We are often intrigued by the latest medical studies that promise new treatments and medications. Yet many people still benefit from one of the oldest known types of health care: acupuncture.

    “Acupuncture migrated from China to Japan about 1,500 years ago,” says Afua Bromley, an Oriental medicine practitioner and licensed acupuncturist with Acupuncture St. Louis. “Acupuncture then migrated from Japan to Korea in the late 1500s to early 1600s. All three (Chinese, Japanese and Korean) are based on energetic medicine and have their roots in Chinese medicine, but evolved differently with the migration of acupuncture. Protocols are different among the three types, but effectiveness is about the same.”

    Acupuncture involves inserting very thin needles into specific points on the body. Historically, acupuncture evolves within the community in which it is practiced, and in recent decades ‘Western acupuncture’ has developed in America, although the two main paradigms remain Chinese and Japanese techniques, says Thomas Duckworth, an Oriental medicine practitioner and licensed acupuncturist with Natural Life Therapy Clinic.    

    Most of Duckworth’s patients first come to him seeking treatment for a specific condition or illness, although after successful treatment,  many people continue to undergo acupuncture periodically as a health maintenance strategy. “In China or Japan, people would go to the acupuncturist or herbalist first before they would go to a more invasive or intrusive kind of medical care,” he says. The opposite is true in Western nations, yet “in traditional medicine, we advocate that people use us as a preventive form of medicine, rather than a restorative form.” Bromley agrees that “it’s better not to use it as a last resort.” And patients who do seek relief from a chronic or long-term health issue should understand that acupuncture is a process rather than an instantaneous cure.

    Among the most common issues acupuncturists treat are pain, fertility, hormonal shifts (i.e. menopause), headaches, depression, insomnia, stress and to help manage the side effects of cancer treatments.

    These treatments are most often performed on adults, yet children are often very good candidates for acupuncture. “Children can be treated for the same disorders adults can be seen for,” Bromley says. “Typically, infants are coming in for colic, insomnia, digestive issues (constipation or diarrhea), cold/flu/upper respiratory disorders or allergies, but occasionally I do see children who are dealing with autism or developmental delays.”

        Duckworth also treats children with a form of pediatric acupuncture known as shonishin. The technique is gentle and non-invasive, primarily focusing on rhythmic stroking, rubbing, tapping and pressing the skin. Children around age 10 can begin regular acupuncture treatments with needles.

    Regardless of a patient’s condition or age, it is crucial to have treatments performed by a qualified practitioner. “You absolutely want to find someone who has had at least three to four years of training and at least 1,800 hours of class,” Bromley says. “Those are the minimum standards of the NCCAOM (National Certification Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine), our national certifying body.” She recommends asking practitioners where and for how long they’ve trained, how long they’ve been in practice, and how much experience they’ve had with the issue for which you’re seeking treatment.

    In summary, Bromley says that acupuncture “doesn’t hurt. It is safe. And it is one of the tools that we should all consider to be a part of their strategy toward optimal healthcare.”  LN