What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture, an ancient Chinese method of healing, involves the insertion of very fine, sterile needles into particular points of the body known as "acupuncture points." Chinese medical theory holds that acupuncture works by normalizing the balance of Qi (pronounced "chee") – life force or vital energy – throughout the body. If your Qi is depleted or obstructed, you may notice symptoms. An acupuncturist finds the root cause of the imbalance and focuses on treating that imbalance.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
Acupuncture is classically thought to work by influencing the Qi, which flows through channels – known as "meridians" – in the body. These channels can be compared to highways. When there are no impediments, traffic will move smoothly. But if there is an accident or other blockage, the normal flow can be disrupted.
The patient's flow of energy is influenced by the needling of acupuncture points. Acupuncture can unblock obstructions in the body’s meridians, promoting balance in the body. Western thinking and research has demonstrated that the acupuncture needling stimulates a number of positive changes in the body, influencing the body’s homeostatic system or internal regulating system.
Where are the Acupoints?
Acupuncture points are located at precise places along interconnected pathways that map the whole body, including the head, trunk and limbs. The most commonly used acupuncture points are on the lower arms and legs.
What Conditions and Symptoms Can Acupuncture Treat?
Patients often ask if acupuncture can help treat any number of given ailments – and the answer is usually yes. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine can help patients dealing with nearly any health concern, because this kind of medicine is rooted in treating the whole person. Acupuncture attempts to restore balance within a person, rather than solely focusing on treating a symptom.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has determined that acupuncture is effective in treating over 40 different disease categories, including arthritis, allergies, pain, colds, headaches, immune disorders, heart problems, pregnancy symptoms, skin problems, depression and more.
Below is a list of illnesses and conditions for which acupuncture has been proven to be effective.
See a list of conditions that can be treated by acupuncture:
It is possible to treat these and many other conditions with acupuncture and Chinese medicine:
- Ankle Swelling
- Arm and Shoulder Pain
- Attention Deficit Disorder
- Back Pain
- Bed Wetting
- Blood Pressure
- Bronchial Conditions
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Circulatory Issues
- Foot Pain
- Gall Bladder Disorders
- Gynecological Concerns
- Hay Fever
- Heart Problems
- Hip Pain
- Immune System Deficiency
- Joint Pain
- Kidney Problems
- Knee Pain
- Leg Pain, Cramps
- Liver Problems
- Neck Pain, Stiffness
- Pregnancy Symptoms
- Prostate Problems
- Shoulder Pain
- Sinus Trouble
- Skin Problems
- Sports Injuries
- Stomach Problems
- Sore Throat
- Thyroid Conditions
- Urinary Problems
Many individuals who are new to Traditional Chinese Medicine may have questions about the experience of acupuncture treatment. Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
Frequently Asked Questions about Acupuncture
Does acupuncture hurt?
Different people have different sensations, but typically patients feel minimal to no pain when acupuncture needles are inserted. Acupuncture needles are just slightly thicker than a strand of hair. They are solid with a smooth point that makes for a much less painful experience compared to the needles used for drawing blood samples.
During treatment, sensations can include: nothing, tingling, an electrical sensation below or above the needles, or a dull achy sensation. There should never be an intolerable level of pain. If pain is felt, the acupuncturist should be informed so they can adjust the needle. After the needles are removed, there may be a dull achy sensation that shortly resolves.
How safe is acupuncture – are there side effects?
Acupuncture is an extremely safe treatment. The needles are sterilized stainless steel, disposable and used one time only. There are no medications on the acupuncture needles. When the needles are removed, there may be a small spot of blood. Uncommonly, some experience slight bruising, numbness, or tingling in the area that may last a few days. Other side effects are uncommon.
As energy is being moved in the body and other biological processes are stimulated, an in-body shift can occur. You may experience changes in sleep, appetite, bowel or urinary patterns. Emotions can also be triggered. This type of slight aggravation is not a cause of concern, but usually reflects that the acupuncture treatment is working. Often patients experience deep relaxation during or after treatment, which passes with time and can be overcome with rest.
Can pregnant women get acupuncture treatments?
Yes, however, there are some acupuncture points that should be avoided in pregnant women. So, please make sure that your acupuncturist is aware of your pregnancy.
What happens during a treatment session?
An initial acupuncture session will include a thorough medical history intake and physical examination (particularly, examining at your tongue and pulse). Next, the acupuncture needles (typically 8 – 15 needles) will be inserted into specific acupuncture points. Follow-up acupuncture sessions include a brief medical history intake and tongue/pulse examination followed by needle insertion. Patients are typically lying down on a comfortable exam bed with the needles for approximately 20 – 40 minutes per session. Patients are recommended to wear loose or comfortable clothing so that acupuncture points can easily be accessed by the acupuncturist.
How often do patients typically follow up for acupuncture treatments?
Typically, treatments are once or twice a week for 8-12 sessions, representing one course. Commonly, patients will report improvements after just a few treatments, but the relief may not be lasting. Therefore, patients are encouraged to finish the initial course of treatments.
For more complex, long-standing conditions, a longer duration of treatment may be recommended. For acute problems or general wellness, fewer visits are typically required. After finishing the initial course, your acupuncturist will discuss further acupuncture treatments and the frequency of the treatment based on your individual needs.
Is there anything I should – or shouldn't – do on the day of a treatment?
To get the most out of the treatment, please review these guidelines:
- Avoid being hungry during a treatment, but also do not overeat immediately before or after your treatment. Small snacks or meals prior to or after treatment are fine.
- Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes that can easily roll up to the elbows and above the knees. If this isn’t possible, gowns and drapes will be provided.
- Avoid over-exertion of all kinds prior to and after treatment. Moderate exercise is okay.
- Avoid consumption of alcoholic beverages 6 hours before or after treatment.
- If possible, plan your activities so that you can rest after the treatment. Or, at least not have to work too hard! This can be helpful to extend the relaxing and rejuvenating effects of the treatment.
- Continue to take any prescription medicines as directed by your doctor.
- Keep a journal of your response to treatment and bring it to your appointment – this helps to guide future treatments.