What is Acupuncture
Updated: Feb 21
Acupuncture has been around for approximately 3,500 years as a form of Asian traditional medicine. There is more and more evidence that this ancient form of medicine does work, especially in relieving pain. Acupuncture involves the insertion of very fine needles into particular points in the body, known as acupuncture points, in order to relieve pain and discomfort.
The theory behind traditional acupuncture is that illness and pain are caused by the body's life force, or Qi (pronounced "chee") being blocked from traveling around the body. Acupuncture gets rid of the blockages, allowing the Qi to flow through the body, which restores health. The form that traditional acupuncture takes depends on its country of origin.
In Chinese acupuncture, the practitioner may move the needles around after they have been inserted.
In Japanese acupuncture, the needles are kept still and are inserted less deeply into the tissue.
In Korean acupuncture, the needles are only inserted into the hands and feet.
Western medicine has begun to accept acupuncture as a valid form of treatment. The reasoning behind how acupuncture works in a medical sense is that the tiny needles stimulate sensory nerves in the skin and muscles and cause tiny injuries. This signals the body to release chemicals, such as endorphins (for pain relief) and serotonin (a mood stabilizer). It is these hormones that are thought to be how acupuncture can heal pain.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends acupuncture as a treatment for chronic tension headaches and migraines (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/acupuncture/). Similarly, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that acupuncture works well for chronic pain, such as back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, knee pain, and it reduces the incidence and severity of tension headaches and can prevent migraines (https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/relieving-pain-with-acupuncture).
These recommendations are based on a wealth of scientific and medical evidence showing that acupuncture is an effective treatment for many types of pain.
What happens at an acupuncture appointment?
Patients can be referred to an acupuncturist by their primary care physician, or they could self-refer privately. At the initial appointment, the acupuncturist will run a series of assessments, taking note of the patient's general health, medical history, and conduct a physical examination.
The patient is then instructed to lie down and remove some items of clothing (depending on where the pain is located) and the acupuncturist will begin the insertion of the needles at the acupuncture points that will treat the particular form of pain.
The needles are either inserted just below the skin or further towards the muscle, and are left in for anything from a few minutes to an hour. It is generally recommended to have a longer course of acupuncture rather than a single session because the evidence suggests that a course of treatment lasts longer than a single session.
Many patients with chronic or acute pain conditions would benefit from a course of acupuncture. It is a remedy that uses the body's natural painkilling system to relieve pain. For many people, this is a preferable alternative to artificial painkilling drugs, especially since acupuncture has little to no side effects.