What Is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a wellness and pain-relief technique devised in China over 5,000 years ago. The technique is based on the principle that your body is encircled by channels, called meridians, that carry life energy, called chi (pronounced “chee”). Acupuncturists believe that when chi is in its proper proportion and flowing freely, you are healthy. But if you have too much or too little chi, or its flow is blocked at some point, the result is disease, pain, or both.
The purpose of acupuncture is to get chi flowing freely in the correct amount. The method is to insert thin needles into your skin at precise points on the meridians. The needles and their careful placement are intended to redirect your chi and promote a healing response.
Does Acupuncture Work?
The Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center reports that the World Health Organization “recognizes acupuncture as an effective treatment for more than 35 common illnesses.” The method has been shown to help stimulate the immune system and be helpful for weight loss and smoking cessation.
Currently, acupuncture is also used to treat a number of conditions, including many forms of chronic pain:
- muscle spasms and pain
- chronic back problems and pain
- headaches, including reducing the frequency and intensity of migraines
- neck pain
- knee pain
- digestive problems
- depressed mood
Doctors do not fully understand how acupuncture brings its benefits, but it is likely that the insertion of needles leads your body to release endorphins, which helps relieve pain. Also, some doctors believe that acupuncture activates the body’s ability to heal itself. One hypothesis held by many doctors is that needle insertion at acupuncture points helps to stimulate your nerves and blood flow. This may increase the activity of your body’s natural pain killers. Houman Danesh, MD, director of integrative pain management at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, suggests that for chronic pain, it is important for treatments that do not require opioid prescriptions—such as acupuncture—to be considered.
Is Acupuncture Safe? Does It Hurt?
Acupuncture is considered to be safe when performed by an experienced practitioner who uses sterile needles. WebMD reports that needles come in sterile packets and that the Food and Drug Administration requires acupuncture practitioners to use each needle only once so that no needle is inserted into more than one patient. Side effects of acupuncture are generally minor. Rare side effects include possible nausea, vomiting, and headaches, but any such result typically disappears within 24 hours.
Needles may hurt a little when they are inserted into the skin, but the insertion is typically not deep, and any momentary pain quickly disappears. Many of the three and one-half million people in the U.S. who visit an acupuncturist each year testify that their feeling upon leaving an acupuncture treatment is the opposite of discomfort. It is, for many, a sense of being energized or well rested.
Should You Try Acupuncture?
If you are tempted to try acupuncture for pain or any other condition you may have, you should first talk to your doctor and ask for his or her advice. Be aware that if you use blood thinners, this may be a reason not to visit an acupuncturist. There are a few other indications against acupuncture that your doctor should be able to advise you about. If you then decide to attempt acupuncture treatment, make sure the acupuncturist is approved in your state if your state, like most, requires licensure, certification, or registration. You should seek an acupuncturist who has certification from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
Many physicians would agree that acupuncture may be a useful part of an Integrative Approach to the treatment of pain. Such an approach combines traditional medical treatment with complementary medical treatments that are safe, have shown efficacy for some people, and are generally accepted by the medical establishment.
If you try or have tried acupuncture, I would enjoy knowing your results.
Until next time, be well,