The Benefits of Acupuncture
Maria Broderick, EdD, Lic.Ac shares the many benefits of acupuncture and what you can expect during your first visit.
Melanie Cole (Host): Practice in China and other Asian countries for thousands of years, acupuncture is one of the key components of traditional Chinese medicine, and for some people, a major source of pain relief. My guest today is Maria Broderick. She’s a licensed acupuncturist at Boston Medical Center. Welcome to the show. Let’s talk about the basics of acupuncture. What is the philosophy behind it and how does it work?
Dr. Maria Broderick (Guest): Acupuncture is part of the medicine of traditional Chinese medicine and it’s linked to the belief that disease is caused by disruptions to the flow of energy – or chi – in our body, and by stimulating certain points on the body or under the skin, which we called acupuncture points, we can move or release this chi and then it travels through channels that are called meridians and through that stimulation of the points, we affect certain changes of your physiology.
Melanie: What conditions can acupuncture be really effective for?
Maria: Acupuncture is very effective for a range of conditions related to chronic pain including migraines, osteoarthritis, menstrual issues, back pain, and a range of pain concerns.
Melanie: There's a lot of things that people would consider acupuncture for. Now let’s talk about the actual procedure because people right away think “omg, needles,” but these are not painful needles. Explain this a little bit.
Maria: We actually use very thin – we call them hair thin, and that’s an appropriate description because they're about as thin as a hair – they're solid, filiform needles, so they don’t put anything into your body, they don’t take anything out of your body, and they're fairly flexible. We use each needle just once – there are some sterile and vacuum packed – and what I like to tell people who are concerned that it will be painful is that we actually have a very active pediatric acupuncture practice at Boston Medical Center and our kids who come for chronic pain concerns do very well. If the kids can tolerate it, most adults could as well.
Melanie: How much time does a general session take?
Maria: Typically an hour. We do about a 20-minute intake, then we insert the needles, you rest with them for 15 to 20 minutes and then we have you turn your body from front to back, then we insert a few more needles and you rest for another 15 minutes or so.
Melanie: How does someone choose an acupuncturist? Tell us a little bit about your training.
Maria: Acupuncturists have to earn a Master’s degree – it’s a three-year Master’s. In the course of completing that Master’s degree, they also complete roughly 700 hours of clinical training, they are licensed by the Board of Medicine in Massachusetts – they're the only healthcare providers other than doctors that are licensed by the Board of Medicine – and the training includes comprehensive introductions to biomedicine as well as the traditional Chinese medicine philosophy and practice. In fact, at Boston Medical Center, we have been supporting acupuncture training for 15 years in cooperation with the New England School of Acupuncture, we have acupuncture insurance at BMC, so most acupuncturist also spend some of their time in clinical sites including allopathic biomedical sites like hospitals and healthcare centers. You can't really practice acupuncture without that board certification and licensure, so you can assume that an acupuncturist with an accomplished licensure is very well trained.
Melanie: What does the science say about the effectiveness of acupuncture?
Maria: There's a lot of interest in understanding the mechanisms of acupuncture. The definitive mechanism is still uncertain but there are many different theories and ideas as to how acupuncture may work. This is partly because acupuncture doesn’t have one singular mechanism. We know that it assists the body is restoring balancing and some of the ways that we know that does happen is that acupuncture works through neural humoral pathways – basically you put the needle into a specific point and that stimulates a cascade of effects on the nerves, the nerves send signals to the brain and the brain release hormones such as beta endorphins, which then helps increase the pain threshold. Other studies have demonstrated that acupuncture directly influences autonomic nervous system functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, heart rate variability, skin conductance, temperature, pupil size, so we know that acupuncture definitely helps modulate neural humoral activity and the sympathetic nervous system. We also know that acupuncture works by reducing what we call pro-inflammatory markers – or proteins in the body – some animal and human studies suggests that by doing acupuncture, you significantly decrease these markers, which decreases inflammation and pain. There's thousands of studies published about acupuncture efficacy in many randomized control trials.
Melanie: Tell us how you focus most of your time.
Maria: My time is split between providing direct service and supporting programs. In terms of providing acupuncture services, I am the pediatric acupuncturist at Boston Medical Center. I collaborate with the pediatric pain team, which is an interprofessional team led by Dr. Caitlin Neri, who is a pain specialist in pediatrics at BMC. I also oversee training of acupuncturist who are learning to treat children. I have also contributed to the development of other acupuncture programs across BMC – your listeners might be interested to know that Boston Medical Center has acupuncture services in the department of family medicine, it has staff acupuncture for employees of BMC, it has an extensive acupuncture program in infectious disease to treat patients with HIV and we have acupuncture in oncology to treat the symptoms of cancer care treatment. An extensive program. It’s one of the largest acupuncture programs in a hospital in the country.
Melanie: Wrap it up for us with your best advice about acupuncture for people that are considering it what you really want them to know and what they ask you every day when people are a little bit nervous about trying something new like this. What do you tell them as really your best advice for considering it?
Maria: Acupuncture is extraordinarily relaxing. You would assume that it would be uncomfortable, but actually the opposite is the case. You can experience that deep relaxation by just trying a very simple first treatment that'll give you a sense of what it’s like and how helpful it can be for a range of conditions. My best advice is to give it a try with an acupuncturist who’s willing to go slow and get you used to it in case you're nervous, but do know that many people find it instantly very relaxing and supportive of their health.
Melanie: Thank you so much for being with us today. It’s great information for people to hear. Such an interesting topic. This is Boston MedTalks with Boston Medical Center. For more information, you can go to bmc.org. That’s bmc.org. this is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much for listening.