess your constitution and prepare an herbal formulation specifically for you. It is also advisable to take your Chinese herbs at a time apart from when you take your pharmaceutical medications to minimize any potential interactions.

How many treatments will I need?

The number of treatments will vary from person to person, depending on the duration and severity of the illness, injury, or symptoms. As a general rule, the longer the duration of the problem and the more severe the symptoms, the more treatments will be required. For example, a recent sprain may require only 1-3 treatments, more closely timed; while degenerative disk disease will need at least a few months of treatments, but the treatments may be spaced farther apart.

The number of acupuncture treatments required may be lessened if Chinese herbals and dietary changes are also incorporated. Combining herbs and acupuncture is an efficient and effective way to speed the healing time and reduce costs.

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