Acupuncture involves inserting hair-thin needles into acupressure points on the body and then stimulating them. It’s often used for pain relief and stress management, but is proving to be an effective part of integrative treatment regimens for a variety of conditions.
Acupuncture has been an integral part of Traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. In Eastern acupuncture theory, inserting wellness treatment needles into these points allows you to manipulate different pathways through the body and essentially tune your body’s energy flow. In Western theory, acupuncture treatments work much like other regenerative therapies by stimulating nerves and blood flow at key acupressure points.
It used to be viewed as an exotic, traditional treatment, but today acupuncture is rapidly becoming mainstream. The FDA approved classifying acupuncture needles as medical devices in 1996 and since then, clinical and an overwhelming amount of anecdotal evidence has proven acupuncture as an effective way to relieve chronic pain and heal injuries, among a variety of other things.
What Sorts of Injury & Illness can Acupuncture Help With?
While acupuncture is most widely used as a regenerative treatment for chronic pain disorders like knee pain, piriformis syndrome and back pain, it has proven to be an effective treatment for several other ailments as well:
- Anxiety and depression
- Cancer (in tandem with chemo/radiation therapy)
- Chronic nausea
- Musician’s injuries
- Neck pain
- Respiratory disorders
- Skin (cosmetic improvement)
- Stress relief
While the exact mechanisms behind how acupuncture works aren’t well-known, it’s thought to cause the release of endorphins, which relieve pain. Acupuncture also seems to energize the nervous system and increase blood flow; the way the needles are placed can affect your heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory function. Acupuncture stimulates the body to react to illness or injury, as well as release pain-relieving chemicals and neurotransmitters.
What is an Acupuncture Session Like?
Some people, especially those with a fear of needles, shy away at the thought of being stabbed dozens of times to relieve their pain. Won’t it just cause more pain? That many needles?
Believe it or not, acupuncture doesn’t have to hurt. There are some acupuncture techniques where patients report not even feeling the needle insertions. On top of a skilled hand to guide them, the other reason these needles don’t always hurt is because they’re the diameter of a fine hair. For many people, they’re simply too small to elicit a pain response or the particular technique does not touch pain receptors.
Depending on the type of acupuncture your practitioner recommends, the process will vary. First, the acupuncturist inserts the needles at the relevant acupressure points, often twisting or tapping them a bit to stimulate the point. You’re then left to lay still for 20 to 30 minutes before the practitioner removes the needles. Needles are only used once and then discarded appropriately.
That’s it – not actually all that scary.
Often, doctors in regenerative medicine pair other treatments with acupuncture; in medicine, integrative approaches to treatment are always better than a single treatment method. Sometimes acupuncture is helped along with the application of head or gentle electrical impulses to relevant needles. Cupping is also often paired with acupuncture.
Are There Any Risks to Getting Acupuncture?
Perhaps the most important way to ensure acupuncture is safe for you is to choose a qualified, well-respected practitioner. When done poorly, acupuncture can be painful and even cause nerve damage, organ damage and infections. Pain however is not the deciding factor for determining quality acupuncture. For some situations, acupuncture has to be uncomfortable to be helpful.
However, with an experienced acupuncturist who understands the nuance of depth of needle insertion and the necessity of sterility during the needling process, risks of nerve damage and infection are drastically reduced. Additionally, some patients report nausea during their first treatment.
With minimal risk and minimal invasiveness, a series of needling treatments is a great alternative to shoulder, knee or back surgeries, which should be treated as an absolute last resort for chronic pain disorders. Acupuncture is one of many examples, along with treatments like stem cell injections and platelet-rich-plasma therapy, of regenerative, holistic medicine that heals the source of pain naturally, all without invading or further traumatizing the body.