Most of us would probably not like the idea of needles prickling our skin. Who likes pain anyway? But what if we tell you that instead of causing pain, acupuncture will eliminate the pain in your body? So, if you are wondering how acupuncture works and why acupuncture is good for you, read on.
Let’s start by tracing the history of acupuncture:
How Acupuncture Became Known in the United States
Acupuncture is a major element of the Chinese healthcare system. This traditional medicine can be traced as far back as 2,500 years.
Acupuncture was first introduced to the United States in the 1970’s. It all began when President Richard M. Nixon visited China in 1971. In his visit, he was accompanied by New York Times Journalist James Reston who developed appendicitis and had to undergo an emergency appendectomy. Although the surgery was done in a conventional way, his post-operative pain was treated with acupuncture.
Amazed by the pain relief that acupuncture brought to him, Reston wrote about his experience in the New York Times. After that, Americans started to take an interest in acupuncture. Interest in acupuncture also rose in Europe after the President’s trip to China.
After acupuncture became known in the United States, guidelines and regulations for education and practice were implemented. In 1996, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved acupuncture needles for treatment.
At this time, acupuncture is becoming more widespread in the US as more people look into holistic treatments or alternative medicine especially for chronic pain as well as other types of illnesses. In fact, a survey conducted by the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) suggests that acupuncture is one of the treatments that is on the rise in the United States.
How Acupuncture Works
The Acupuncture Massage College defines acupuncture as a “form of holistic treatment rooted in ancient tradition that involves the insertion of needles at specific points on the body, also called acupoints.”
The principle behind acupuncture treatment is that when the body’s qi, or pattern of vital energy flow, is disrupted, it will result in pain or illness. When the body experiences pain or illness, this means that there is an imbalance. The role of acupuncture is to correct this imbalance and bring back equilibrium in the body by stimulating certain locations in the skin or more popularly known as acupoints.
How Is Acupuncture Done?
In traditional Chinese medicine, there is what we call a meridian system (or sometimes referred to as acupuncture points or acupoints) which is a “path” in which the qi or the life-energy flows. Basically, acupuncture stimulates these acupuncture points through the insertion of very thin metal needles through the skin at varying depths to promote healing.
The most common, and most popular, way to stimulate the needles is through manual stimulation, however, electrical stimulation (electroacupuncture) is also used nowadays.
Variations of Acupuncture
Although the philosophy behind acupuncture originated from China, specifically from the Daoist tradition, it has been adopted in different countries across Asia, Europe, and North and South America. This has resulted in some differences in acupuncture treatment procedures.
According to Dr. Zhanxiang Wang of the National University of Health Sciences, in traditional Chinese acupuncture, the acupuncturists use bigger needles and a greater depth of insertion to stimulate the “De Qi” sensation, which is the vital energy flowing through the body. Through using a bigger needle, the De Qi response will be heightened, and according to recent studies, a heightened De Qi response will result in a better outcome after the acupuncture treatment.
Japanese acupuncture, on the other hand, is more gentle compared to Chinese acupuncture. This is mainly because Japanese acupuncturists use thinner needles and a shallower insertion.
Aside from this, Japanese acupuncturists often use the method Okyu or “thread moxibustion” which adds to the soothing nature of Japanese acupuncture. Okyu is a heat therapy technique in which a dried plant material is being burnt very close to the patient’s skin while performing acupuncture.
Korean acupuncture is more similar to traditional Chinese acupuncture except for the application of acupuncture needles. Korean acupuncturists use the four-needle technique called Sa-am. Aside from this, they only focus on the extremities such as the hand and the ear.
In the four-needle method, the needles are divided into two groups – one group would be used to reduce excess Qi in one organ system and the other group would be used to increase the Qi in another organ system. This balancing concept is the main philosophy behind the Sa-am technique.
In the United States, acupuncturists usually incorporate acupuncture traditions from China, Korea, Japan, and other countries. They may employ penetration of the skin by thin, solid, metallic needles as a mechanism of stimulation or use electrical stimulation
What Are the Possible Side Effects of Acupuncture?
According to Mayo Clinic, there is a very minimal risk to acupuncture if you have a certified acupuncture practitioner. However, just like any other treatment, there are still a number of side effects resulting from an acupuncture treatment. This could include soreness, minor bleeding, or bruising as a result of the procedure.
More serious side effects could include organ injury if the needles are pushed in too deeply, which is a very rare complication. Again, this only happens if you have an inexperienced and unlicensed acupuncturist. Another serious side effect would be contracting infections from reused needles. However, if you have a licensed acupuncturist, there is no need to worry since they are required to use sterile, disposable needles.
Those who have bleeding disorders, have pacemakers, and pregnant women have a higher risk of having complications, so if you belong to this group, better consult first with your physician before undergoing acupuncture treatment.
Why Is Acupuncture Good for You?
Acupuncture has been proven to be very beneficial to those who have tried it. Although it is mostly used for pain relief, it has been used in other areas.
Some illnesses can be treated with acupuncture. The University Miller School of Medicine has an extensive list of illness that can be treated through this needling practice.
Generally, illnesses that can be treated using acupuncture include allergies, asthma, headaches, sciatica, back pain, insomnia, anxiety, dizziness, chronic fatigue, depression, high blood pressure, addictions, indigestion, constipation, fibromyalgia, post-operative recovery, sexual dysfunction, and palliative care.
In women, acupuncture can treat conditions that range from simple to the more complex. These include menstrual irregularities, conception difficulties, childbirth, lactation difficulties, postpartum, and ovarian and uterine problems. Specific conditions in men including prostate problems, infertility, and impotence, can also be treated via acupuncture.
Acupuncture is also frequently used in preventive medicine which includes stress management, wellness, and seasonal attunement.
How Effective is Acupuncture?
For several years, acupuncture has been regarded as a very effective treatment for several ailments. However, there are still some who claim that acupuncture is not effective.
In an article published in Science-Based Medicine, author, Steven Novella cited the claim of another author, David Colquhoun, who wrote that “according to the usual standards of medicine, acupuncture doesn’t work.”
It’s not surprising that some medical professionals are skeptical where energy medicine is concerned. But, there is no shortage of people who believe in the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment.
In 2016, The Guardian explored the effectiveness of acupuncture by interviewing people who have experienced it. And out of 144 people who were interviewed, 96 people said that acupuncture is effective for them.
This might not sound like an impressive statistic until you look at the statistics for other more mainstream forms of treatment including medications. It isn’t difficult to find an article citing a study indicating that medications are not much more effective than a placebo.
Michael, one of the interviewees in the Guardian study, was 59 and was having chest pains upon learning that his son has been lying to him about university results. According to the Guardian, he tried painkillers and went to the hospital for checks … however, nothing worked. He then tried acupuncture, and after seven sessions, he felt much better.
According to him, the problem was emotional. “The hospital checks and painkillers could do nothing about that. The acupuncture sessions unblocked my emotional energy. Conventional science thinks it knows everything. It doesn’t,” he said.
How Do You Take Care of Yourself After an Acupuncture Treatment?
A lot of people focus on the actual acupuncture session and what they should expect during the treatment procedure. But how about after the session? What are the immediate effects of the treatment and how should you take care of yourself?
Sara Calabro, founder of AcuTake, shared several points on taking care of oneself after an acupuncture treatment, in an article in the Huffington Post
Here’s what she mentioned:
- Rest – This doesn’t mean that you have to literally lie down, but just go easy and don’t do heavy stuff
- Go light on exercise
- Use heat instead of ice
- Avoid alcohol and coffee
- Turn off the TV
- Eat good food
Should You Try Acupuncture?
Now that you know how acupuncture works and why acupuncture is good for you, then by all means, yes! Acupuncture is a holistic approach that has been tried and tested by millions of people for centuries. If it worked for them, why wouldn’t it work for you?
If you’re looking for solutions to your ailments but are doubting about why acupuncture is good for you, try visiting us at the Delta Discovery Center on Hilton Head Island. We have an experienced acupuncturist who will prove to you that acupuncture indeed works. If you want to get started today, schedule your session here. You can also call us to help with any questions, 843.473.4340.