Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years to treat minor ailments, long-term health complaints and serious diseases. It is so popular in China that hospitals use it to complement conventional medical treatments. With the popularity of alternative therapies continuing to rise, acupuncture has become more widely available in the western world.
What is Acupuncture?
Vital energy, known as qi, flows through the human body in invisible channels known as meridians. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), when it flows freely mental, emotional and physical health can thrive. However, blocked or restricted qi causes pain, ill health and disease. This can be due to a number of factors, including stress, anxiety, strong emotions, physical injuries, poor diet and environmental pollutants. Acupuncture clears such blockages, enabling qi to flow freely through the body’s meridians.
Acupuncture treats a wide range of physical, emotional and mental health problems, from minor ailments to serious illnesses. It can be particularly effective in relieving stress-related problems, including persistent headaches, migraines, chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), indigestion, acid reflux, stomach cramps and skin complaints. Pregnant women may also find acupuncture helpful in alleviating nausea, heartburn and back pain.
The World Health Organization (WHO) conducted an extensive review with controlled trials and concluded that there are at least 28 diseases, symptoms or conditions for which acupuncture is an effective treatment . A further 63 diseases, symptoms or conditions also benefited from acupuncture but further studies are required. Research has repeatedly shown that chronic pain and pain associated with arthritis can be effectively treated with acupuncture without the side effects associated with typical medical treatments.
What Happens During an Acupuncture Treatment?
Before any treatment, the acupuncture therapist needs to know your full medical history. During the initial consultation, you may be asked questions about your lifestyle, diet, activity levels, ongoing and previous medical conditions, emotional state and sleep patterns. The therapist may also perform a physical examination, such as checking your heart rate, examining your tongue or looking for physical signs of disease. This information will help them construct a suitable treatment plan, including lifestyle and dietary suggestions.
Once the acupuncturist has a detailed view of your health and fitness levels, they will perform your first treatment, usually in a calm environment, sometimes with soft lighting or soothing music. Relaxation increases the effectiveness of the treatment. The therapist will insert fine needles under your skin at specific points along the meridians, releasing blockages and encouraging the smooth flow of qi. Each point corresponds to a particular part of the body, such as the liver, heart or reproductive organs.
The needles used in acupuncture are much finer than those used to give injections or draw blood, so you should not feel pain. Most people feel a warming sensation, a tingling pressure or a mild ache. Needles may then be left in place for a short period, depending on the treatment plan.
Is Acupuncture Safe?
Extensive research studies show acupuncture to be safe, providing it is performed by a qualified therapist using sterile needles. Side effects are extremely rare, but can include:
- A worsening of the original symptom for a few days after treatment
- Dizziness, sweating and nausea
Make sure you inform your therapist of any previous skin reactions to detergents, allergens or other substances. Acupuncture is considered safe for older people, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, children and babies; however, if you have a history of problems with blood clotting or a severe needle phobia, the therapist may recommend using acupressure rather than acupuncture. It works on the same principle, but uses firm pressure, rather than needles, to release the flow of qi.References