You’ve seen it in commercials and movies when someone undergoes acupuncture---fine needles are inserted into their back, legs and other parts of the body, in order to relieve pain. But what exactly is acupuncture, and how does it work? Many misconceptions exist regarding acupuncture, as does fear about receiving it in the first place, due to the use of needles. This is unfortunate, as acupuncture is one of the most effective pain relief treatments out there. Read on to learn more about acupuncture and how it works.
History of Acupuncture
Acupuncture is an alternative medicine hailing from Chinese traditional medicine. The practice is believed to have originated around 2500 CE, with sharpened bones and stones initially being inserted at key points throughout the body, trigger a healing response. Nowadays, very fine, single use, disposable needles are used.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
According to Eastern medicine, inserting these needles effects the distribution of chi, or energy, throughout the meridians, or pathways, in the body. Western medicine takes a different view in that these “acupoints” can be used to stimulate muscles, nerves, and connective tissues. More specifically, the minimally invasive insertion of fine needles at these acupoints stimulate the central nervous system, which triggers the release of chemicals that hasten and promote healing.
What Does Acupuncture Treat?
Acupuncture is used primarily for pain relief, or discomfort. For example, musculoskeletal injuries or soreness, such as a tender back or neck, can be treated via acupuncture. Other ailments such as headache/ migraine, menstrual pain, labor pain, etc., can be treated inserting needles at acupoints, as well.
Some acupuncture practitioners and users claim that this particular medicine can help alleviate or even cure mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, addiction, and more. More scientific research is needed to further back up these claims, but one thing for certain is more and more people are seeking acupuncture to help with improving mental health.
What Does Acupuncture Feel Like?
Many people cringe at the thought of needles, thus barring them from trying acupuncture. However, most folks report feeling no pain during an acupuncture session. Certain sensations, however, may be felt when a needle (usually the thickness of a cat whisker) is inserted, ranging from a dull ache or throb, to a tingly, electric like pulse: a so-called chi response, which is normal. These sensations and overall experience will vary person to person, depending on their pain tolerance. Some folks report that their initial acupuncture session was the most painful or sensitive, with following sessions pain free.
The type of needles can also affect what, if any, pain and sensations one experiences. Acupuncturists typically use fine needles, though others may use a higher gauge, which may cause pain. Be sure to see only licensed acupuncturists, and should you experience any sharp pain during an acupuncture treatment, let your acupuncturist know immediately.
How Long Does Acupuncture Last?
Most sessions range from 20-30 minutes. Your first initial session may last up to an hour, as your acupuncturist will first conduct a consultation, asking you about your health, the pain you’re experiencing/ symptoms, and will answer any questions you may have.
Who Can Receive Acupuncture?
People of all ages, from weeks old infants to the elderly, can and do receive acupuncture; there is no age limit. However, you should avoid receiving acupuncture if you have a bleeding disorder (hemophilia, for example) or you have a pacemaker, as the electrical “chi” responses can disturb the pacemaker’s operation. If you are pregnant, consult first with your doctor if you are interested in receiving acupuncture.
What Are The Side Effects of Acupuncture?
The most common side effects after receiving treatment are soreness, bruising, and slight bleeding at the treatment site. Soreness usually fades within 24 hours, with bruising lasting a few days.
How to Prepare for An Acupuncture Treatment
The day of your appointment, be sure not to be engaged in anything stressful before and after receiving acupuncture; treat the day as one for rest and relaxation. This is especially crucial if you’re trying acupuncture for the first time, as you may already be anxious. And as you would with getting a tattoo, or waxing, do not consume any coffee, tea, or beverage containing caffeine. Why? Caffeine activates the body’s fight or flight response, making you more sensitive to pain. Also key: bring a list of any current medications.
Common Misconceptions About Acupuncture
Aside from the most common misconception---“Acupuncture hurts because of the needles!”--- the other misconception is that becoming an acupuncturist requires no training. In fact, those interested in practicing acupuncture in the US are required to have at least 3 years of graduate school education. And even once a degree and license are obtained, acupuncturists must stay current with classes and new knowledge to keep their licensure, and in order to pass the National Board Licensure Exams.
Another incorrect assumption is that acupuncture is an outdated and inefficient form of pain relief treatment, given its thousands of years of history. The truth is that more and more studies show that effectiveness of acupuncture, and more doctors are recommending the practice in lieu of prescription drugs, given the current opioid epidemic. Given the stigma and fear of needles, some folks also assume acupuncture is addictive, like illegal substances. However, there is nothing addictive about acupuncture; in fact, recent studies have shown that acupuncture can help fight tobacco addiction.
Lastly, many folks believe that acupuncture is only for treating pain. As mentioned previously, many individuals use acupuncture to treat mental health troubles such as addiction, anxiety, depression, etc. Acupuncture is also utilized to address allergies, morning sickness, high blood pressure, and even infertility.
Whether you are new to trying acupuncture or have undergone it multiple times, acupuncture is a unique treatment that can be tailored to your needs. Minimally invasive and effective, acupuncture continues to grow in popularity, and is a great drug-free alternative to treating pain and improving mental health.