Although acupuncture may seem mysterious to some, it is a time-tested therapy that was first developed in China thousands of years ago and is still very much a main method of healthcare there and in many other parts of the world today. It is one of the most proven and well-known forms of alternative therapies, and many studies have been conducted demonstrating the safety and efficacy of acupuncture.
According to classical theory, acupuncture works by removing obstructions from deep and superficial channel pathways, in the body. Like rivers of water, these meridians flow along regular pathways to irrigate and nourish the body’s organs and tissues. An obstruction in the movement of these rivers is like a dam that backs up the natural flow of energy, causing an imbalance that manifests as sickness and pain. By inserting needles and stimulating acupuncture points, an acupuncturist removes these blocks and restores the natural balance and smooth flow of energy throughout the body.
In addition to the classical theory, modern science has shown that needling acupuncture points stimulates the nervous system to release biochemicals, such as endorphins, immune system cells, and neurotransmitters, in the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. In addition to killing pain, these chemicals can influence the internal regulating system of the body and affect involuntary bodily functions such as blood flow, immune reactions, body temperature, and digestion.
When administered by a licensed practitioner, acupuncture is a very safe form of therapy. Licensed acupuncturists in The United States are trained at a minimum of 3 years at the Masters Degree level and certified in Clean Needle Technique, which requires the adherence to strict safety guidelines, such as the use of sterile, disposable needles, to minimize the risk of infection.
For most people, acupuncture causes minimal to no pain. The needles used during acupuncture are very fine and are nothing like the hypodermic needles used to give injections at a doctor’s office. A patient may feel a slight prick similar to a mosquito bite when the needle is first inserted. At times, a tingling, dull ache, or warm sensation may be experienced at the point where the needle is inserted. This is a desired affect and should not be uncomfortable. Often, during an acupuncture treatment, a patient feels so relaxed that he or she will fall asleep.
During a typical first visit, your acupuncturist will take a detailed health history, fully investigate your chief complaint, perform a physical exam, and determine a differential diagnosis for you. From this, a treatment plan is designed and administered. This plan may include acupuncture as well as adjunct techniques, such as cupping, massage, electro-stimulation, gua sha, or heat therapy, and Chinese herbal recommendations if necessary. This may take 75-90 minutes and is necessary to create an individualized treatment plan that addresses your unique health condition while focusing on your main concern. Treatments during subsequent visits will be adapted to your progress and will generally last between 45 – 60 minutes.
The number of treatments needed varies from person to person. Some people experience significant improvement after one or two treatments, while others may take weeks or months to achieve lasting results. Chronic conditions generally take longer to resolve than acute ones, and the longer a patient has had a condition, the longer it usually takes to resolve. Other factors that influence the number of treatments needed include the severity of the problem and the patient’s lifestyle, overall health, and constitution.
Your acupuncturist should be able to give you an idea of how many treatments will be needed after he or she becomes familiar with your unique situation and needs. He or she may suggest two to three treatments per week during the initial phases of treatment, hen less frequently as your conditions improve.