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Frequently Asked Questions: Oriental Medicine

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

What is Oriental Medicine?

Oriental Medicine (OM) is a dynamic system of medicine that has been systematically practiced and developed for over 2,500 years.  OM is a multi-faceted system that consists of many modalities, including acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, tuina (Chinese massage/bodywork), moxibustion (the burning of Artemisia vulgaris to warm an area or point), electric stimulation (of acupuncture points/meridians), dietary therapy, and energy exercises such as tai chi and qi gong.  Your OM practitioner will employ one or a combination of the above modalities in order to address your unique needs.


What is acupuncture, and how does it work?

Acupuncture is the insertion of smooth, solid, stainless-steel (and, as practiced today, also sterile and disposable) needles into the body with the objective of achieving therapeutic results. 

For over two thousand years, acupuncture theory and practice developed within the cultural and medical paradigms of East Asia (primarily China, but also spread to Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Tibet). Acupuncture is now practiced in many parts of the world, and various styles of practice have evolved. Among these, the Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Five Element, and French acupuncture styles are some of the most common ones practiced today.

Acupuncture was introduced to the West in the 20th century, after which its function and applications have been consistently studied within the biomedical framework.  The traditional and biomedical understandings of acupuncture offer different, but not contradictory, explanations for how acupuncture works. 

The classical OM perspective identifies a network of channels or meridians that courses our bodies, through which vital energy, or qi, flows.  Smooth flow of qi ensures health, whereas any impediment of qi results in disease or pain.  Hundreds of acupuncture points exist along the energy channels.  Placing needles in the appropriate points helps to open the channels, and promotes the smooth flow of qi, thus restoring balance and health. 

Modern biomedical research has found that acupuncture points are electrically and anatomically distinct areas on the body.  By stimulating these special sites, acupuncture can alter the hormonal system, immune system, as well as the central nervous system (including brain chemistry), and affect a wide range of physiological changes.  Thus, acupuncture can treat conditions as diverse as digestive disorders, gynecological issues, musculoskeletal pain, allergies, headaches, and even functional chest pain, to name a few.  Acupuncture can also moderate the stress response, improving psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression.  Acupuncture is a powerful therapy that treats both mind and body. 


Is Acupuncture Safe?

Acupuncture has a great safety track record.  The most common risks of acupuncture involve slight bruising and occasional bleeding at the site of needle insertion.  At OHS, we use only disposable, pre-sterilized needles, which prevents infectious transmissions of any kind.  More serious adverse incidents associated with acupuncture are extremely rare (no occurrences at OHS, ever), can involve pneumothorax (punctured lungs), as well as rare incidences of infection. Also, failure to seek or delay standard medical care has been listed in the literature as a potential problem along with patients’ stopping prescribed drug therapy without their doctor’s knowledge.

Less severe adverse events include bruising, fainting, sweating, and mild dizziness. Overall, the statistical data rate acupuncture as a very safe treatment modality, particularly when compared to the much higher incidence of adverse events in standard western medical treatment.


What is Chinese Herbal Medicine?

Chinese herbal medicine has been practiced methodically and empirically for over 5,000 years, with the first manual on medicinals dating back to the 1st century C.E.  Although commonly named “Chinese herbal medicine” (CHM), the Chinese medicine pharmacy also includes some mineral and animal substances.

A typical Chinese herbal pharmacy has 200-250 medicinals.  Chinese herbs are almost always dispensed as a formula, which contains approximately 6 to 20 different medicinals.  The ability to alter the dosages and components within any given formula is a great strength of CHM, as this allows for a unique tailoring of an individual patient’s specific condition. 

CHM can be used in acute situations such as the common cold or temporary indigestion, but where CHM really shines is in the treatment of chronic health conditions. CHM restores one’s fundamental health and balance, and if applied properly, CHM can help to heal conditions that Western medicine manages with little success.  Examples of such include menopausal symptoms, infertility, PMS, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, chronic pain, seasonal allergies, hypertension, diabetes, migraines… the list goes on!

CHM is frequently used in conjunction with acupuncture treatment to provide efficient healing.  However, each modality can stand alone as an effective system of medicine.  In China, acupuncture patients commonly receive daily treatments.  That kind of schedule is often not feasible in the West due to time and cost constraints.  CHM is a cost-effective way to provide daily treatments in-between acupuncture sessions, and helps to give maximum progress in minimum time. (For more information please view the OHS video or OHS power point presentation in the Information-Education section of this website).



Do the herbs have any side effects?

Side effects from properly-prescribed formulas are rare.  The most common ones—abdominal bloating/gas, temporary “jolt of energy” or change in body temperature—tend to be mild, and are easily eliminated by appropriate modification of the herbal formula.  In the last twenty years, there have been a few news reports regarding Chinese herbs’ more serious side effects, such as renal failure.  These incidents all involved the improper usage of Chinese herbs; they used much higher doses (10-50 times the accepted standard), used herbs out of context (e.g. weight loss rather than promoting mild sweating), and improper combination with western drug treatment.  The best way to assure one’s safety when taking Chinese herbs is to be under the care of a properly-trained, experienced Chinese herbalist.


Can I take herbs if I’m taking prescription medications?

“Herb-drug interactions” have been a hot topic recently, as Western botanicals have become more popular and herbs such as St. John’s Wort have demonstrated measurable interactions with prescription medications.  Studying the herb-drug interactions associated with Chinese herbs is much more difficult, because CHM uses multi-ingredient formulas that are much more biochemically complex.

This is a fairly new area of study, and researchers such as pharmacist John Chen, PhD, DPharm, OMD of Lotus Herbs, Inc. in California, have published data of Chinese herb-drug interactions.  Your OHS herbal practitioner will be up-to-date with the emerging research, and will incorporate all information—classical and contemporary—in order to assure safety in your usage of CHM. 


What about recent rumors of Chinese herbs being contaminated?

A report http://www.itmonline.org/arts/cleanhrb.htm by Subhuti Dharmananda, PhD, indicates that most Chinese herbs are grown without the use of pesticides.  Very few are grown with pesticides, but residues cannot be confirmed.  Chinese herbs are not fumigated upon arrival to the US.  Some herbs are steamed in sulfur to preserve their freshness.  Even though no adverse effects to the sulfur have been reported, we at OHS only use herbs that are certified sulfur-free from specific suppliers.

In the past few years there have been rumors about heavy-metal or even pharmaceutical-product contamination in various pills or patent medicines.  These products all came from Asian companies that did not meet certain quality-control standards; many of these products are no longer available and we do not carry them at OHS.  At OHS, we use the highest-quality herbal products that the U.S. market has to offer; they meet or exceed every quality tests that exists. 


Which type of training did my Practitioner receive?

All practitioners are licensed to practice acupuncture or, in one case, medicine, in North Carolina. Please review each practitioner’s bio and resume.


Which conditions can be treated by Oriental Medicine?

Below are the most common conditions that we at OHS have treated, with great results:

Acid Reflux
Adrenal Fatigue
Back Pain
Cancer Support
Chronic Cough
Chronic Fatigue
Crohn’s Disease
Digestive Pain
Ear Infections
Elbow Pain
Headaches and Migraines
Immune System Disorders
IVF/IUI Preparatory and Complementary Care
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Knee Pain
Low Back Pain
Menstrual Issues: amenorrhea, anovulation, painful periods, heavy periods, PMS
Metabolic Imbalance
Morning Sickness
Pain – most kinds!
Pregnancy Complications including turning a breech baby
Postpartum Support (lactation pain, milk shortage, fatigue, anxiety, etc)
Sinus Infections
Shoulder Pain
Sports Injuries/Athletic Condition Maintenance
Stress Management
Surgery (Preparation and Recovery)
Thyroid Imbalance
Ulcerative Colitis
Urinary Tract Infections

Of course, there are also many other conditions that can be helped by acupuncture.  To see a list of these as recognized by the WHO and NIH, http://www.acupuncture-schools.us/national-institute-health-nih-acupuncture.cfm


What can I expect from an appointment?

Your first appointment will last 1 ½ to 2 hours, during which we will do a complete intake as well as a full treatment.  Subsequent sessions take about an hour.  The intake from the first session will cover all the specifics of your primary complaint(s), plus many things that you may not associate with your condition.  For example, if you come in for back pain, we will ask about the cause, duration, site, intensity, quality, etc. of the pain, and we may also ask about your energy level, sleep habits, digestion, and many other areas.  This thorough intake guides us to understand the root causes of your specific ailments and in which context your complaint was able to arise in the first place.

After the intake, we will then take your pulse on both wrists, look at your tongue, and palpate different body regions in order to make a complete diagnosis.  Based upon all these findings, we will then recommend a course of treatment for you.  It may involve only acupuncture or herbs, but most likely it will be a custom-tailored mix of acupuncture, dietary and lifestyle changes, self-massage, and CHM—whatever it takes for you to make the most progress in the least amount of time. In specific cases, we may suggest you seek western medical care for further evaluation.

If you are having acupuncture treatment, you will be asked lie down on a comfortable treatment table.  After a careful series of acupuncture point examinations, your practitioner will insert some needles into the appropriate points.  The needles are sterile, disposable, and, more often than not, are far smaller than what our patients had imagined.  Our acupuncture practice is mainly based upon a Japanese style, which emphasizes very gentle techniques.  Often, patients are surprised that they feel immediate improvements in their physical pain or emotional state.  Usually, the needles are retained for 20-40 minutes, during which patients fall into a deep state of relaxation (or they fall asleep!). 

When the treatment is complete, you may be given some homework, which may include some simple exercises, self-massage, or acupressure.  If needed, you will be given herbal medicine or dietary supplements and instructed on their use. 


How quickly will I respond to treatment?

Some patients are quick responders while others will respond more gradually. Your practitioner will usually know by your response to palpation of certain reflex zones and how quickly those clear. The outcome depends on your constitution, presence of toxins, medications and severity of the energetic and physical imbalance. Based on our clinical experience we find that most patients respond fairly fast. You should expect initial improvement of your symptoms within 3 to 5 visits.