What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese system of healthcare. It aims to prevent and cure specific diseases and conditions by sticking needles into points of the body.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
Acupuncture stimulates the body's ability to resist or overcome illnesses and conditions by correcting imbalances. Acupuncture also prompts the body to produce chemicals that decrease or eliminate painful sensations.
There are nearly 1,000 acupuncture points (called acu-points) along the body's 14 major meridians, which are considered energy-carrying channels. Sixteenth century Chinese doctors use the term "chi," (pronounced "chee") to describe the energy that circulates through the meridians. The belief is that illness is caused by a disruption of chi, which leads to an imbalance of energy. Acupuncture can correct this energy disruption.
Many acu-points are near nerves. When stimulated, these nerves cause a dull ache or feeling of fullness in the muscle. The stimulated muscle sends a message to the central nervous system, (the brain and spinal cord), causing the release of endorphins (morphine-like chemicals produced in our own bodies during times of pain and stress). Endorphins, along with other neurotransmitters, (body chemicals that modify nerve impulses), block the message of pain from being delivered up the brain.
What Happens During Acupuncture Treatment?
The physician who does the acupuncture will use hair-thin metal needles. Each needle is sterile and pre-packaged. The number of needles used during treatment can vary from two to eight. The needles are placed at various depths, ranging from a fraction of an inch to two inches. They are placed under the skin in carefully determined points on the body.
After the needles have been inserted. they stay in place from a few minutes up to twenty minutes. During the treatment, acupuncture needles are twirled, energized electrically or warmed to intensify the effect of the treatment. When electricity is applied, a tingling sensation is common. However, if the sensation becomes too strong, patients can ask the physician or the nurse to reduce the electricity at any time.
In the treatment series, a physician will use different combinations of points, different needling techniques, or both. These combinations help stimulate new sources of healing as the patient's response to treatment is observed.
What Conditions are Treated with Acupuncture?
Although acupuncture is not a "cure-all" treatment, it is very effective in treating several diseases and conditions. Acupuncture is most effective at treating chronic pain, such as headaches, menstrual cramps and low back, neck or muscle pain. It can also be used to treat arthritis, facial pain, pain from shingles, spastic colon and colitis conditions. Acupuncture has also been successful in treating obesity, and addictions such as nicotine or drugs. Acupuncture also can improve the functioning of the immune system (the body's defense system against diseases).
For certain conditions, such as cancer, acupuncture should be performed in combination with other treatments.
What Does Acupuncture Feel Like?
Patients may feel a slight prick when the needle is inserted, but it is much less than the prick they feel during an injection because the needles are much thinner.
Patients may feel a heaviness, numbness, tingling or mild soreness after the needles have been inserted. A feeling of deep heaviness or numbness called Deqi, (pronounced "day chee"), means that the treatment is working. The patient tells the acupuncturist, "yes" when he or she feels this.
Is Acupuncture Safe?
Yes. When acupuncture is performed with disposable needles under clean, sterile conditions, it is highly unusual to have any complications. The advantage of acupuncture is that it is drug-free. With drugs, people often develop a tolerance, or the need for an increased dosage to achieve the same required effect. However, this does not happen with acupuncture. In addition, acupuncture allows the physician to immediately examine the patient's response to the treatment and adjust it if necessary.
Important Things to Know about Acupuncture
Patients should not rely on acupuncture for treatment of chronic or serious illnesses unless they see physicians first. Acupuncture may not be the only way to improve a patient's condition. Healthcare providers may recommend acupuncture treatment along with other treatment methods such as physical therapy or medication. In addition, it makes sense for patients to try acupuncture for at least five or 10 treatments before giving up.
Medical Field Approval
There are 6,500 licensed acupuncturists in the United States and 3,000 physicians who perform acupuncture as part of their medical practices. The World Health Organization currently recognizes more than 40 medical problems. Furthermore, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently considering a request for official approval of acupuncture needles as safe and effective medical devices ranging from allergies to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which can be helped by acupuncture treatment.