Acupuncture is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that is at least two thousand years old, although it has only recently gained popularity in North America. Practitioners of acupuncture are called acupuncturists. They may also provide other forms of TCM, or they may have learned acupuncture alone. In the United States, acupuncture providers must have three or four years of graduate level education to be licensed.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the body is filled with a vital energy called "qi." When this energy becomes blocked or unbalanced, pain and illness result. To redirect the flow of qi, the acupuncturist inserts extremely thin, stainless steel needles (the width of a human hair) into a patient's skin at specific points in the body (called meridians). A trained acupuncturist knows which meridians to insert the acupuncture needles into, how deeply to insert them, and how to stimulate them by raising or twisting them in order to balance the qi correctly.
Although researchers don't know exactly how acupuncture works, they do have solid evidence that it does. Multiple studies have shown that acupuncture is effective at relieving pain, reducing nausea from chemotherapy, improving fertility, and reducing inflammation. The World Health Organization has stated that acupuncture is effective in treating 28 different conditions and may be helpful in treating many others. The Western medical view on acupuncture is not that qi is being balanced, but that the needles stimulate blood flow and endorphin production, which promote a sense of well-being.
During a typical acupuncture treatment, the acupuncturist will first examine the patient and ask about any complaints. The patient will lie down on a table and get comfortable. Then the acupuncturist will insert the needles, which are between 13 and 70mm long and made of stainless steel. Usually a treatment uses between 3 and 15 needles, and they are left in place for about 20 minutes. Most states require the needles to be disposable, single-use needles to reduce the chance of any infection. The needles may be twisted or moved, and in some cases, low currents of electricity are passed through them. Then they are removed, the patient is given lifestyle advice, and the appointment is over. Sessions are often repeated weekly or every other week.
Acupuncture has many benefits. Since it is extremely safe and has no side effects, it can be an excellent alternative to pain medications for those patients who cannot or choose not to take them. In addition, acupuncture is now covered by the majority of health care insurance plans in the United States. Acupuncture can be a wonderful option in your treatment plan.