Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese healing method based on the concept that “Qi” (energy) flows throughout the body and the insertion of hair fine needles can increase and correct blockages of flow. Treatment facilitates blood circulation, oxygenating and transporting nutrients to the cells.
Acupuncture stimulates the central nervous system, which can help alleviate pain and correct imbalances that lead to disease and associated symptoms. Post treatment, you may feel relaxed, energized or uplifted.
Patients seeking a safe, painless alternative to prescription medication or the many side effects that accompany traditional medication, have found acupuncture to be both effective and successful.
If you are weary of needles, rest assured the acupuncture needle is designed for painless insertion. The needles have smooth points, rather than the sharp points typically associated with needles.
Acupuncture involves inserting needles at certain points of the body.
An acupuncurist will insert needles into a person’s body with the aim of balancing their energy.
This, it is claimed, can help boost wellbeing and may cure some illnesses.
Conditions it is used for include different kinds of pain, such as headaches, blood pressure problems, and whooping cough, among others.
How does it work?
Traditional Chinese medicine explains that health is the result of a harmonious balance of the complementary extremes of “yin” and “yang” of the life force known as “qi,” pronounced “chi.” Illness is said to be the consequence of an imbalance of the forces.
Qi is said to flow through meridians, or pathways, in the human body. These meridiens and energy flows are accessible through 350 acupuncture points in the body.
Inserting needles into these points with appropriate combinations is said to bring the energy flow back into proper balance.
There is no scientific proof that the meridians or acupuncture points exist, and it is hard to prove that they either do or do not, but numerous studies suggest that acupuncture works for some conditions.
Some experts have used neuroscience to explain acupuncture. Acupuncture points are seen as places where nerves, muscles, and connective tissue can be stimulated. The stimulation increases blood flow, while at the same time triggering the activity of the body’s natural painkillers.
It is difficult to set up investigations using proper scientific controls, because of the invasive nature of acupuncture. In a clinical study, a control group would have to undergo sham treatment, or a placebo, for results to be compared with those of genuine acupuncture.
Some studies have concluded that acupuncture offers similar benefits to a patient as a placebo, but others have indicated that there are some real benefits.
Research carried out in Germany has shown that acupuncture may help relieve tension headaches and migraines.
The NCCIH note that it has been proven to help in cases of:
- low back pain
- neck pain
- knee pain
- headache and migraine
They list additional disorders that may benefit from acupuncture, but which require further scientific confirmation.
In 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed a number of conditions in which they say acupuncture has been proven effective.
These include: Acupuncture can provide relief from the following conditions:
- Arthritis, sciatica, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel, and body sprains
- Allergies, asthma and other respiratory problems
- Gynecological problems including infertility, and menopause
- Depression, anxiety, insomnia, migraine headaches, hypertension and stress
- Back, neck, elbow, knee, and facial pain
- Nausea, vomiting, and morning sickness
- High & low blood pressure, chemotherapy-induced nausea & vomoiting
- Some gastric conditions, painful periods
- Facial pains
Benefits of Acupuncture
Acupuncture can be beneficial in that:
- Performed correctly, it is safe.
- There are very few side effects.
- It can be effectively combined with other treatments.
- It can control some types of pain.
- It may help patients for whom pain medications are not suitable.
The NCCIH advise people not to use acupuncture instead of seeing a conventional health care provider.
What to expect
According to traditional Chinese medical theory, acupuncture points are located on meridians, through which vital energy runs. This energy is known as “qi” or “chi.”
An acupuncturist will examine the patient and assess their condition, insert one or more thin, sterile needles, and offer advice on self-care or other complementary therapies, such as Chinese herbs.
The patient will be asked to lie down on their back, front, or one side, depending on where the needles are to be inserted. The acupuncturist should use single-use, disposable, sterile needles. As each needle is inserted, the patient may feel a very brief stinging or tingling sensation.
After the needle is inserted, there is occasionally a dull ache at the base of the needle that then subsides. Acupuncture is usually relatively painless.
Sometimes the needles are heated or stimulated with electricity after insertion.
The needles will stay in place for between 5 and 30 minutes.
The number of treatments needed depend on the individual. A person with a chronic condition may need one to two treatments a week over several months. An acute problem normally improves after 8 to 12 sessions.
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