On the surface, acupuncture can look a little scary. A practitioner sticking multiple needles into your body?! Yikes! Although it might seem daunting, the acupuncture experience is actually quite comforting. And those who advocate for acupuncture praise it for its healing abilities. After all, there’s a reason it’s been used for thousands of years.
Still not convinced? Let’s take a closer look at the benefits acupuncture has to offer.
But First, A Bit Of Acupuncture History
Today, acupuncture is known as alternative medicine (or holistic treatment), but it’s actually a form of traditional Chinese medicine that dates back 3000 years.1
You see, all Chinese medicine is based around two opposing forces known as yin and yang (the dark and the light). When your yin and yang are in balance, your body is considered healthy.
Now, what keeps your yin and yang balanced is your life-force energy flow, or Qi (pronounced “chee”). Pain and illness can result if this energy flow becomes blocked.2
Acupuncture was seen by the ancient Chinese as a technique for releasing blocked Qi energy and stimulating the body’s natural healing functions. By using specific acupuncture points on the body, the Qi block could be released, and once again flow freely through the body’s meridians. To better understand this, you can picture your meridians as “energy highways” that run all throughout your body. In this analogy, a Qi block is like a car accident that causes a traffic jam.
Interestingly, modern research has been able to validate this ancient wisdom by showing that acupuncture does indeed have a positive effect on bodily functions. This includes your nervous system, immune system, cardiovascular system, and digestive system. Through this effect, acupuncture may improve chronic pain, sleep, stress, digestion, and emotional well-being.3
Pretty cool, right?
So What Happens During a Treatment…?
Over three million Americans now embrace acupuncture treatment with around 30,000 licensed practitioners existing in the United States alone.4 But what actually happens when you turn up for an acupuncture session?
It’s pretty easy actually.
First, your practitioner will discuss your medical history and any issues you feel that you are currently having. Then you will be invited to lie down and relax on a treatment table.
The acupuncturist’s goal is to stimulate precise acupuncture points (or acupoints) on the body by placing needles directly into those points.
Now, because of the fineness of acupuncture needles, most people feel very little or no discomfort at all when they’re tapped into the skin. Furthermore, the acupuncturist will aim to get you as relaxed as possible, often using essential oils and relaxing music, in order to make the experience a pleasurable one.
You will then lie there with the needles in place for up to 30 minutes. In some cases it can become so relaxing that you forget needles are even in your body.
How Does Acupuncture Actually Work?
You’re probably wondering “how does stimulating acupoints help my body?”
Well, this is where we can look to modern science and its study of this ancient philosophy to help us unravel the mystery of it all.
Western researchers believe there are three main reasons why acupuncture treatments work:
1. Acupuncture appears to speed up your electromagnetic signals, enabling them to be relayed than normal. This can speed up the rate that it takes for natural, pain-killing endorphins to kick in, or for your brain to send important immune cells to vulnerable parts of your body.
2. Acupuncture may activate your natural opioid system, sending opioids out into our central nervous system, which helps to sooth pain.
3. Acupuncture may affect the part of the central nervous system that relates to sensations and bodily functions – positively altering your immune reactions, blood pressure, blood flow, and even body temperature.5
This doesn’t explain all of the acupuncture success stories, but it’s certainly a solid jumping off point for developing more understanding. Because the full effects of acupuncture on the body and mind are really just beginning to be uncovered.
What is Acupuncture Used For?
Chronic pain relief is usually the most common reason for seeking acupuncture treatment. And acupuncture’s potential benefits for mental health continues to be studied in-depth – with some equally promising results.
One study of over 750 patients found that acupuncture appeared to be just as successful as counseling at significantly elevating mood over a 3-month period.8
But it has many other uses. Just look at what these two organizations have to say about it:
The World Health Organization believes acupuncture therapy “must be taken seriously as a clinical procedure of considerable value.” The National Institutes of Health notes that promising results have emerged for the use of acupuncture in postoperative pain, chemotherapy nausea, addiction, stroke rehabilitation, headache, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and asthma.6,7
The fact that these two major health organizations favor the ancient practice of acupuncture is very exciting news, indeed.
The Safety of Acupuncture
When working with a professionally certified and licensed acupuncturist who uses sterile, single-use, disposable needles… the risk of infection is extremely low. As are any side effects.9
According to two studies published in the British Medical Journal, the risk of “serious adverse reaction” as a result of acupuncture therapy is less than 1 in 10,000. This statistic is far lower than many mainstream medical treatments.9
At most, you may possibly experience a little bruising at the site of the needle, though this is not considered very common.10
Five Reasons To Love Acupuncture
There really is so much to love and embrace about acupuncture!
1. It’s a drug-free treatment — chemical-free and addiction-free. Enough said.
2. It can help you chill out — It’s a forced time-out from your daily stress, and those pesky electronic appliances. Just think, you get to lie down and relax for the entire length of your session. It’s like a nap, for adults!
3. It can be used for many issues — Acupuncture can be used to help your body with such issues as sinusitis, emotional stress, fertility, digestion, migraines, and sports injuries.11
4. It’s virtually side-effect free — Acupuncture doesn’t come with an advertisement full of frightening side-effects. In fact, it’s main side effect is that you’ll be happier, and more relaxed.
5. It’s a truly personalized treatment — Each session is specially formatted just for you by a specialist who considers your entire body-mind connection.
The Good Needle
Most people who hesitate to try acupuncture do so because of a fear of needles. But those who finally try it overwhelmingly agree that it’s nothing like they imagined it would be. And then, they go back for more.
If you’re currently undergoing other medical treatment, there’s usually no reason why you can’t also use acupuncture to form an integrative, combined approach to your health. However, do consult your doctor if you have any concerns or questions.
Also, many health insurance policies will actually cover acupuncture up to a certain threshold. So, if you’re thinking about seeking acupuncture therapy, check your health insurance policy first in order to save some money.
I know that we mentioned acupuncture isn’t addictive but… after you’ve tried it, you might just disagree!
For more health wisdom from Eastern philosophies and the Urban Monk, keep reading here: