Acupuncture 101

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture involves the insertion of fine needles through the skin and tissues in specific points in the body.  Acupuncture is based on the idea that living beings have an inner energy, or Qi (pronounced chee).  According to traditional Chinese medicine, optimal health involves a balanced Qi throughout the body, while an imbalance of Qi results in illness or injury.  Insertion of the needles helps to restore the balance of Qi in the body and therefore help to return the body to optimal functioning and health.  Although first described in the medical literature as early as 200 BC, acupuncture has only been recently studied over the last several decades by scientific and medical communities to determine the extent of its effectiveness.   


Who Performs Acupuncture?

Traditional Chinese acupuncturists, as well as health care practitioners, such as doctors, dentists, physiotherapists, and registered nurses can perform acupuncture.  Each health care professional must undergo substantial training in order to practice acupuncture, and regulations exist for each province in Canada.  "Anatomical acupuncture" which combines the knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and pathophysiology, allows trained health care practitioners to use acupuncture effectively.  Most practitioners undergo training with the Acupuncture Foundation of Canada Institute (AFCI).


How Does Acupuncture Work?

There are many theories that may explain how acupuncture works. Acupuncture needles work to stimulate the body to produce its own pain relieving chemicals, known as endorphins, which result in relief of pain, general relaxation, and restoration of biochemicals in the body.  This stimulates the body's natural healing abilities, reducing inflammation, and improving physical function.  Another theory that may help explain acupuncture's therapeutic effects involves inhibition of pain signals.  It is thought that acupuncture helps to stimulate fibres that inhibit pain and therefore reduce signals of pain to the brain.  Acupuncture can also have a systemic effect on the body, influencing respiration, heart rate, blood pressure, circulation, and immune function which can aid in the healing process.


What Conditions can be Treated with Acupuncture?

As a physiotherapist who practices acupuncture, the conditions I treat are typically musculoskeletal or neurological in nature.  Examples include headaches, frozen shoulder, tennis elbow, tendonitis, arthritis, sciatic pain, and neck and low back pain.  Traditional Chinese acupuncturists can also treat digestive, respiratory, urinary, reproductive, addiction, and insomnia disorders to name a few.  When treating any condition or disorder, a correct diagnosis is important before starting acupuncture.  A qualified health practitioner will ask a series of medical questions and perform a physical examination prior to determining if acupuncture is an appropriate treatment for the patient. 


Does it Hurt?

This is one of the first questions I am asked by my patients.  The answer to this question depends on each individual's perception of discomfort.  Most people report that they experience only minimal discomfort when the needles are inserted, while others feel no pain at all.  Most people describe the discomfort as a "slight pinch".  As the needles are inserted to the optimal depth, several sensations may be felt, which include: pressure, heaviness, and warmth at the site of the needle.  Once the needles are in place no discomfort should be felt. 


How Many Treatments will I Need?

As with any therapeutic intervention, the number of treatments will vary from person to person.  For some people only a few treatments are required, however, chronic (longstanding) conditions may require several treatments.  It is recommended that 6 to 10 treatments be performed, and then re-assessment may be necessary to determine an alternate treatment plan if there is no improvement in symptoms.  Relief of symptoms may be immediate or occur within hours or days.  Approximately 80-90% of patients respond well to acupuncture treatment and have noticeable improvements.  As with any type of treatment, it is possible that acupuncture may have no effect on the injury or condition.  Acupuncture can be used alone or can be combined with other forms of treatment, such as physiotherapy.


Please check with a qualified health care practitioner to determine if acupuncture may be an appropriate treatment plan for your condition. 

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About the Author

Kristi Scott, B.Sc., M.Sc.P.T., CAFCI

Kristi is a Registered Physiotherapist. She joined her mother, Shirley Andrusiak, at Guisachan Physiotherapy after graduating from the Masters of Science in Physical Therapy Program at the University of Alberta in 2010. She also holds an Undergraduate Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Victoria. Since graduating Kristi has completed numerous continuing education courses including manual therapy, vertigo, sport first responder, and golf related rehabilitation.  She has also completed her training with the Acupuncture Foundation of Canada Institute, and is certified to perform acupuncture, holding a designation of CAFCI.

Kristi brings an energetic, exercise based approach to her practice. She focuses on client centered care, education, exercise prescription, and manual therapy techniques. 

You can contact Kristi by email at [email protected]




The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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