Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine that has been practiced for thousands of years. The practice involves the insertion and manipulation of needles in specific places on the body. Acupuncture is believed to unblock energy in the body, called qi (pronounced “chee”). Many people who practice acupuncture believe that when qi is blocked, it causes illness; when it flows freely, we are healthy. Scientific evidence about the benefits of acupuncture is indeed mixed.
Some studies show that it improves pain and stress levels for people with certain conditions like arthritis or fibromyalgia or who have had surgery. Other studies show no benefits from acupuncture at all. Acupuncture may be especially helpful if you have chronic pain, but it isn’t going away no matter what you do. Consider talking to your doctor about whether this would be an effective treatment for you — along with other pain-management strategies such as exercise, physical therapy, relaxation techniques and meditation before trying acupuncture yourself.
What Can Acupuncture Help With?
The benefits of acupuncture are wide-ranging and may depend on the condition being treated and the individual. Some conditions for which acupuncture is beneficial to include migraine headaches, back pain, fibromyalgia, athletic injuries, infertility, joint pain, anxiety, high blood pressure and more.
Acupuncture is thought to help with many conditions by promoting the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals. It may also stimulate the nervous system and promote better blood flow and lung function. Some people believe that acupuncture can also unblock qi and help the body heal itself.
Migraines and Headaches
A migraine is a neurological disorder that causes extreme pain in one area of the head (often behind the eyes). Headaches are a general term that can be caused by many factors and many people experience them regularly. Acupuncture is very effective in treating both chronic migraines and headaches.
Some studies show that acupuncture may help treat migraines as well as tension headaches because it promotes the release of endorphins in the body. These are the same chemical that is released during exercise (exercise is commonly recommended for headaches). Acupuncture is typically used as a preventative treatment for headaches and migraines.
Back pain can be caused by many things, from injury to poor posture, and is one of the most common reasons people seek out acupuncture. Treatments that promote blood flow to the area and trigger the release of endorphins have been shown to help with back pain. Acupuncture is an effective way to treat back pain. Acupuncture is typically used as a preventative treatment for chronic back pain.
Chronic pain persists in a person’s body for a long time. Acupuncture has been shown to help treat chronic pain in many areas, including back pain and nerve pain from diseases like diabetes, shingles and fibromyalgia. Chronic pain is notoriously difficult to treat.
Acupuncture is very effective at treating the pain of all kinds, including chronic pain. Chronic pain often does not respond to medication, but acupuncture has been shown to help alleviate it. Acupuncture can be helpful for chronic pain because it releases endorphins in the body, which block pain signals from reaching the brain.
Shoulder and Upper-Body Pain
Shoulder pain is common in many people and can be caused by many things, including injury, poor posture and repetitive movements. Acupuncture is an effective treatment for shoulder pain, even when compared to medication. Acupuncture is very effective at treating shoulder pain because it releases endorphins in the body, which block pain signals from reaching the brain.
Depression and Anxiety Relief
Depression and anxiety can be treated with many different types of therapy and medication. Some people respond well to one type of therapy and others do not; acupuncture is effective in treating anxiety and depression. Acupuncture is very effective at treating anxiety, depression and other stress-related conditions because it releases endorphins in the body, which block the signals of stress.
Many women experience irregular and painful periods, both of which acupuncture has been shown to help with, as well as other menstrual disorders.
Acupuncture is very effective at treating menstrual disorders as well as other disorders that cause pain like endometriosis. Acupuncture is believed to help regulate the body’s natural hormone levels, which regulate menstruation and other functions. Acupuncture may cause the body to release more hormones than usual, which could trigger a menstrual period.
Types of Acupuncture
Traditional acupuncture involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body.
- Traditional Chinese acupuncture is the most common type of acupuncture that is practiced. This acupuncture type treats the whole person, accounting for things like diet, exercise, environment and genetics to treat the person as a whole. This type of acupuncture is believed to be helpful for mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
- Electroacupuncture is another type of acupuncture that uses an electric current to stimulate certain points in the body. This type of acupuncture is often used to treat joint pain, muscle pain and pain caused by fibromyalgia and other conditions that affect the muscles and joints.
- Needle acupuncture uses short needles inserted into specific points on the body to stimulate blood flow and promote the release of endorphins.
- Chinese acupuncture is the use of gentle pressure applied to the body with the use of fingers and palms at specific points.
Who Might Want to Try (or Avoid) Acupuncture
People who want to try acupuncture in the hopes of treating a medical condition will probably find that their experience is very different from what they see depicted on TV. Acupuncture treatments are usually performed in an office environment and take about an hour for a 15-point session.
Acupuncture is recommended for people who are open-minded and willing to try something that may not work immediately. It’s not a quick fix and most people will probably have to try acupuncture a few times before they notice any benefits.
Acupuncture is not recommended for people who have a moderate or high risk of bleeding, infection, pregnancy, those who are very young or very old, people who have cardiovascular disease or epilepsy, people who are taking blood thinners, people with anemia and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
What to Expect Before, During, and After Acupuncture
Before acupuncture, you might be asked to fill out a questionnaire about your medical history and to let your practitioner know what you are hoping to achieve with acupuncture. Your practitioner might also ask you to take an acupuncture quiz. During an acupuncture session, you will lie down on a table while your practitioner inserts thin needles into your skin at specific points on your body. The needles are sterilized and very fine, so they’re not painful.
After your acupuncture session, you might need to rest. You can shower after 24 hours, but don’t pull the needles out. Keep the needles in for 30-45 minutes after each session.
What to Expect After Acupuncture
Acupuncture is not a quick fix, but there is no downtime associated with it. You will probably notice some positive effects after your first acupuncture session, but it could take weeks or months for acupuncture to be effective in treating certain conditions.
After your acupuncture session, you should feel relaxed and refreshed. You may feel more energized, less tense or have a better mood. Pain levels may also be lower. You should also notice a decrease in your symptoms after acupuncture, but they should return after a short period.
This means that acupuncture is not a cure but is instead used to relieve symptoms. Acupuncture is a well-regarded, safe treatment that you can use to complement other pain management strategies.