Acupuncture is an age-old remedy from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that has been practiced for thousands of years. Some studies estimate it is 3,000 years old. Today, acupuncture is used around the world in the 21st-century information age of cross-pollination of cultures and health practices.
Acupuncture is an ancient medical procedure involving the insertion of tiny needles into specific points from Traditional Chinese Medicine.
These points run along the meridian pathways, or energy channel lines, which have yet to be proven scientifically while certain points have shown merit in medical benefit, particularly for pain.
Acupuncture is generally deemed as a safe practice.
Acupuncture has been studied scientifically and is recommended for some health conditions by Western and Eastern medicine doctors. The practice itself involves placing small, tiny, metallic needles into certain acupuncture points which run along the “meridian” lines, or energy lines of the body as laid out by TCM. The needles are moved slowly to stimulate the point. Acupuncture points are the same as acupressure points, which is a practice of just pushing the point with your finger (or it is incorporated into massage).
The meridians, or energy pathways, have yet to be proven scientifically, but according to TCM, there are 2,000 points that can be used for a variety of conditions. These meridian energy pathways allow for the flow of qi (pronounced chee) which is akin to life force energy. When qi is blocked at a certain point, it can cause disease, distress, or other health conditions. So, when the points are stimulated through acupuncture, the qi can flow again, thereby reversing the ailment. Studies as of 2012 show that most people come to use acupuncture for pain relief, but it can be used for a variety of other conditions as well.
How acupuncture works
Little is actually known about the mechanisms of acupuncture, even after scientific studies and reviews, so it does remain a topic of controversy among Western medical practitioners. Research has shown it is effective for treating migraines, arthritis and chronic pain in a NIH-funded study. Therefore, physicians focused on prescribing acupuncture for pain relief in the earlier days of bringing acupuncture to the West. While there is no scientific proof of the meridians, one study conducted in Sydney, Australia focused on the P-6 point called Neiguan and found those who received the acupuncture treatment were less likely to get sick or nauseous after surgery.
Even though the way acupuncture works is not fully understood in the West, it has been accepted in the East via positive experiences and intuitive guidance. Studies have shown a connection to neural pathways in the brain via brain scans to calm the nervous system and relieve pain, and that there may even be some effect on the muscular tissue the needles are inserted into.
Acupuncture treats various conditions
Acupuncture can treat multiple health problems, including:
Choosing an acupuncturist
As with any health matter, it's important to discuss with your physician whether acupuncture is a good choice for your health or condition. It is not for everyone, depending on whether you are on certain medications, supplements, or pregnant, among other risks. Also discuss with your acupuncture practitioner your course of treatment and if it's right for you, in conjunction with Western medicine and what your physician recommends.
Ask your doctor first for any referrals, as they are always a good source of information. Ensure that you choose a licensed acupuncture practitioner. While you do not need to be a doctor to practice acupuncture, many states in the United States have set up regulations for acupuncturists. The American Academy of Medical Acupuncture can provide medical acupuncture doctor recommendations as well. It's also a good idea to consider costs and insurance coverage if any, as well as number of treatments prescribed.
The safety of acupuncture
Acupuncture is generally deemed as safe with little or no side effects. Most people find it relaxing. It can be performed lying down on a table on the front and back surfaces of the body, where you may be unclothed. It has also become popular to offer lower-cost group acupuncture settings where patients sit in chairs fully clothed while the acupuncturists work with points they can see without the patient undressing.
Sometimes, there may be a small spot of blood where the needle was inserted, depending on the point. The sensation can be slightly uncomfortable, and it's important that the person receiving acupuncture remain still while the needles are inserted. If acupuncture is done incorrectly, it can cause organ or nervous system damage. The United States regulates that all acupuncture needles must be sterile and for single use only.
Acupuncture has been largely accepted for many health issues since the World Health Organization published a list in 1979 of conditions it can treat. Since then, millions around the world have benefitted from acupuncture, improving their lives.