Acupuncture is an alternative medicine therapy technique similar to acupressure that involves inserting small, painless needles into the body at certain meridian points in order to clear life energy blockages, relieve pain, treat body disorders and restore the balance of yin, yang and life force called qi (also spelled “chi”). Heat, laser light and pressure can also be applied to these same meridian points during acupuncture treatment, and Chinese herbs are typically taken in conjunction with acupuncture sessions.
Said to have originated in 100BC China, acupuncture is a main component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which is not based on modern scientific knowledge. It first spread to Korea, then to Japan and then to France. It finally hit the United States in the 1900s, where it has undergone criticism for being “pseudoscience,” as there isn’t enough high-quality evidence of its efficacy. In fact, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), as well as sites like WebMD and MedicineNet, some physicians question if it’s a sham and nothing more than a placebo.
Despite the conflict around its effectiveness, acupuncture is continuing to gain popularity and more and more doctors are adding it to treatment routines as a complementary form of therapy. While traditional acupuncture practitioners believe that inserting needles along certain meridians re-balances energy flow, Western practitioners believe acupuncture’s effectiveness can be attributed to its ability to stimulate nerves, muscles and connective tissue, which boosts circulation and triggers your body to release natural painkillers.
When performed by a properly trained acupuncturist, acupuncture is said to be able to relieve and cure numerous ailments, including allergies, candida, depression, headaches, chronic pain, sickness due to chemotherapy, fibromyalgia, menstrual problems and pain, fertility issues, erectile issues, osteoarthritis, stress, and musculoskeletal issues including lower back pain and stiffness in places like shoulders and knees.
Serious adverse effects of acupuncture are rare, especially as licensing requirements and laws have increased. Minor soreness is common, but infections and organ damage can occur if an untrained practitioner reuses needles or punctures the needles too deep.
Typically, acupuncture consists of several sessions, beginning with a 60-minute session in which the practitioner will ask questions about your health history, examine the shape and color of your tongue, and monitor the strength and rhythm of your pulse in your wrist before inserting needles into meridian pathways that need unblocking. Subsequent appointments generally last about 30 minutes and consist of the acupuncturist monitoring your health and then inserting needles along the meridian points he or she deems need unblocking. After needle insertion, which is generally painless or causes a slight tingle or numbness, you’ll relax for about 10 to 20 minutes and then the acupuncturist will remove the needles.
Some people claim to feel energized by acupuncture sessions, while others tend to be spent and exhausted. If your condition doesn’t seem to respond after a few sessions, acupuncture may not be right for you. However, some studies have shown that acupuncture works best for patients who expect great results, so having a positive, open mind can actually be beneficial during acupuncture treatment.