The mere thought of acupuncture can be scary and to some extent sound odd. How can you claim that inserting so many needles into one’s skin will bring about healing? Doesn’t it hurt? These are common and reasonable questions. But it will interest you to know that acupuncture is not as invasive as it looks nor as many perceive it to be. There are so many misconceptions and beliefs about the efficacy and safety of acupuncture. But the fact that it has been in existence for over 2500 years is an indication that something good does come out of it. People who have practiced acupuncture for a long time often describe it as a miracle healing. But is acupuncture wholesome and effective? Let’s look into this in detail.
What Is Acupuncture?
A licensed acupuncturist by the name of Paul Kempisty described acupuncture as a small method of invasion that is used to stimulate the nerve-rich area of the skin surface to influence organs, tissues, and glands of the body.
This method stems from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and treats certain diseases and conditions by stimulating certain points of the body with needles. From the mere fact that acupuncture is conducted with needles, it is expected to provide a tiny (very tiny) puncture to the skin. This little “injury” causes almost no discomfort and often even doesn’t even produce a sensation yet it is enough to stimulate the nerve cells of the body, urging the body to respond.
The body responds by way of immune system stimulation, circulation to the area, wound healing and modulation of pain. Acupuncturists don’t just insert needles into suspected areas; there is a science behind the spots of insertion and tested reasons that fall under the greater study of acupuncture as a whole as well as TCM.
As opposed to modern medicine that seeks to treat just the symptoms of the disease, acupuncture treatment targets wholesomeness, meaning that acupuncture seeks to treat both the symptoms and causes of the problems and aims to drive both completely away.
Acupuncture stems from a philosophy that understands how the human body functions and how it heals, thereby relating it from a holistic perspective. This philosophy believes that humans are not different from nature; rather that there is an interrelationship between humans and nature. When nature is balanced, it is in harmony and everything keeps working well. Since humans are an integral part of nature, everything about the human body should also be in balance, just like nature. This means that when the organs of the body function properly and the energy in the body flows properly, the body will also be in balance and function optimally.
For acupuncturists, pain and illness are signs of imbalance in the body, so they seek to treat them wholesomely. This corresponds with the Chinese belief system of Chi (Qi) which means life force, or energy. When a person’s Chi is sufficient and performing well, the person will be healthy and balanced. When the person’s Chi is flowing incorrectly or there’s not enough of it, the person won’t be in balance and illness can arise.
How Does It Work Exactly?
According to TCM, illness is a result of an imbalance of forces. TCM proposes that Chi moves through meridians or pathways in the body. If the body gets weak, or when a person becomes ill, acupuncturists try to access the 350 meridian points in the body by inserting needles through some of them. Energy gradually stimulates and returns by inserting needles into those points. From a science perspective, those points considered as meridians and pathways for the Chi to pass through are the nerves, muscles and tissue, areas where needles stimulate. Once the acupuncturist inserts the needle, it causes activation, which in turn leads to an increase in blood flow. This will also trigger the body’s natural pain killers.
What Conditions Can Acupuncture Treat?
Acupuncture can help several health conditions:
- Back pains
- Neck pains
- Sinus congestion
What Are The Proven Health Benefits Of Acupuncture?
Studies show acupuncture treatment is effective for the treatment of these ailments:
- Tension headaches – A particular study carried out in 2016 with 2349 participants and 12 trials shows that 6 sessions of acupuncture can help people with tension headaches. In 2 of the sessions, acupuncture was administered to participants who had headaches when it was just starting to manifest. Participants noticed their headaches decreased significantly and the headache stopped frequently occurring as opposed to people who received usual care that did not involve acupuncture.
- Treatment of migraines – A study carried out in 2016 was published by the Cochrane Database Of Scientific Review. The study was conducted with 2459 participants and involved 22 trials. At the end of the research, it was found that acupuncture added to migraine treatment reduced the frequency of episodes.
- Treatment of low back pain – In a research carried out in 2017, which was published by Annals Of Internal Medicine, an analysis was made on previously published trials using acupuncture for low back pain. The research showed that people who had low back pain who received a treatment of acupuncture experienced decreased intensity and improved function immediately after the treatment compared to normal non-acupuncture treatment. In the long run however, the evidence of the efficacy of the treatment reduced as people became slightly resistant to it.
- Treatment of knee pain – Some studies and analysis have shown that adding acupuncture to the treatment of knee pain improved the physical function of the patients. For people with chronic knee pain caused by osteoarthritis, the improvement can only be short-term.
Other Benefits Of Acupuncture
Acupuncture can treat several other conditions, but it still needs further research. The World Health Organization (WHO) lists some of these conditions, while officially accepting acupuncture as a reliable form of treatment. In 2003, this list included:
- Painful or hurtful periods
- Facial pain
- Low and high blood pressure
- Nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy
- Peptic ulcer
- Morning sickness
- Dental issues, especially involving pain
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Morning sickness
Other ones include
- Vascular dementia
- Pain in the spine
- Stiffened neck
- Substance dependence
Having looked at conditions in which acupuncture can be effective, we will quickly look at how acupuncture is administered and what to expect from it.
How Is It Administered?
When you decide to get acupuncture, the first thing you will expect is what can be termed observation or note-taking period by the professional. The acupuncturist will need your cooperation and honesty in answering questions about your health history.
Some of the questions your acupuncturist may ask include your health concerns, history, diet, sleep, stress level, and general life habits. You should also expect other personal questions like your emotional state, your likes and dislikes, especially pertaining to food, as well as how you react to different temperatures and seasons.
In TCM, it is believed that the health status of your organ systems is reflected on your tongue and pulse. This is why the acupuncturists will examine your skin color, voice, tongue color, and the coating on your tongue. Your pulse, it’s strength, quality and rhythm will also be examined at three points on your wrist.
When the treatment commences, the acupuncturists will use about 10 to 20 tiny needles for each treatment, sometimes more. The needles are left in the body for about 20 to 30 minutes. In some cases, the acupuncturist might decide to turn the needle for added effect or even use a supporting machine to help further.
Other Additional Treatment Used With Acupuncture Includes:
- Moxibustion technique – In moxibustion sticks made from dried herbs will be heated and kept near the acupuncture needles. The heated stick will warm and help to stimulate the acupuncture points
- Cupping technique – Cupping is used for a suction effect. To get this suction effect, glass or silicone cups are added to the skin. It is believed in TCM that cupping relieves the stagnation of blood
- Use of herbs – Herbs may be used in the treatment of acupuncture. The herbs are usually Chinese and can be in the form of pills or loose teas
- Use of electroacupuncture – This method involves the connection of electric devices to acupuncture needles for about 2 to 5 minutes. This electric device helps provide a weak acupuncture needle, which will help stimulate the needles used
- Use of laser acupuncture – This is an alternative way of performing acupuncture without a needle. In this method, laser stimulates the acupuncture point directly
- Use of ear acupuncture – In the treatment of weight loss, addictions, and anxiety, auricular acupuncture is an option. The treatment time can take up to 30 minutes and sometimes it can be more. After this treatment people often start feeling sleepy
Having established that acupuncture can be efficacious in some cases, a few side effects can be related to the administration of acupuncture.
What Are The Side Effects?
- Many experience a healing crisis in natural medicine. This is a situation where the symptoms of the illness get worse with the administering of medicine. This healing crisis can even go as far as bringing back previous illnesses or ailments that have been dormant for awhile. This can also happen in acupuncture. Acupuncture awakens your self-healing capabilities which can be a very good development, but it comes with a heightened sensitivity to things that were initially perceived as normal. The good side of this side effect is that it is a clear indication that the treatment is working
- For some people, after an acupuncture treatment, they feel stronger and energized, while some people feel very tired after the treatment. This should not be a cause for concern, as the fatigue is just a clear indication that your body needs rest
- Some might feel sore at the point where the acupuncture needles enter. There might also be a feeling of soreness in your muscle if the trigger points release during the treatment. The most common points where the soreness is usually experienced is between the thumb and index finger. This soreness is not something to worry about as it usually disappears within twenty-four hours
- People might experience bleeding due to a local blood collection, which the needle initiates or stimulates when it enters into the body. Although bleeding lasts longer than soreness, it is less common than soreness. But it’s nothing to work yourself up about as it is temporary
- Some actions after acupuncture treatment can cause lightheadedness. An example is if people up quickly from the acupuncture table or receive acupuncture on an empty stomach
- After the acupuncture session, people may experience a twitch in the muscle, especially quadriceps. This is very different from a muscle spasm and should return to normal soon enough. If it persists, speak to your acupuncturist
Acupuncture, being in existence for over 2500 years, shows that it is very efficacious in the treatment of certain conditions and illnesses. It’s important to find a certified and reliable acupuncturist. It’s shown to be effective for many conditions and is also officially approved by the WHO.