Originating in China thousands of years ago acupuncture, one of the oldest therapies in the world, is most commonly used for pain relief. This traditional theory is very different from that of Western medicine. Far from primitive, acupuncture is a highly sophisticated medical disciple. Based on the concept of Qi (pronounced “chee”), the idea is to bring the body back into a healthy balance. When there is a disturbance in our Qi, the result is illness. This happens when we become stressed or fatigued. Sometimes it can be caused simply by a poor diet.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
Our life energy, or Qi, flows through our bodies along specific pathways, or meridian points. If there is an imbalance in your Qi acupuncture helps to rebalance and restore your energy. There are more than 350 of these points that make acupuncture accessible. Hair-thin needles are then inserted along those meridian lines to help your body become harmonious once again.
Western medicine believes that the needles stimulate the nerves, muscles and connective tissues around that point and helps enhance your body’s natural painkillers and increase blood flow. Researchers have identified several physiological mechanisms to explain the positive effects of acupuncture. It’s believed that acupuncture activates the immune system cells to specific sites that are injured or vulnerable to disease, while others start the flow of endorphins to relieve pain.
Who is acupuncture for?
If you are looking to reduce pain, or relieve the nausea linked with chemotherapy, acupuncture might help you. This is just one of the examples of acupuncture being used in conjunction with more conventional Western medical treatments. It is also useful as a stand-alone treatment for some conditions. A few of the conditions that benefit from acupuncture sessions include arthritis, hypertension, insomnia, fibromyalgia, indigestion, back pain, infertility, and premenstrual syndrome. This is a very short list as the World Health Organization (WHO), the health branch of the United Nations, lists more than 40 conditions for which acupuncture may be useful.
What to expect during an acupuncture session
A typical treatment lasts approximately 30 to 60 minutes and involves the insertion of a dozen or so hair-thin needles into specific points on the body to various depths. You might experience a brief, sharp sensation when the needle is first inserted, but surprisingly acupuncture isn’t painful. Once the needles reach the appropriate depths, it’s not uncommon for them to be moved gently or stimulated with electricity or heat.
Pros and Cons
When performed properly, acupuncture is safe but has a few side effects. It has been shown to help control certain types of pain. The most common side effects of acupuncture are soreness, bleeding or bruising at the needle sites. It might not be safe is you have a bleeding disorder or if you’re taking blood thinners.
Choosing an acupuncture practitioner
If you’re considering acupuncture, you’ll want to find a competent practitioner. Ask your friends and family for recommendations. When you find a couple of promising acupuncturists, look for the letters L.Ac. (Licensed Acupuncturist) to indicate that they have completed a certified course of study. Most states require that non-physician acupuncturists pass an exam conducted by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).