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Acupuncture involves the insertion of extremely thin needles through your skin at strategic points on your body. A key component of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is most commonly used to treat pain.
Traditional Chinese medicine explains acupuncture as a technique for balancing the flow of energy or life force - known as qi or chi (CHEE) - believed to flow through pathways (meridians) in your body. By inserting needles into specific points along these meridians, acupuncture practitioners believe that your energy flow will re-balance.
In contrast, many Western practitioners view the acupuncture points as places to stimulate nerves, muscles and connective tissue. Some believe that this stimulation boosts your body's natural painkillers and increases blood flow.
Acupuncture is used mainly to relieve discomfort associated with a variety of diseases and conditions, including:
- Chemotherapy-induced and postoperative nausea and vomiting
- Dental pain
- Fibromyalgia Headaches, including tension and migraine headaches
- Labor pain
- Low back pain
- Neck pain
- Menstrual cramps
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What the Science Says About the Effectiveness of Acupuncture
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Results from several studies suggest that acupuncture may help ease types of pain that are often chronic such as low-back pain, neck pain, and osteoarthritis/knee pain. It also may help reduce the frequency of tension headaches and prevent migraine headaches. Therefore, acupuncture appears to be a reasonable option for people with chronic pain to consider.
The effects of acupuncture on the brain and body and how best to measure them are only beginning to be understood. Current evidence suggests that many factors-like expectation and belief-that are unrelated to acupuncture needling may play important roles in the beneficial effects of acupuncture on pain.
The risks of acupuncture are low if you have a competent, certified acupuncture practitioner. Possible side effects and complications include:
- Soreness. After acupuncture, you might have soreness, minor bleeding or bruising at the needle sites.
- Organ injury. If the needles are pushed in too deeply, they could puncture an internal organ - particularly a lung. This is an extremely rare complication in the hands of an experienced practitioner.
- Infections. Licensed acupuncturists are required to use sterile, disposable needles. A reused needle could expose you to diseases, such as hepatitis.
Not everyone is a good candidate for acupuncture or for particular types of acupuncture. Conditions that may increase your risks of complications include:
- Bleeding disorders. Your chances of bleeding or bruising from the needles increase if you have a bleeding disorder or if you're taking blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), so let your acupuncturist know.
- Having a pacemaker. Acupuncture that involves applying mild electrical pulses to the needles can interfere with a pacemaker's operation.
- Being pregnant. Some types of acupuncture are thought to stimulate labor, which could result in a premature delivery.
No special preparation is required before acupuncture treatment
Acupuncture points are situated in all areas of the body. Sometimes the appropriate points are far removed from the area of your pain. Your acupuncture practitioner will tell you the general site of the planned treatment and if you need to remove any clothing. If appropriate, a gown, towel or sheet will be provided to preserve your modesty. You lie on a padded table for the treatment, which involves:
- Needle insertion. Acupuncture needles are very thin, so insertion usually causes little discomfort. Between five and 20 needles are used in a typical treatment. You may feel a mild aching sensation when a needle reaches the correct depth.
- Needle manipulation. Your practitioner may gently move or twirl the needles after placement or apply heat or mild electrical pulses to the needles.
- Needle removal. In most cases, the needles remain in place for 10 to 20 minutes while you lie still and relax. There is usually no discomfort when the needles are removed.
Some people feel relaxed and others feel energized after an acupuncture treatment, but not everyone responds to acupuncture. If your symptoms don't begin to improve within a few weeks, acupuncture may not be right for you.
After your initial treatment, enjoy a complementary session in our Relaxation Therapy Room.