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  • What is acupuncture and what conditions does it help manage? Ask the Professor, with SCU’s Dr. Henry Hwang

What is acupuncture and what conditions does it help manage? 

Ask the Professor, with SCU’s Dr. Henry Hwang

Henry Hwang, DC, LAc, Assistant Professor and Director of Clinical Education for the Eastern Medicine Department at SCU Health answers the following commonly asked questions about acupuncture and the conditions it can help manage, as well as well as educational opportunities at SCU, and healthcare opportunities at SCU Health, below.

Dr. Henry Hwang performs acupunctureWhat is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is an ancient Eastern Medicine therapy that involves the use of sterile needles to stimulate key areas of the body to help alleviate pain and mobility problems and achieve optimal health outcomes. While its popularity has only recently been increasing in the West, acupuncture is an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), a medical system that goes back thousands of years. Yet its full potential is still untapped, as it’s becoming one of the fastest-growing fields in integrative health. Integrative, whole-person health addresses the full range of a patient’s physical, emotional, spiritual, and environmental influences, focusing on therapies that extend beyond the surgeries and drugs that have historically defined Western medicine.

What conditions does acupuncture help manage?

Dr. Henry Hwang performs acupunctureAcupuncture is most commonly used to treat pain and also used for overall well-being. Maintenance of good health reduces the chance of getting ill. The World Health Organization endorses acupuncture, and clinical studies have shown it to be a beneficial treatment for many conditions, including:
  • Chronic pain: migraines, neck and back pain, tendonitis, sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Digestive disorders: irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, gastritis and constipation
  • Urinary and reproductive disorders: menstrual cramps, irregular or heavy periods, infertility and menopausal symptoms
  • Psychological and emotional disorders: depression, anxiety, stress and insomnia
  • Symptom management for the negative side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, including fatigue, generalized pain, dry mouth, peripheral neuropathy, nausea and vomiting
  • Seasonal allergies
  • High blood pressure
  • Addictions to nicotine, alcohol and drugs
  • Overweight or obesity, when coupled with diet and exercise
Acupuncture should be performed by practitioners licensed in acupuncture and with proper training. 

Who are candidates for acupuncture?

Acupuncture has been widely used in Asia and other countries for centuries not only for treating illnesses, but also for health enhancement. In other words, one does not need to be ill to seek for acupuncture. There is no limitation on age range for acupuncture.

Dr. Henry Hwang performs acupunctureHow does acupuncture work and what does it feel like?

Acupuncture draws on the belief that an energy called Qi (pronounced “chee”) circulates throughout our body, from the top of our head to the soles of our feet. When we experience good health, this energy flows unobstructed along pathways in the body called meridians. Each meridian is believed to be connected to a specific organ system, and when an energy flow is disrupted by a disease or an injury, illness or pain occurs. Acupuncture is then used to balance the flow of Qi and stimulate our body’s natural ability to heal. Acupuncture involves placing thin needles into certain areas of the skin. When stimulated, the point sends a message along the nerve to the brain and spinal cord. This causes the brain to release chemicals such as endorphins. These are chemicals our own body produces that alter or eliminate the message of pain being delivered to the brain. The release of these “feel-good” mood regulating chemicals helps patients feel better physically and emotionally, similar to the effect of exercising. And when someone’s emotional outlook improves, their quality of life improves. The number of needles and the length of time they are kept in place depends on the ailment being treated. Since the needles are as thin as hair, some patients may feel a tiny prick when the thin needle is inserted. Others feel a tickle. And some patients don’t feel a thing. Acupuncture sessions generally run for 45 to 60 minutes, with patients laying on a padded table. Some patients feel an electrical sensation during a treatment, which is healing energy is moving through the body. And some patients fall asleep during acupuncture treatments. In addition, many treatments include a lesson on how to use acupressure on yourself. At home, patients can apply pressure on certain points with fingers, hence called acupressure. This should only be done with guidance from a properly trained and licensed acupuncturist. It is not recommended to use acupressure without first discussing with a licensed acupuncturist.

Is acupuncture safe & effective?

Acupuncture is known for its simple, yet effective methods and does not cause harm to patients when performed correctly. Acupuncture treats many of the same conditions that modern medicine does – without having to resort to chemical pharmaceuticals or invasive surgeries, making it very attractive to those who are looking for natural, safer treatment methods for chronic or acute problems. Due to the growing side effects and damages of pharmaceuticals, such as opioid prescription painkiller addiction and abuse, we’re finding increased interest in less invasive, yet effective alternative treatments, such as acupuncture.  The future of acupuncture is especially bright and relevant as it’s a proven effective treatment therapy for a wide array of conditions. Acupuncture helps patients overcome many health issues in a safer, more natural way.

Is acupuncture also used as an anti-aging treatment?

It is important to understand that youthful appearance comes from within the body and not just the skin alone. Acupuncture approaches anti-aging by first creating a healthier environment within the body which then naturally revealing healthy glow. Facial acupuncture may also be applied to the face to target fine lines and help make the skin look younger and smoother. The concept is to collaborate internally and externally to optimize health while simultaneously enhancing the appearance on the skin.

What is the difference between acupuncture and Botox?

Botox is not acupuncture. Botox uses a bacteria called “botulinum toxin” that temporarily paralyzes the muscle area by injection to tighten the skin of that muscle area. While both botox and acupuncture use needles, acupuncture works on an opposite concept to Botox. Acupuncture combines strengthening the health within the body with addressing the facial skin in an all-natural manner. There are no drugs or toxins injected to the skin. Achieving a healthier state from within the body also carries out a better skin quality to naturally appear younger and smoother, with more prolonged result and without the possible side effects by Botox.

Is acupuncture covered by most health insurance plans?

Most health insurance plans are covering acupuncture to treat chronic pain and other symptoms. CalHealth.net discusses Acupuncture Health Care and California Health Plans. The growing acceptance of acupuncture is driving increased interest from patients and increased opportunities for acupuncturists. Dr. Hwang cited several major milestones that the acupuncture profession has marked, which are spurring continued growth in acceptance and respect in the U.S., such as:

Is SCU Health accepting new acupuncture patients?

Yes, SCU Health accepts new acupuncture patients.

Does SCU Health offer acupuncture consultations, if I want to learn more?

Yes! To schedule an appointment for acupuncture or other forms of integrative, whole-person healthcare, call SCU Health at (562) 943-7125. Visit the SCU Health Acupuncture & Traditional Chinese Medicine page for more information. All SCU Health acupuncturists are licensed acupuncturists.

Is acupuncture a good career option?

Absolutely! Acupuncture is a growing field with increased demand. According to the Global Advances in Health and Medicine journal, acupuncture’s use in Western countries has grown significantly. The integration of acupuncture treatment is on the rise in chiropractic clinics, primary care clinics, hospitals, pain clinics, physical therapy departments, athletic facilities, hospices massage therapy practices and private practices. SCU has been preparing students for the rewarding profession of acupuncture for over 20 years. SCU was the pioneer in starting up the nation’s first Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine (DACM) program. The DACM degree program at SCU is the first to be awarded programmatic accreditation by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine (ACAHM) on the West coast in 2018. Prior to that, SCU offered the master’s degree program since 2000. SCU ACM classes begin in January, May and September. To learn more about SCU’s ACM programs, visit the MACM and DACM program pages for more information, or call (562) 475-4604 to speak with an admissions advisor about getting started at SCU.

Henry Hwang headshotAbout Dr. Henry Hwang

After graduating from U.C. Irvine with a degree in biology, Dr. Hwang enrolled at Los Angeles College of Chiropractic at Southern California University of Health Sciences and earned his Doctorate of Chiropractic. After working for a few years as a chiropractor at a busy multidisciplinary work injury clinic, Dr. Hwang developed a bad habit of eating lunch at his desk while working and having late dinners, and wondering why his stomach was a mess. When western medicine seemed to only alleviate his symptoms temporarily, he eventually turned to acupuncture. After a few months of treatment, his stomach was happy once again. That was when he decided he wanted to broaden his scope of practice and enrolled at Southern California University of Health Sciences and graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Master’s in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and became certified by the California Acupuncture Board shortly thereafter. Dr. Hwang has come to believe that pain and disease are not simply an inconvenience, but rather information: our body’s the only way of telling our brain that we’re doing something it doesn’t like. “What makes chiropractic and acupuncture such powerful tools is their ability to help the body get more out of its own natural healing resources, and return the body to its homeostatic state.” With over 16 years of clinical experience, Dr. Hwang has seen chiropractic and acupuncture get patients out of pain and return them to their daily activities; and he loves sharing these powerful treatments with everyone.

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