Acupuncture is one of the oldest and most commonly used medical procedures in the world. Originating in China more than 2,500 years ago, acupuncture became widely known in North America at the beginning of the 70's, when New York Times reporter James Reston wrote about how doctors in China used needles to ease abdominal pain after surgery. Research conducted globally has shown that acupuncture and how it's practiced in the modern day is effective in addressing a variety of health conditions, complementing conventional treatments and being a useful part of systems of care.
What is acupuncture? How does it work?
Put simply, acupuncture is the gentle insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body to stimulate the flow of Qi.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qi is conceptualized as the vital energy of all living organisms. Qi travels through the body through pathways called Meridians. Obstructions to the movement of Qi function similarly to dams, backing up the flow of energy in one part of the body and cutting off circulation to other regions. When the flow of Qi is disrupted like this, the body becomes vulnerable to dysfunction and disease.
Meridians can be influenced by acupuncture needling. Stimulation of specific acupuncture points (their locations are pictured above) removes blockages within meridian circulation, helping to restart the regular flow of qi. Modern scientists have reasoned that the acupuncture points, or "acupoints," derived from centuries of historical practice are in fact located in nerve-rich areas of the skin which, when stimulated, can influence the function of physiologically connected tissues, glands, organs, etc.
Sometimes, instead of just using needles, an acupuncturist may choose to stick fine acupuncture tacks onto the skin in order to stimulate an acupuncture point over a longer period of time. Heat or running a mild electrical current through inserted needles can also be used in conjunction with acupuncture in order to further stimulate the acupoint.
What can acupuncture treat?
The World Health Organization has stated that acupuncture is an effective therapy for:
Does acupuncture hurt?
Most people are surprised to see how thin acupuncture needles actually are. About ten to fifteen acupuncture needles can fit into one conventional hypodermic needle.
Skilled acupuncturists are trained in placing the needles in a manner that minimizes pain and discomfort. While everyone obviously has different sensitivity levels and pain thresholds, acupuncture is not known to be painful overall and the sensation is quite different from what you'd experience during other interactions with needles, like when you're getting a vaccine or having blood drawn.
How safe is acupuncture?
Acupuncture needles used today are sterile, and the areas where the needles are inserted are disinfected beforehand. The procedure is generally regarded as relatively non-invasive and low-risk if you are working with a acupuncturist that has been properly trained.
That said, you should always inform any health practitioner of any pre-existing conditions that you have, the names of any medications that you are taking, whether you are or could be pregnant, and if you have a cardiac pacemaker or cosmetic implants. With such information taken into account, your acupuncturist will be able to evaluate your specific situation and adjust the treatment plan accordingly.
Have more questions?
Contact us! There is also a lot of information available online and elsewhere regarding acupuncture. Because health- and culture-related misinformation is so prevalent, especially in association with xenophobia, we encourage you to consult a variety of sources that you trust.