What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture, from the latin words “acus” (needle) and “punctura” (to puncture) is a complementary approach used in traditional Chinese Medicine that is growing to be widely recognized as an effective treatment for pain. Most commonly, acupuncture is used to treat chronic pain, including lower back pain, neck pain, knee pain, tension headaches, and migraine headaches. Acupuncture, like all energy healing methods, use the concept of the body’s qi (natural energy flow) to restore the body’s natural energy balance.
What is Qi?
This ancient form of Chinese medicine is centered around the body’s qi (chee), or natural energy flow. The subtle energy (chi) that flows through your body is as important to your health and well-being as the more traditionally recognized bodily functions. Often when these energies become weak, disturbed or out of balance, we experience physical and emotional symptoms. In order to relieve these symptoms, the energy that flows through your body must be restored. This is where methods such as Acupuncture come in.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
Acupuncture restores the body to a state of homeostasis, which in turn has a pain relieving effect. Hair-fine needles or topical herbal heat treatments may be used to stimulate points along the path of the qi, thus helping the body heal through the flow of energy. Acupuncture helps to reduce inflammation throughout the body because the needles stimulate blood flow to the area of insertion. This triggers a release of endorphins by sending a signal to the brain by way of the central nervous system, which activates some of the body’s natural pain relieving mechanisms. This why acupuncture is so useful in alleviating pain. There has also been research that shows how acupuncture prompts the release of oxytocin, which regulates the parasympathetic nervous system and could slow the body’s “fight or flight” mechanisms, easing you into relaxation. Also, of course, simply lying down for half an hour and allowing the needles to work their magic can be relaxing in itself! Acupuncture can be so relaxing, in fact, that it is not uncommon to fall asleep during the treatment.
The Acupuncture Experience
An acupuncturist will first do an evaluation of the patient to gain an understanding of their symptoms. This is necessary to figure out which areas should be focused on during the acupuncture session. The evaluation may include questions and answers, pulse-taking, abdominal palpation, and an examination of the tongue, skin color, and body odor. Based on the results of the evaluation, a treatment plan is devised involving the head and scalp, ears, or other parts of the body.
After the evaluation, the acupuncturist will insert incredibly fine needles just below the surface of the skin at specific points on the body that correspond to the pain’s location. For example, a needle in the right pinky toe will help alleviate pressure experienced around the left eye – a common symptom of cluster headaches. The needles stay in the skin for approximately half an hour, and then the acupuncturist will remove them.
Is Acupuncture Painful?
Unfortunately, many people do not choose to try acupuncture because they are afraid that the needles will hurt. In reality, however, they are so thin, almost hair-like, that you really do not even feel them! Occasionally, you may feel a slight burning sensation that lasts for about 10 seconds after the needle is placed, but that goes away very quickly on its own. At your first appointment, be sure to ask for the finest needles available – some acupuncturists prefer to use thicker needles, but they usually will have finer ones on hand.
How Often Do I Need To Go For Treatments?
The effects of acupuncture can be felt almost immediately – often 20 minutes into the first session. You may or may not feel relief between your first few appointments depending on your body’s response to the treatment. Acupuncture takes time to work, and multiple treatments are often needed to help with chronic pain. Over time, you will be able to go longer and longer between appointments while still reaping the benefits. This will happen as your body becomes used to the state of homeostasis that the acupuncture induces, and you will be able to sustain that state on its own for longer periods of time. Practically, you should start off going to acupuncture twice a week for symptoms such as chronic headaches or pain, but after a few regular sessions, may only need to go once a month.
The necessary time put into acupuncture, especially in the beginning of treatment when you need to go more often, is certainly seen as a downside to some. But if you stick with it and get to the point where you don’t need it as often, you will thank yourself later. The only other drawback is that acupuncture is still seen as a complementary approach, and not as a conventional treatment. As such, it is often not covered by insurance. However, specialists remain hopeful that acupuncture will continue to become more widely accepted as an effective means of treatment for headaches and many other types of chronic pain, as it has proven helpful to so many people over thousands of years.
Acupuncture can Help Alleviate:
- Dizziness and imbalance
- Hearing and noise problems, such as hearing loss and noise sensitivity
- Muscular and motor problems, such as muscle coordination, loss of muscle strength, loss of muscle tone, posture problems, and muscle injuries (such as whiplash, myofascial dysfunction, temporomandibular disorders, and fibromyalgia)
- Acupuncture achieves this by helping the energy system to release the spastic muscles
- Psychiatric disorders, mainly anxiety, depression, and dissociative disorder
- Post-injury psychological reactions and PTSD, because acupuncture is useful in stabilizing the energy systems
- Sensory and metabolic disturbances. Both traditional and auricular acupuncture have been found to be effective against various sensory and metabolic complaints
- Sexual problems such as the loss of desire, altered sensation, erectile dysfunction, intensified sexual desire
- Sleep disturbances such as insomnia, hypersomnia, sleep/wake cycle disturbance, parasomnias
- Speech and language problems. Specifically, Acupuncture has been shown to improve articulation
- Alcohol, drug, and substance abuse
- Vision and light sensitivity problems
- Poor academic performance, especially as a result of a concussion.