Acupuncture: What Is It and How Does It Work?

Acupuncture: What Is It and How Does It Work?

Feeling poorly? You might think that being pricked with needles would only make you feel that much worse. But when it is done by a trained acupuncturist, it could leave you feeling much better.
A patient being treated with  acupuncture moxibustion in Nelson, New Zealand by Charlotte Stuart MAc RN
Creative Commons License photo credit: Wonderlane

Acupuncture has been traced back as far as the Stone Age. Legend has it that soldiers in ancient China were wounded by arrows and experienced pain relief in other parts of their bodies. This led to experimentation with needles, and acupuncture was born. However, precious little factual information exists about the origins of acupuncture.

Acupuncture today varies very little from that practiced thousands of years ago. The patient lies on a flat, comfortable surface. The acupuncturist then inserts thin metallic needles into the skin at various points on the body. These needles are usually manipulated by hand, but sometimes electrical stimulation or heat is used. Up to a dozen needles may be used in various spots in the course of one treatment. The needles remain in place for five to twenty minutes.

According to traditional Chinese theory, the underlying principle of acupuncture is the maintenance of the balance between the yin and yang – two opposing forces in the body. When disease is present, the yin and yang are imbalanced. This causes a blockage in the flow of vital energy, or qi, which flows through meridians in the body. Acupuncture is used at specific points on these meridians to unblock the qi.

Western practitioners tend to explain acupuncture a bit differently. They say that acupuncture points work by stimulating the nerves, muscles and connective tissue. This results in a release of the body’s natural painkillers and an increase in blood flow.

Unlike most forms of alternative medicine, acupuncture has been the subject of a number of scientific studies. These studies have shown promise in the use of acupuncture to treat back pain, migraines, fibromyalgia, arthritis and many other conditions that cause pain. It seems to be effective against chemotherapy-induced nausea as well.

Acupuncture has also been used to treat such diverse ailments as allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, drug addiction, incontinence and obesity. Its effectiveness against such problems, however, has not been confirmed.

Is Acupuncture Safe?

The technique of acupuncture carries few risks. Among these are the chance of excessive bleeding in those who are taking blood thinners or have bleeding disorders, injury of internal organs, and needles breaking off in the skin. If clean needles are not used, there is also a risk of disease transmission between patients. However, a reputable acupuncturist will use new needles each time, and he will know how to minimize other risks.

In most states, acupuncturists must either be licensed physicians or obtain certification in acupuncture. Even if it is not required, a good acupuncturist will be trained and certified.

Acupuncture is one of the most popular types of alternative medicine. It is accepted as a valid form of treatment by many practitioners of conventional medicine, and studies have indicated that it does work against many ailments. If you have chronic pain, acupuncture may be worth looking into.

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