Acupuncture is an Eastern medical therapy that employs a strategy of inserting filiform (solid, instead of hollow) needles into specific points in order to maintain the flow and balance of Qi in the body, which activates the body’s natural and instinctive healing capability.
For most members of the scientific community and the general public, acupuncture is likely the most recognized therapeutic type of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Historical records as old as 3,500 years demonstrate acupuncture’s significance in providing relief for a variety of physical and other ailments, as well as having been utilized to support disease prevention and the promotion of health and wellness.
In the Eastern theory of medicine, the main therapeutic goal of acupuncture is encouraging the human body towards achieving homeostasis, which is defined as a natural state of balance in physiological operations and organ function. Acupuncture accomplishes homeostasis when Qi (pronounced “chee”), which is defined as “energy” or “vital force”, flows smoothly and unobstructed through a system of channels called meridians, thus helping to regulate the body’s activities.
In Eastern medicine, the body’s many systems such as the circulatory, cardiac, pulmonary, lymphatic, endocrine, nervous, and digestive systems all depend upon Qi’s smooth and balanced movement through these channels, from the microscopic cellular level to the organ level. Ultimately, the workings of Qi culminate in a harmonious unity of optimum functioning at the whole-body level. Consequently, homeostasis of the body and mind is achieved, allowing for such things as better sleep, better mood, improved lung function with proper intake of oxygen, optimal perfusion of oxygen into tissues, proper blood flow throughout the body and just having an overall improvement in health and wellness.
The science of acupuncture
Past and current research in the field of acupuncture has provided insights into how acupuncture works. Studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have shown that acupuncture elicits changes in the brain that correlate with neurological effects.
Acupuncture affects the limbic and para-limbic networks in the brain and has a deep hemodynamic response, which is influenced by the psychophysical response. Acupuncture also stimulates the nervous system and improves conduction and communication between nerves. This improved functioning of the nervous system stimulates neurotransmitter actions and the release of the body’s natural endorphins and other opioids. For example, serotonin may be released following acupuncture, therefore helping patients feel more relaxed and sustain a sense of well-being that lasts for hours thereafter, if not longer. Research has also shown acupuncture’s ability in relieving myofascial pain by releasing muscular trigger points with ensuing concomitant anti-inflammatory effects.
Acupuncture is one of the most popular and highly utilized services offered at the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative & Lifestyle Medicine. It is most effective with regular and frequent treatments, but more specific guidelines for follow-up therapies should be discussed during your initial consultation with an acupuncturist.
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Does acupuncture take the place of conventional medicine?
No. Acupuncture is not a substitute for conventional medical diagnosis and treatment. Acupuncture is one of many complementary medicine therapies at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Integrative Medicine.
“Complementary” vs. “alternative” medicine
An important factor to consider is distinguishing between the terms “Complementary” and “Alternative”. This distinction is crucial as it relates to how acupuncture fits into a patient’s total healthcare experience at Cleveland Clinic's Center for Integrative & Lifestyle Medicine.
- Complementary suggests working together in order to provide the best of all possibilities, supplementing mutual needs and/or offsetting mutual deficiencies. Complementary medicine means working alongside, and in conjunction with, the mainstream conventional medical system. This provides a holistic model of care with therapies for body, mind, and spirit. It is here, in a complementary role, that acupuncture is important and shows its greatest strength.
- Alternative gives the implication of a choice between two mutually exclusive possibilities. Under this heading, Alternative medicine appears at times to promote treatments in place of the standard mainstream treatments for conditions such as cancer, or any other serious illness. This “us” vs. “them” perspective of Alternative medicine vs. mainstream conventional medicine has a negative effect on the patient who might benefit from both, and not just one or the other.
As an example, patients undergoing chemotherapy treatments may use acupuncture to lessen possible side effects associated with cancer treatments. Acupuncture is also immensely supportive and helpful when used in conjunction with orthopedics and physical therapy for rehabilitation from injury or surgery.
What We Treat
Acupuncture helps treat numerous diseases and conditions. The World Health Organization (WHO) endorses acupuncture, and clinical studies have shown it to be a beneficial treatment for many conditions, including:
- Acute and chronic pain
- Lower back pain
- Neck pain
- Knee pain
- Elbow Pain
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Post-operative Recovery
- Reduce the need for Opioids after surgery
- Neuralgia / Neuropathy - peripheral, diabetic, shingles
- Dental pain
- Facial pain
- Tension headaches
Cancer-related side effects
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy side effects
- Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting
- Cancer-related pain
- Chemo-therapy-induced neuropathy
- Dry mouth
Digestive / gastric conditions
- Nausea and vomiting
- Irritable bowel syndrome
Women’s health issues
- Hot flashes
- Pelvic floor pain
- Menstrual pain
- Infertility /IVF
- Premenopausal / menopause symptoms
- Morning sickness
- Breech positioning
Mental & Emotional Health
- Anxiety and depression
- Stress management
- Insomnia/sleep issues
High and Low Blood Pressure
Substance Abuse and Withdrawal
- Opioid withdrawal
Stimulates the immune system
What to Expect
At the beginning of your first session, your acupuncturist will be able to discuss your chief complaint by taking your history with physical examination elements, and then assessing your state of wellness through observation of your tongue and palpation of your pulse.
Although all acupuncturists are very similar in their academic and clinical backgrounds, each acupuncturist will have their own style, personality, and prerogative for treatment choices as it relates to each patient’s needs.
The initial evaluation and treatment may take up to a full hour to complete, with subsequent sessions ranging between 45-60 minutes, with the needles in position for at least 20 minutes.
What happens during an acupuncture visit?
During a treatment, patients lie comfortably on a padded table with relaxing music playing in the background. All acupuncture needles that are used at the Cleveland Clinic are regulated by the FDA, pre-packaged, sterile, and disposable (which means that the needles are only used once and then discarded after treatment). The needles are very thin, roughly as narrow as a human hair.
The treatment itself involves inserting needles of varying lengths into certain points or areas of the body which are specific to different conditions. The number of needles utilized will vary from patient to patient but usually ranges on average between 10-25 needles (the number of needles used will primarily depend on the patient’s constitution or overall case history as well as the simplicity or complexity of the patient’s current condition or disease state).
When the needle is inserted into a point or area on the body, many patients report feeling a light pinch with very little discomfort, if any. As the needle is retained in position, some patients may also feel the sensations of tingling, dull achiness, or pressure at the needle site. This is completely normal and is a consequence of “activating Qi” (which is a healing response according to Chinese medical theory).
During the treatment, the acupuncturist may perform needle manipulation, which is the gentle moving or twirling of the needle in order to further stimulate the therapeutic response. If warranted, electrical stimulation may also be applied to intensify this response.
Once the needles are in place, they are retained for a minimum of 20 minutes. During this time, many patients experience a deep relaxation effect that elicits calmness or even restful sleep that promotes a sense of rejuvenation.
What happens after the acupuncture treatment?
After the treatment, the needles are removed and disposed of immediately into a biohazard sharp’s container. Bleeding from acupuncture is a rare after effect, but it does sometimes happen. If this does occur, it is a tiny pin prick bleed (i.e. a dot of blood) that comes to the surface; this is resolved simply by placing minimal or necessary pressure over the site, then cleanly wiping it away without incident.
Finally, the acupuncturist will devise a personalized follow-up treatment plan based on your specific health needs. A typical follow-up schedule for many patients might be once a week for a few weeks, and then reassessing thereafter. The number of treatments depends on the condition being treated and its severity. Your acupuncturist will be able to provide you with more information following your initial consult and treatment.
Patients end their visit and return to their normal daily routine generally feeling a sense of calm and comfort.
- Search the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine website for a licensed acupuncturist in your area.
- Learn more about the Acupuncture providers at Cleveland Clinic.
Chinese Herbal Therapy
One of the therapeutic pillars in Traditional Chinese Medicine is Chinese Herbal Therapy. For thousands of years in China, herbs have been used to treat many acute and chronic conditions. Certified and licensed herbalists in our Chinese Herbal Therapy Clinic utilize formulations from the “Compendium Materia Medica,” which is a classical Chinese medicine text that lists thousands of herbs, minerals, and other extracts and their intended medical uses.
Herbal formulas may contain 4 or more different ingredients. Herbal formulas are taken in the form of teas, powders, pills, tinctures, or syrups. Ingredients are primarily of plant origin, and may include roots, bark, seeds, flowers, and leaves. Each ingredient has unique characteristics, that when combined, offers a therapeutic effect.
There is a growing body of evidence supporting Chinese herbal therapy for many acute and chronic conditions.
What we treat
What conditions are best treated with Chinese herbal therapy?
As in the case of acupuncture, Chinese herbs can help with re-establishing the body’s physiologic and energetic patterns of health, known as homeostasis. Therefore, Chinese herbs may help in the treatment of:
- Cold or flu symptoms.
- Breathing issues.
- Digestive disorders.
- Sleep issues.
- Mental-emotional state (stress, anxiety, depression).
- Autoimmune disorders.
- Menopausal symptoms.
- Menstrual issues.
- Infertility (male and female).
Chinese herbal therapy can also be a valuable adjunct to cancer treatment in aiding the body’s recovery from the after-effects of chemotherapy or radiation. Chinese herbs are also useful in the rehabilitation of other chronic diseases.
Your herbalist may recommend Chinese herbal therapy when:
- You have a complex constellation of symptoms.
- You have exhausted conventional medical options, or everything you have tried seems not to have helped.
- You need to counteract side effects of prescribed medications.
- You are interested in preventive or integrative medicine.
What to expect
What happens during a Chinese herbal therapy consult?
The certified and licensed herbalists at the Center for Integrative & Lifestyle Medicine may prescribe herbs as a primary single therapy, or the prescription may be a supportive and strengthening measure alongside of acupuncture therapies. An herbalist will take a detailed health history (including notes about symptoms, illnesses, conditions, medications, and diet) and may also perform several diagnostic measures. Once you have been fully assessed, the herbalist will provide a prescription for a custom compounded herbal formula relevant to your therapeutic needs.
Is Chinese herbal therapy a replacement for conventional Western treatment?
No. Chinese herbal therapy is not a substitute for conventional medical diagnosis or treatment. However, it can complement or even enhance your conventional treatment plan. Your herbalist will work closely with your physician to manage your care and, as needed, monitor your course of treatment with regular blood work while on the Chinese herbal therapy. We do advise patients to consult with their primary care doctor or other healthcare professional before taking a Chinese herbal prescription.
Will Chinese herbal therapy interfere with my medications?
Our clinic’s herbalists are academically and clinically trained to know the interactions and contraindications between Chinese herbs and prescription medications. They are also supervised by physicians as an added oversight measure. The herbalists will inquire about your history of taking natural supplements, as well as ask questions of your diet in order to have a more comprehensive analysis of the safety and efficacy of any Chinese herbs they may recommend.
Is Chinese herbal therapy covered by insurance?
No. At this time, Chinese herbal therapy is not covered by insurance.
Do I need a physician's referral?
No. A physician’s referral is not required for a Chinese herbal therapy consult but it is recommended that you consult with your doctor before taking a Chinese herbal prescription.
How long will I have to be on Chinese herbal therapy?
The duration of your herbal therapy prescription will depend on a few variables. Generally speaking, acute conditions correlate to shorter duration on herbal therapy, while chronic conditions would necessitate a longer period of time.
Your herbalist will thoroughly explain your treatment plan, including anticipated duration of herbal prescription, during your individual visit.
Thuy Nguyen, DAOM, LAc
Yaser Abdelhamid, ND, LAc
Yanming Huang, LAc
Junsik Kim, DTCM, LAc
Shui Lui, LAc
Song Luo, MPH, LAc
Megan Scott, LAc
Tim Sobo, LAc, CPT, CES
Appointments & Locations
Acupuncture treatments are offered at many of our locations throughout Northeast Ohio. To make an appointment, please call 216.448.4325.
Private & Shared Acupuncture Treatment Locations
Wellness and Preventive Medicine, Willoughby Hills
2785 SOM Center Rd.
Willoughby Hills, Ohio 44094
Private Acupuncture Treatment Locations
Cleveland Clinic Main Campus
9500 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44195
Amherst Family Health Center
5172 Leavitt Road
Lorain, OH 44053
Avon - Richard E. Jacobs Health Center
33100 Cleveland Clinic Boulevard
Avon, Ohio 44011
Broadview Heights Medical Center
2001 East Royalton Road
Broadview Heights, Ohio 44147
Chagrin Falls Family Health Center
551 East Washington St.
Chagrin Falls , Ohio 44022
Edison Blvd Medical Offices
2365 Edison Blvd.
Twinsburg , Ohio 44087
Lakewood Family Health Center
14601 Detroit Ave.
Lakewood , Ohio 44107
1000 E. Washington St.
Medina , Ohio 44256
Strongsville Family Health and Surgery Center
16761 South Park Center
Strongsville, Ohio 44136
Shared Acupuncture Treatment Locations
Twinsburg Family Health & Surgery Center
8701 Darrow Road
Twinsburg, OH 44087