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Acupuncture

At the Central Jersey Neurological Institute, Dr. Maria Choy practices the art of acupuncture, along with other forms of integrative medicine in Morganville, NJ.

She was trained in acupuncture by the American College of Acupuncture and the NY Acupuncture Society in 1994-1995 and completed her clinical training in Beijing and Shanghai in 1995. Not satisfied with an Eastern approach to acupuncture only, she also had additional training at the UCLA School of Medicine in 1997 in order to compare both approaches and choose the best of both acupuncture worlds. 

One of the main applications for acupuncture is pain management. Other conditions that respond well to acupuncture include peripheral neuropathy, anxiety, depression, the common cold, carpal tunnel syndrome, and lumbar or cervical radiculopathy. Smoking cessation and weight loss work best when the patient is motivated to use the willpower that acupuncture provides to effect changes in their lives. Acupuncture can even be effective as a natural facelift and anti-aging treatment!

What is traditional Chinese medicine?

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) literature suggests that acupuncture “contains” diseases. TCM is a 5,000-year-old health care system that believes that humans should live in harmony with nature. As such, acupuncture does not “cut out” diseases but rather contains them so they can do no harm. TCM also believes that the individual is responsible for his own well-being and should practice “good living” (nutritious food, exercise, good sleep). 

How does acupuncture work and how long has it been around?

Acupuncture has been practiced in China in its present form for over 200 years. In the U.S., acupuncture became popular after President Nixon visited China in the 1970s. Acupuncture works by releasing natural chemicals in our body called neurotransmitters. One of these chemicals is endorphins, the body’s natural pain relief mechanism. Although acupuncture stimulates is a host of other natural reactions, the release of endorphins is probably the method by which pain control, smoking cessation, and weight reduction works.

For weight loss or smoking cessation, acupuncture diminishes the craving and increases energy levels, but the patient must still make efforts to quit smoking or decrease food consumption. For that reason, removing the temptation is very important.

How effective is acupuncture?

At the Central Jersey Neurological Institute, we have about an 80% success rate for pain management. That means that about 80% of the patient who try acupuncture for this purpose will have pain relief (not cure).   

For chronic pain, this means that if it took you 15 minutes to get up in the morning, this will be decreased to 5 minutes. If you hurt every day, this might be decreased to only when the weather is bad. If you walk with a walker, you might walk out with a cane. If you used to take 20 Tylenol tablets per day, you might need only four. Acute pain, on the other hand, can frequently be cured.

For weight loss or smoking cessation, the success rate is 60-65% for achieving your desired weight loss goal or quitting smoking.

There is no method to determine who will respond to acupuncture; however, we can usually tell within 3-9 consecutive sessions. Some researchers believe that response rate may be related to the number of neurotransmitter receptors available in each person.

How long will it take for acupuncture to work?

Because acupuncture works by releasing natural body chemicals, its effect is gradual. For most patients, the first treatment will give a mild relief that will last hours to a day. Subsequent treatments will gradually be greater and more sustained.

For this reason, we start treatments every other day for about 9 sessions. This is then tapered to twice per week for another 6 sessions. The taper then continues. After about 3 to 4 months, acupuncture is tapered to about once every 4-6 weeks for chronic conditions that have no cure. For conditions that can be cured, as-needed boosters can be done when you are expecting to be in a situation that will exacerbate your medical condition (e.g., prolonged plane flight, playing golf, or stress).

In this practice, we sometimes augment the effects of acupuncture with conventional or homeopathic medications, just as the Chinese augment the effect of acupuncture with herbals.

A few patients will worsen on the day of treatment but will, in the end, have better, more sustained relief. The worsening is believed to be due to breaking down of the barriers to healing before rebuilding. It is analogous to cleaning a fish tank: the water is cloudy at first because all the muck has been raised from the bottom but then clears as the filter works. Acupuncture stimulates your body to heal itself just as the filter clears a fish tank.

Are there any side effects to acupuncture?

Side effects are rare. Seldom is there a slight pain at the needle insertion site which might shoot in the direction of the meridian (the pathway of energy flow in TCM). This resolves in a second. Occasional bruising may occur. Infection is possible, but we use single-use disposable sterile needles. Pneumothorax (a partial deflation of the lung) is very rare and may occur with needles that are close to the surface of the lung, but we prefer to avoid these points since there are plenty of substitute points to use.

Some patients may become lightheaded or mildly disoriented right after treatment (an endorphin high!) lasting no more than 20 minutes. We ask patients to please not drive until this feeling subsides. Lightheadedness, nausea, and even passing out can occur in patients who have a fear of needles, which is unrelated to acupuncture. The anxiety causes a release of chemicals that causes these symptoms.

Please be sure to advise the doctor if you are afraid of needles and we will take the proper precautions. We promise not to tell anyone of your phobia! The release of neurotransmitters in acupuncture may cause a shooting sensation – the Chinese call this sensation “the Qi”. It can also be felt as a temporary heaviness or numbness. These are all part of the therapeutic effects of acupuncture.

Is there anything I can do to enhance the effect of acupuncture?

Yes, on the day of your acupuncture visit, we recommend:

  • Avoid extremely hot or cold foods
  • Do not be over active
  • Avoid alcohol
  • For first few treatments, plan only light activity or rest after treatment
  • Do not change the use of prescription medications without consulting your physician first
  • Keep good mental or written notes on your response to treatment since follow-up treatment formulas are dependent on your response

Are there any contraindications to acupuncture?

Relatively few. Acupuncture is contraindicated when taking a strong blood thinner such as Coumadin or you have a bleeding disorder such as hemophilia, vonWillibrand’s disease, liver disease associated with increased clotting time, or a very low platelet count.

Anti-platelet use, such as aspirin or Plavix, is NOT a contraindication to acupuncture. Acupuncture with ear pellets does not break the skin and can be used in patients with bleeding problems, but it is less effective. Please advise your doctor if you have a history of hepatitis or are HIV positive, since special precautions will be required in these instances.

Is acupuncture covered by health insurance?

A few insurance plans cover acupuncture for certain conditions only. Medicare does not cover this service under any circumstance. You must call your insurance company to find out if this is a covered service. If you do not have insurance coverage, our staff will be glad to discuss with you the associated costs and payment plans, if needed.

How does acupuncture work as a natural facelift?

Acupuncture does not remove individual wrinkle lines. Instead, it provides a steady firming up of the facial skin by increasing blood flow to the area. It usually requires treatments once per week for 9 weeks before we can taper to once per month for maintenance. This can be stretched to every six weeks.

Most patients report that their friends and family think they must have gotten a new haircut, lost weight, or experienced some other superficial change that is making them look good and literally “glow.” There are no dramatic changes overnight to give away your secret treatments! However, the “glow” will start to slowly fade through the normal aging process if not maintained with monthly sessions.

After the initial booster sessions, acupuncture will essentially slow down the effects of aging on your skin, but will not stop it altogether.

Resolve Your Pain with Acupuncture

Acupuncture by Dr. Maria Choy is available by appointment at Central Jersey Neurological Institute in Morganville, New Jersey. To schedule a visit, call our office at (732) 591-5888.