If you haven’t tried it yourself, you’ve probably met somebody who has or have seen pictures. What seems like a million tiny needles protruding from strategic locations on a patient, lying prostrate and relaxed on a table despite what looks to be a fairly uncomfortable procedure. It may look a bit intimidating but acupuncture is one of the oldest healing practices in the world. Over the past two decades the correlation between health and acupuncture has been studied and practiced in the Western world and has grown increasingly popular, especially in the United States.
The practice which originated in China thousands of years ago, involves the insertion of extremely thin needles through the skin, to various depths at strategic points on your body. And although Western scientists may not fully understand how or why this holistic method of healing works, studies indicate that it may provide a number of medical benefits including pain reduction and relief from chemotherapy-induced nausea.
How acupuncture works
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, acupuncture is based on the concept that disease results from disruption in the flow of the life force called chi and an imbalance in the forces of yin and yang. Health results from a harmonious balance between yin and yang. Chi is believed to flow through pathways (meridians) in your body. These meridians and the energy flow are accessible through more than 350 acupuncture points. Illness results from an imbalance of the forces. Inserting needles into these points in various combinations will re-balance energy flow.
The Mayo clinic website asserts that Western medicine has its own explanation, stating that acupuncture incorporates modern concepts of neuroscience. Many practitioners view the acupuncture points as places to stimulate nerves, muscles and connective tissue. This stimulation appears to boost the activity of your body’s natural painkillers and increase blood flow.
What exactly happens during an acupuncture session?
Acupuncture usually involves a series of weekly or biweekly treatments in an outpatient setting. Each visit typically includes an exam with an assessment of current condition, the needle insertion and a follow-up discussion on self-care tips.
You’ll lie down on a comfortable surface. Depending on where the needles are to go, you will lie face down, face up or on your side before the needles are inserted. The needles used in acupuncture are metallic, solid, and hair-thin. As with anything, different people experience acupuncture differently. But most patients feel no or minimal pain as the needles are inserted. Some people feel energized by treatment, while others feel relaxed. Improper needle placement, movement of the patient during the procedure, or a defect in the needle can cause soreness and pain during treatment. It is vitally important to seek treatment from a qualified acupuncture practitioner.
As many as a dozen needles may need to be placed for each treatment. Once the needles are inserted, they’re usually left in place for five to 20 minutes. After placement, the needles are sometimes moved gently or stimulated with electricity or heat.
Who can benefit from acupuncture?
Acupuncture is useful as a stand-alone treatment for many conditions, but it’s also used in conjunction with more conventional Western medical treatments. For example, doctors may combine acupuncture and drugs to control pain and nausea after surgery.
Preliminary studies indicate that acupuncture may offer symptomatic relief for a variety of diseases and conditions including low back pain, headaches, fibromyalgia, migraines and osteoarthritis. In addition, research has shown that acupuncture can help manage postoperative dental pain and alleviate chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. It has also been shown to offer relief for chronic menstrual cramps and tennis elbow.
According to the NCCAM website, a 2007 National Health Interview Survey estimated 3.1 million U.S. adults and 150,000 children had used acupuncture in the previous year. Between the 2002 and 2007 survey, acupuncture use among adults increased by three-tenths of 1 percent which is approximately 1 million people.
Pros and Cons
As with any medical therapy, acupuncture has benefits and risks. Here are a few benefits:
Acupuncture is safe when performed properly.
It has few side effects.
It can be useful as a complement to other treatment methods.
It’s becoming more available in conventional medical settings.
It helps control certain types of pain.
It may be an alternative if you don’t respond to or don’t want to take pain medications.
Acupuncture may not be safe if you have a bleeding disorder or if you’re taking blood thinners. The most common side effects of acupuncture are soreness, bleeding or bruising at the needle sites. If needles are reused, infectious diseases may be accidentally transmitted. However, these risks can be avoided in the hands of a competent, certified acupuncture practitioner. So it’s important to do your homework when locating a practitioner.
Whether you’re in tune with your body’s chi and/or median zones, the correlation between health and acupuncture is interesting and impressive. Check it out if you’re inclined. With a rich history rooted in thousands of years of practice, acupuncture is no longer for only the adventurous or ultra-health conscious.