Acupuncture is a form of Chinese medicine. It is the stimulation of specific acupuncture points along the skin of the body involving various methods such as the penetration by thin needles or the application of heat or pressure.
Traditional acupuncture involves needle insertion, moxibustion, and/or cupping therapy. In Chinese medicine it is believed that stimulating specific acupuncture points corrects imbalances in the flow of qi through channels known as meridians.
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Acupuncture is used by alternative medical practitioners to address a wide range of conditions, but most often to provide pain relief. It is rarely used alone, but most commonly used as a complimentary treatment.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends acupuncture as a treatment option for persistent lower back pain, chronic tension headaches and migraines. Acupuncture is also often used to treat musculoskeletal conditions of the bones and muscles and pain conditions like joint pain, dental pain and postoperative pain.
One acupuncture session is typically not enough to provide symptom or pain relief. A common treatment schedule involves one to two sessions per week for five to six weeks. However, your physician or therapist will recommend a treatment plan that meets your needs.
It is generally believed that acupuncture originated in China. Sharpened stones and bones dating back to about 6000 BCE are thought to have been used as instruments for acupuncture treatment. The first documented usage of acupuncture as a treatment occurs in The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine dating as far back as 100 BCE.
In the sixth century, acupuncture made its way to Korea and Japan. When commercial routes opened in Vietnam in the eighth century, acupuncture made its way there as well. By the sixteenth century, acupuncture was wide spread in France. Today, acupuncture therapy exists worldwide and is growing in popularity.
What to Expect
Acupuncture needles are often made of stainless steel, making them flexible and preventing rust. Needles are disposed of after each use to prevent contamination. Shorter needles are used on the face and near the eyes, while longer needles are used in fleshier areas.
The acupuncturist will first sterilize the patient’s skin with alcohol, and thin needles are inserted into key pressure points. Skilled practitioners are able to insert needles without causing pain. Needles can be manipulated in a variety of ways including spinning, flicking or moving up and down. Needles are quickly inserted to avoid pain. The treatment is not invasive, and patients are able to return to activities post treatment.
Acupuncture studies conducted in 2012 showed that the therapy had a positive effect on migraine and tension headaches. Similar studies showed that acupuncture provided positive results for those suffering from chronic non-specific low back pain. Acupuncture has also been used to address nausea, vomiting and post-operative pain.
Risks & Side Effects
As is true with many treatments, there are risks and side effects associated with acupuncture therapy. However, the risks are low if you have a certified acupuncture practitioner providing the treatment. Possible side effects of complication from acupuncture include:
- Organ Injury
If needles are pushed too deeply they could puncture an internal organ, but this is an extremely rare complication for an experienced practitioner. Licensed acupuncturists are required to use sterile, disposable needles to avoid infections.
Not everyone is a perfect candidate for acupuncture. Conditions that increase risk of complication include bleeding disorders, being pregnant, and having a pacemaker.