Acupuncture is extremely safe, and the risk of side effects is very low. According to the National Institutes of Health published Consensus Statement on Acupuncture (1997):
One of the advantages of acupuncture is that the incidence of adverse effects is substantially lower than that of many drugs or other accepted medical procedures used for the same conditions.
When performed by a qualified practitioner, acupuncture is safe for everyone, including pregnant women, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, and even for babies and children.
As opposed to hypodermic needles used for injections or drawing blood, acupuncture needles are extremely thin and flexible. Some people experience a slight sensation upon insertion, and sometimes a feeling of heaviness, an ache, warmth or a feeling of energy moving throughout the body once the needles are in place. Some people don’t feel the needles at all. People usually find acupuncture to be quite relaxing, and many fall asleep during the treatment.
Traditional Chinese Medical theory views the body as an integrated system in which all parts are connected through a system of channels. When we are healthy, our “qi,” or vital energy, flows smoothly through these channels. However, for various reasons, our qi may become stuck or depleted, causing imbalances in the body which can result in illness, fatigue or pain. Acupuncture points provide strategic access to these channels, and acupuncture therefore promotes the healthy flow of qi, resulting in balance and good health in the body.
From a Western scientific view, numerous modern Western medical studies have repeatedly confirmed that acupuncture is effective for a number of health complaints. The precise anatomical and physiological mechanisms through which the therapeutic effects of acupuncture are mediated however are still being researched.
The number of acupuncture treatments needed will vary greatly depending upon the severity and duration of your complaint, and your own specific goals for health.
For acute issues, one or two treatments may be enough, while chronic conditions may take 5 or even more treatments to see significant progress. To help get the most out of your visits, Kate may recommend dietary changes, relaxation techniques, Chinese herbal medicine, or other “homework,” all of which can help increase the efficacy of your acupuncture treatments.
After discussing your history, goals, and assessing your progress after a treatment or two, Kate will create a treatment plan to more specifically predict how many treatments you will likely need to address your complaint. Many people complete a “course” of treatment after which they take a break from acupuncture for months or years, while others choose to continue regular acupuncture for “maintenance,” finding that they simply feel healthier and better overall with regular treatments.
There is no special preparation needed for an acupuncture appointment, but it is best to avoid coming to acupuncture hungry, dehydrated, intoxicated, excessively fatigued, or extremely emotionally agitated. To make your treatment more comfortable, wear comfortable clothing. It also helps to bring a list of your current medications and supplements. Feel free to contact Kate with any other questions before your appointment.
Patients often feel a difference in their symptoms during and after their first acupuncture treatment. This relief can last, or some symptoms may return in the days following the treatment. With consecutive treatments, you should feel increasingly better, and you may even notice other benefits such as increased energy, better sleep, or improved digestion which seem unrelated to your main health concern. You should be able to resume normal daily activities after a treatment, but if possible, try to avoid extremely stressful situations or strenuous physical activity immediately after acupuncture.
Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine are both branches of Oriental Medicine. Each has different strengths, and the two work very well together. While acupuncture is well known for its ability to eliminate pain, reduce stress, and address many other complaints, many people do not know that the treatment of these and many other issues can be enhanced by the use of Chinese herbs.
Chinese herbal medicine is especially useful in the treatment of internal medical conditions such as gynecological complaints, digestive disorders, chronic and acute respiratory conditions, fatigue, and much more. In addition, herbs can be used topically as liniments, patches or poultices to alleviate symptoms of pain and inflammation.
Recently, Western medicine has started to acknowledge the benefits of Chinese herbal medicine. However, even with the growing popularity of Chinese herbal medicine, it is important that Chinese herbs be prescribed by a trained and licensed Chinese medicine practitioner.
When prescribed by a licensed practitioner of Chinese herbal medicine, Chinese herbs are very safe and effective. Because Kate writes customized prescriptions for each patient, undesired side effects can be avoided, even for the most sensitive patients. Like any medication, Chinese herbs should be only used by the person they have been prescribed for.
As for the herbs themselves, there is some variation in the quality of Chinese herbs available, and we use only the best quality herbs available in the United States. In 2011, Kate traveled to China specifically to learn more about the growing, processing, and exporting of Chinese herbs, and feels very confident in the integrity of the herbal products available in our pharmacy. Kate safely used Chinese herbs during her own pregnancy and administers them to her young son.
Please feel free to contact Kate with any questions or concerns about our herb quality or safety, and please see the following question "Where do you source your herbs" for more details on herb safety and quality assurance.
Chinese herb sourcing and quality assurance are important issues, which we take very seriously. The Chinese herbs we use at Chautauqua Apothecary come through Spring Wind Herbs and Mayway, and we use granular KPC herbs, which are the U.S. distributors who maintain the highest standards for quality and integrity. We use organic and "premium" grade herbs when possible. Our distributors all subject their products to rigorous laboratory testing for everything from species authenticity to molds, pesticides and heavy metals. For more detailed information on testing and quality assurance, please see the quality assurance pages on our distributors websites:
There are many ways to take Chinese medicinal herbs. At Kate Blalack’s Boulder acupuncture office, we prefer to use customized raw (or “bulk”) herbal formulas, which are decocted into a tea, because they are the most time-tested, cost-effective and potent form of Chinese medicine. For those who cannot take raw herbs, granular herbs are available, which are conveniently reconstituted in warm water, but still allow for flexibility and customization based on the patient’s presentation. Occasionally, for treatment of general symptoms such as allergies, pills or “patent” formulas are available.
For more information, see Jason Blalack’s excellent article on the different delivery systems of Chinese herbs.
Insurance benefits vary widely, but because of its relatively low cost and excellence in treating many health conditions, more and more insurance companies cover acupuncture treatment. Some policies place certain stipulations on treatment, such as that the practitioner be NCCAOM certified, or "in-network," so it is best to check the details of your specific policy. In addition, a majority of flexible spending plans or health savings accounts (HSAs) will cover acupuncture and Oriental medicine treatment. We do not bill insurance directly, so payment is expected at the time of service, but Kate can provide you with a "superbill" which you can submit to your insurance for reimbursement.