Understanding Acupuncture – Treatment and Risks

When it comes to popular alternative healing methods, acupuncture is becoming more and more widely used. This traditional Chinese medicine involves inserting tiny needles into specific points of the body to relieve a whole number of ailments.

Acupuncture needles

How Does Acupuncture Work?

The traditional Chinese theory explains acupuncture as a way of balancing the flow of energy (known as chi) through the body. When used in the Western world, it’s often viewed a little differently. Instead of the needles diverting and balancing the energy along pathways of your body, it’s thought that specific points help to stimulate the nerves, muscles and connective tissues to increase blood flow and reduce pain. This can have an effect on a wide range of different ailments.

Some of the conditions that acupuncture is used to treat include:

  • Low back pain
  • Migraines
  • Nausea from chemotherapy
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Fibromyalgia

What To Expect During Treatment

As with all alternative healing methods, it’s important to find a registered practitioner before you begin. They’ll let you know how they can help with your symptoms and what to expect from your appointment.

Here are a few key points:

  • Each session lasts around 20 – 40 minutes, and you’ll need a series of sessions depending on your ailment
  • The acupuncturist will ask you a number of questions about your health and may do a physical examination
  • You may be asked to sit or lie down and to remove certain clothing around the area to be treated
  • The treatment starts by inserting needles into specific “acupuncture points” throughout the body
  • Around 1-12 needles will typically be used
  • You may feel tingling or a slight ache from the needles – let your acupuncturist know if you feel pain

What Are The Risks?

Any treatment comes with certain risks. With acupuncture, short term risks include soreness and bruising around the areas where the needles are inserted. If you are pregnant, approach treatments with caution as certain acupuncture points have been known to stimulate labor.

More serious risks include damage to internal organs if the needles are pushed too deeply, or contracting an infectious disease when needles are reused. Licensed practitioners should make use of pre-sterilized, one-use needles to avoid this risk.

Does Acupuncture Work?

Opinion is divided when it comes to alternative healing methods such as acupuncture. Evidence shows that acupuncture does affect pain levels and can help a number of conditions, but some studies suggest it may be more of a placebo effect. In general, there haven’t been enough high quality studies into the use of acupuncture to give any conclusive advice.

However, from the limited number of studies that have been done, acupuncture is best used on conditions such as:

  • Chronic back pain
  • Headaches
  • Dental pain
  • Osteoarthritis in the knee

Alternative healing methods such as acupuncture have been in use for thousands of years, and it has just as many supporters as it does critics. One thing’s for sure: when opting for this treatment, choose your practitioner wisely. Look into their history and certifications before booking your appointment.

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