Acupuncture is the practice of inserting thin needles into specific body points. Acupuncture practitioners stimulate specific points on the body to improve health and well-being. It originated in China more than 2,000 years ago. American practices of acupuncture use medical traditions from China, Japan, Korea and other countries. In the United States, the best-known type involves putting hair-thin, metallic needles in your skin.
Research has shown that acupuncture reduces nausea and vomiting after surgery and chemotherapy. It can also relieve pain. Researchers don't fully understand how acupuncture works. It might aid the activity of your body's pain-killing chemicals. It also might affect how you release chemicals that regulate blood pressure and flow.
What Conditions Are Treated With Acupuncture?
Although acupuncture is not a "cure-all" treatment, it is very effective in treating several diseases and conditions. Acupuncture is most effective at treating chronic pain, such as headaches; menstrual cramps; and low back, neck, or muscle pain. It can also be used to treat arthritis, facial pain, pain from shingles, and spastic colon and colitis conditions. Acupuncture has also been successful in treating obesity and addictions such as nicotine or drugs. Acupuncture also can improve the functioning of the immune system (the body's defense system against diseases).
Importantly, don't rely on acupuncture for treatment of chronic or serious illness unless you see a doctor first. Acupuncture may not be the only way to improve your condition. Your health-care provider may recommend acupuncture treatment along with other treatment methods such as physical therapy or medication. For certain conditions, such as cancer, acupuncture should only be performed in combination with other treatments.
What Happens During Acupuncture Treatment?
The acupuncturist, the person who performs acupuncture, will swab each acu-point area with alcohol before tapping a hair-thin, metal needle into the site. The number of needles used during treatment can vary and are placed at various depths. They are placed under the skin in carefully determined points on the body.
After the needles have been inserted, they stay in place for several minutes to an hour. During the treatment, acupuncture needles are twirled, energized electrically, or warmed to intensify the effect of the treatment. When electricity is applied, a tingling sensation is common. However, if the sensation becomes too strong, you can ask your acupuncturist to reduce the electricity at any time.
In a treatment series, the acupuncturist will use different combinations of points, different needling techniques, or both. These combinations help stimulate new sources of healing as the person's response to treatment is observed.