What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medicine-based approach to treating a variety of conditions by triggering specific points on the skin with needles. Paul Kempisty, licensed acupuncturist with a MS in traditional Oriental medicine, explains, “[Acupuncture is] a minimally invasive method to stimulate nerve-rich areas of the skin surface in order to influence tissues, gland, organs, and various functions of the body.”
“Each acupuncture needle produces a tiny injury at the insertion site, and although it’s slight enough to cause little to no discomfort, it’s enough of a signal to let the body know it needs to respond,” Kempisty says. “This response involves stimulation of the immune system, promoting circulation to the area, wound healing, and pain modulation.”
What’s the philosophy behind acupuncture?
The Chinese philosophy behind acupuncture is a bit more complicated, as the ancient practice isn’t traditionally based in science and medicine. “They believed that the human body was filled with and animated by an invisible life-giving force which they called ‘qi’ (pronounced ‘chee’) and when the qi was flowing well and going to all the right places, then a person would experience good mental and physical health. When the qi was flowing incorrectly (blocked or deficient) that would result in illness,” says Kempisty.
Incorporating acupuncture into real life
For now, if you have a condition that acupuncture does have scientific backing for, here’s what to expect from a session: an acupuncture session to last anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes, though most of this time may be spent discussing your symptoms and concerns with your practitioner sans needles. The actual treatment portion of acupuncture may last around 30 minutes, though you don’t necessarily have needles in your skin for that long!
In terms of results, it’s nearly impossible to say what one should expect, as everyone responds to and experiences acupuncture differently.
“There is no universal response to acupuncture. Some people feel relaxed and may be a little tired, others feel energized and ready for anything,” Kempisty explains. “Some people experience an improvement right away and for others it can take several treatments before noticing a positive change.”
The mostcommon response to acupuncture, however?
“People feel happy and content,” Kempisty says. “It’s hard to put into words but there’s a distinct balanced and harmonious feeling that acupuncture gives most people and it just feels good!” You may also feel tired after a treatment and see changes in your eating, sleeping, or bowel habits, or experience no changes at all.
Research carried out in Germany has shown that acupuncture may help relieve tension headaches and migraines.
The NCCIH note that it has been proven to help in cases of:
- low back pain
- neck pain
- knee pain
- headache and migraine
They list additional disorders that may benefit from acupuncture, but which require further scientific confirmation.
In 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed a number of conditions in which they say acupuncture has been proven effective.
- high and low blood pressure
- chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting
- some gastric conditions, including peptic ulcer
- painful periods
- allergic rhinitis
- facial pain
- morning sickness
- rheumatoid arthritis
- tennis elbow
- dental pain
- reducing the risk of stroke
- inducing labor
Other conditions for which the WHO say that acupuncture may help but more evidence is needed include:
- post-operative convalescence
- substance, tobaccor and alcohol dependence
- spine pain
- stiff neck
- vascular dementia
- whooping cough, or pertussis
- Tourette syndrome
The WHO also suggest that it may help treat a number of infections, including some urinary tract infections and epidemic hemorrhagic fever.
How often should I have acupuncture treatments?
The number of treatments required depends on each person’s condition and response to acupuncture. One acupuncture session does not usually result in relief of pain. One or two sessions a week for five to six weeks is the normal course of treatment.
Don’t rely on acupuncture for treatment of chronic or serious illness unless you see a physician first. Acupuncture may not be the only way to improve your condition. Your healthcare provider may recommend acupuncture treatment along with other treatment methods such as physical therapy or medication.
In addition, try acupuncture for at least five or 10 treatments before giving up.
Like any other medicine, you have to take a dose on a regular basis to get a positive result. For most medications, you would need to take a dose daily to get a change in your body. For example, if you need a medication for blood pressure, you will need to take the medication every day to get a change; if you take it only once a month, you will not change your blood pressure. Acupuncture works the same. Similar to exercise, acupuncture works by stimulating your body to change itself. Experience has proven that if you don’t get treatments often enough, or for enough total sessions, you will get little or no improvement in health.
For acute injuries, I consider twice weekly the minimum effective frequency, and for chronic conditions (such as headaches), twice in 10 days. Once you achieve your health goal, you can move to preventive treatment. Getting acupuncture once weekly or biweekly can reduce stress, improve mood, and prevent dis-ease.
In China, it is common for people to receive acupuncture treatments daily. However, generally it is not advisable to get acupuncture more than once daily.