Acupuncture is an old practice where the end of a thin needle is inserted into your body to relieve pain, reduce stress, and provide other health benefits. Although there is mixed evidence as to whether it works, even the most skeptical people can find relief from a practice dating back to ancient history with roots in traditional Chinese medicine. And while Western and Eastern medicine practices may disagree about how acupuncture works – it is said to help many people cope with pain, stress, hormonal imbalances, and migraine among other things.
What is interesting about acupuncture is that it has really stood the test of time – people keep coming back to it despite any other form of treatment that has been invented for pain relief. "Acupuncture has stood the test of time and has gained strength over the years because of the positive results and the absence of harmful side effects," said Gabriel Sher, a recognized and board-certified acupuncturist and director of Acupuncture at Ora in New York City.
If you are curious about trying acupuncture, read on for more information about the potential benefits, risks and other tips you should know for your first session.
What is acupuncture?
"Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine practice that originated thousands of years ago. Acupuncturists insert thin needles into the skin at specific places in the body to balance the flow of" Qi "- the energy flow in the body," says Sher. The idea is that Qi (pronounced "chee") travels along paths (or meridians) in your body. Acupuncture points are along these meridians and stimulating them would balance the flow of Qi.
Pain relief is one of the main reasons why people seek acupuncture, but it is often used for a wide range of health problems. "Acupuncture is often used to treat pain, but can be used for overall well-being, including stress management, depression, headache, asthma, hormone regulation, fertility problems, gastrointestinal disorders and many other conditions," says Sher.
Although it is widely used, acupuncture is not widely recognized in Western medicine. Western doctors who do use or recommend acupuncture treatment, however, believe that it can be effective for alleviating some conditions, because acupuncture points are known to stimulate nerve, muscle, or connective tissue that could help with pain. Some believe it can help the body release endorphins, these are chemicals that help with pain.
What is it like to get acupuncture?
Your experience will vary greatly depending on where you are going and who your doctor is. But to give you an idea, at Ora in New York City, you start the session with an initial consultation. This is a common practice because it takes some time for a doctor to evaluate how you can best be treated and to determine which acupuncture points you should stimulate.
You usually lie on a comfortable massage table in a private room while the doctor inserts 12 to 25 needles at strategic points in the body and then lets them work in for 25 minutes. According to Ora, some people notice immediate relief after one session, while others need more regular sessions to see results.
Acupuncture costs can vary depending on where you live and the type of office you go to. A private session is more expensive and can cost around $ 80 to $ 120 in a large city such as San Francisco. You can also try a community acupuncture clinic, where you are in a room with other people while being treated.
Does it hurt?
If you are not a fan of needles, acupuncture may not be for you. The process usually involves a doctor who inserts many (sometimes as many as 100 or so) small, fine needles into your skin. Most people say it doesn't hurt because the needles are so thin, but you have to sit very still when they are in your skin, which can be uncomfortable.
It will not be as painful as getting a flu shot because the needles are much smaller. However, you may feel a little pain when the needle is inserted, which usually disappears quickly.
What does science say?
The scientific evidence about acupuncture is mixed, but it has long been studied in clinical studies. A 2012 study found that it can be effective for patients with chronic pain conditions such as neck, back, shoulder pain and headache. A meta-analysis confirmed the same claims in 2018.
The study of the effectiveness of acupuncture for mental disorders such as anxiety and depression is promising, but more needs to be done before conclusions can be drawn.
Acupuncture has been investigated for its effects on heart rate variability (HRV), which is a sign of overall health and stress resistance. Some studies have shown that it can help improve HRV, which is promising news for those seeking treatment to help with stress, whether it is psychological or physical.
How to Find a Legal Doctor
Because your acupuncture experience will vary so much based on who you see, it's important to take the steps to find someone who is well trained and appropriately certified.
First of all, you want the acupuncturist to take the right steps before they even treat you – and not rush through the process. "Unlike Western medicine, acupuncture strives to understand and treat the entire patient. A good acupuncturist will conduct a thorough interview with the patient to understand their current mental and physical condition and lifestyle, including their diet, exercise habits, sleep and other factors, "says Sher.
Actual licensing requirements vary by state, but the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine is a good place to start if you are looking for a certified acupuncturist.
Acupuncture risk & safety
Acupuncture is generally considered to be relatively safe and usually has no side effects. However, there are certain risks that are useful to watch out for because someone inserts needles into your skin that could potentially hit places you don't want or activate nerves in the wrong way.
An example of an adverse effect is pneumothorax (a collapsed lung). This is not very common, but one of my former colleagues had this happen to her after an acupuncture session on her back. Because the use of acupuncture treatment to treat back pain is so common, it is important to be aware of the risks of inserting needles near body organs. Some researchers think that pneumothorax may not be reported enough, so it is possible that this happens more than we know.
Other risks are bleeding and infections, so if you use medication such as blood thinners, you should check this with a doctor and be extra careful before trying acupuncture.
The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a doctor or other qualified health care professional for any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.