How Does Acupuncture Work?

Sticking a bunch of needles in your body may sound like a sick form of torture, but it can actually provide relief from pain and many other conditions. This practice, known as acupuncture, was developed by the Chinese and has been used for centuries to treat many illnesses and physical pain. Acupuncture is a great alternative therapy because the benefits are many, while the risks are few.

(For more information on alternative treatments, see The 12 Most Common Complementary And Alternative Medicines.)

What Is Acupuncture?

The practice of acupuncture began thousands of years ago in China and is based on the theory that illness or pain is brought on by blocked energy, or chi, in the body. To get the chi properly flowing again, needles are inserted into certain pressure points in the body. The needles may be twisted or heated, or an electrical current may be applied to them. The needles used are very thin, so there will be little to no discomfort during insertion or removal. You may feel a little achy when the needle hits the right spot, but acupuncturists say that the ache is the feeling of the chi starting to move again.

Types Of Acupuncture And How They Work

There are a few different types, or styles, of acupuncture that focus on different parts of the body.

  • Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) style: This is the most common form of acupuncture practiced in the United States. This style focuses on the principles of complementary opposites, such as Yin and Yang, and hot and cold.
  • Japanese style: This style focuses on finding certain meridian lines, or energy pathways, on the body and uses thinner needles.
  • Korean hand style: Koreans believe that the body's chi is concentrated in the hands and feet, so needles are applied exclusively to those areas.
  • French energetic style: This style focuses on the yin and yang meridian patterns on the body.
  • Auricular style: This style focuses on the ear and is used in treating various types of addictions. The theory behind it is that certain points of the ear correspond to different organs, and by placing needles on certain points on the ear, those corresponding organs can be affected.

Benefits

People who have used acupuncture have lauded the benefits of it, which greatly outweigh the risks. Some of those benefits include:

  • Relaxation
  • Less stress
  • Improved circulation
  • Faster recovery from injuries
  • A strengthened immune system
  • May eliminate the need for medications

After finding that it works for them, many people will continue to regularly use acupuncture as a preventative treatment and to keep their energy flowing.

Uses For Acupuncture

Acupuncture has been used to treat many illnesses and conditions. Aside from pain, these are some of the other ailments that acupuncture can treat:

  • Asthma
  • Arthritis
  • Psychological conditions
  • Carpal tunnel and tennis elbow
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Dental pain and myofascial pain
  • Stroke rehabilitation
  • Drug and cigarette addiction
  • Headaches
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Labor pain, nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy

Risks

There are very few risks associated with acupuncture, but make sure you always use a licensed and certified acupuncturist. The following is a list of possible complications that may arise when using acupuncture:

  • The risk of infection: If the does not use fresh needles for each person's treatment, there is a risk of contracting HIV or Hepatitis C.
  • Damage to the body or to internal organs: If the needles are placed in the improper points on the body, or if they are placed too deeply, it can cause internal bleeding or damage to internal organs.

Again, the risk of having a major complication is minimal if you find an experienced, certified acupuncturist. However, even during the best of treatments, it is possible to see some bleeding or bruises and soreness at the puncture points.

There are some people that may need to avoid acupuncture altogether. Under certain conditions, acupuncture could increase the risk of complication.

  • Although acupuncture can help relieve the symptoms of pregnancy or labor pains, pregnant women should be cautious. Certain styles of acupuncture can actually induce labor.
  • If you have a bleeding disorder, such as Hemophilia, or if you take blood thinners like Warfarin or Flaxseed Oil, your chances of bleeding or bruising are much higher.
  • If you have a pacemaker, avoid acupuncture that uses an electrical current; it can interfere with the function of the pacemaker.

Non-Needle Acupuncture

If you have any of the aforementioned conditions or if you're just too scared of needles, there is another option you can try: non-needle acupuncture.

There are a few different treatments that fall into the category of non-needle acupuncture, but acupressure is the one most similar to acupuncture in that it focuses on loosening energy through certain pressure points on the body. However it differs in that, instead of using needles, it uses a low-frequency microcurrent to stimulate those pressure points. This treatment has also been around for centuries and the benefits of acupressure are similar to those of acupuncture.

While both treatments can be very effective, it's important to speak with your doctor before trying either of these treatments. They can be just as effective when paired with other treatments and may not be a replacement for medication or other forms of therapy.

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