What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medicine-based approach to treating a variety of conditions by triggering specific points on the skin with needles. It involves the insertion of very thin needles through your skin at strategic points on your body. “[Acupuncture is] a minimally invasive method to stimulate nerve-rich areas of the skin surface in order to influence tissues, gland, organs, and various functions of the body

It is a key component of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is most commonly used to treat pain. Increasingly, it is being used for overall wellness, including stress management.

Traditional Chinese medicine explains acupuncture as a technique for balancing the flow of energy or life force — known as chi or qi (chee) — believed to flow through pathways (meridians) in your body. By inserting needles into specific points along these meridians, acupuncture practitioners believe that your energy flow will re-balance.

In contrast, many Western practitioners view the acupuncture points as places to stimulate nerves, muscles and connective tissue. Some believe that this stimulation boosts your body’s natural painkillers.

Acupuncture improves the body functions and promotes the natural self-healing process by stimulating specific anatomic sites–commonly referred to as acupuncture points, or acupoints. The most common method used to stimulate acupoints is the insertion of fine, sterile needles into the skin. Acupuncture is great for most injuries sustained from an accident. It can treat headaches, neck pain, back pain, numbness, fatigue spasms, anxiety, memory loss and insomnia.

Why is it done?

Acupuncture is used mainly to relieve discomfort associated with a variety of diseases and conditions, including:

  • Dental pain
  • Headaches, including tension headaches and migraines
  • Labor pain
  • Low back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Chemotherapy-induced and postoperative nausea and vomiting
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Respiratory disorders, such as allergic rhinitis
Risks

The risks of acupuncture are low. Common side effects include soreness and minor bleeding or bruising where the needles were inserted. Single-use, disposable needles are now the practise standard, so the risk of infection is minimal. Not everyone is a good candidate for acupuncture. You may be at risk of complications if you:

  • Have a bleeding disorder. Your chances of bleeding or bruising from the needles increase if you have a bleeding disorder or if you’re taking blood thinners.
  • Have a pacemaker. Acupuncture that involves applying mild electrical pulses to the needles can interfere with a pacemaker’s operation.
  • Are pregnant. Some types of acupuncture are thought to stimulate labor, which could result in premature delivery.
What you can expect

During an acupuncture treatment, your acupuncturist inserts very thin needles into specific spots on your body. Insertion of the needles usually causes little discomfort.

To determine the type of acupuncture treatment that will help you the most, your practitioner may ask you about your symptoms, behaviours, and lifestyle. Including:

  • The shape, coating and color of your tongue
  • The color of your face
  • The strength, rhythm and quality of the pulse in your wrist

The number of treatments will depend on the condition being treated and its severity. In general, it’s common to receive six to eight treatments.

During the procedure

Acupuncture points are situated in all areas of the body. Sometimes the appropriate points are far removed from the area of your pain. Your acupuncture practitioner will tell you the general site of the planned treatment and whether you need to remove any clothing. A towel or sheet will be provided. You lie on a padded table for the treatment, which involves:

  • Needle insertion. Acupuncture needles are inserted to various depths at strategic points on your body. The needles are very thin, so insertion usually causes little discomfort. People often don’t feel them inserted at all. Between five and 20 needles are used in a typical treatment. You may feel a mild aching sensation when a needle reaches the correct depth.
  • Needle removal. In most cases, the needles remain in place for 10 to 20 minutes while you lie still and relax. There is usually no discomfort when the needles are removed.
After the procedure

Some people feel relaxed and others feel energized after an acupuncture treatment. But not everyone responds to acupuncture the same.

Results

The benefits of acupuncture are sometimes difficult to measure, but many people find it helpful to control a variety of painful conditions.

Acupuncture has few side effects, so it may be worth a try if you’re having trouble controlling pain with more-conventional methods.