What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is the use of fine needles made of sterile stainless steel to stimulate specific areas of the body. In the system of Traditional Chinese Medicine, these areas, or acupuncture points, contain highly concentrated Qi, which is the energy that flows throughout the body fueling everything we do. In Western Medicine, these locations also commonly correspond to trigger points, or a discrete point of irritability in a muscle that when palpated, is associated with pain and tension in the muscle.
The purpose of acupuncture is to treat the underlying cause of a condition. Thus, acupuncture points are selected based a comprehensive overview of a patients state of health, not simply their chief complaint. This results in a greater degree of healing with more long-lasting and often permanent resolution of symptoms.
How does acupuncture work?
When an acupuncture point is needled, is stimulates several reactions:
1) Increases blood flow
The first noticeable reaction is increased blood flow to the area needled. This is incredibly important to the healing of any tissue, since blood carries oxygen and nutrients, while also carrying away waste products of metabolism that can build up during illness or injury.
2) Stimulates the body’s innate healing abilities
The process of needling creates micro tears in the skin and muscle. It is these micro tears that stimulate the body’s immune, nervous, and endocrine reparative responses. While this may seem counter-intuitive, it is much like the micro tears created during weight lifting that are necessary for stimulating muscle growth. As the body heals the micro tears from the acupuncture needles, it begins to heal and fortify the surrounding tissue as well.
3) Stimulates natural painkiller release
Endorphins, enkephalins, and norepinephrine are a few of your body’s homemade painkillers. It has been found that acupuncture can generate a response in the brain that stimulates the release of these painkillers at a level strong enough to reduce the perception of both acute and chronic pain for hours to days after a session. This response can be so powerful that it can create a sense of euphoria during a treatment.
4) Relaxes tight muscles
This is particularly true when a needle is inserted into a trigger point, where the muscle is in a shortened state. By occupying space in a muscle, the needle causes the muscle to first contract further, and then relax completely. This then relieves pain from surrounding joints and nerves, and allows proper blood flow to the area.
5) Reduces stress
Remember those endorphins I mentioned? They aren’t the only substances released during an acupuncture treatment. Oxytocin, the hormone that is released during positive interpersonal interactions and associated with a state of relaxation and contentment, is also released, according to recent research. This explains why acupuncture can be so helpful for those struggling with anxiety, insomnia, depression and other stress-induced conditions.
What conditions does it treat?
Because of its multi-system effects within the body, acupuncture can be used to treat almost any condition, for both curative and palliative purposes. Here is a short list of just some of the conditions acupuncture can treat:
Skin conditions: Acne, eczema, psoriasis, scars, lines and wrinkles, rosacea
Musculoskeletal conditions: Acute muscle injuries, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, muscle tension, tension headaches, temporomandibular joint dysfunction
Psychological and Neurological conditions: Peripheral neuropathy, migraines, Parkinson’s disease, insomnia, anxiety, depression, manic depression, OCD, addictions
Hormonal conditions: Menstrual irregularities, menstrual pain, infertility, erectile dysfunction, low libido menopause, breast tenderness
Digestive complaints: IBS, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, heart burn, gas and bloating, chronic constipation and/or diarrhea, nausea due to medications or pregnancy
What is an acupunctures session like? How many sessions will be needed to see results?
An acupuncture session will start with the practitioner asking you a series of questions about your conditions, and examining your tongue and pulse to help make a Chinese medicine diagnosis. Next, the practitioner will step out of the room and allow you to remove any clothing necessary and get onto the table under the drape. Points on your body will then be located and swabbed with alcohol to ensure the skin is clean. Finally, sterile, disposable needles are tapped into the skin at various locations and left in place for 10-20 minutes while you rest with the lights dimmed.
Most individuals feel a deep sense of physical and mental relaxation both during and after their treatment, and it is not uncommon for patients to fall asleep during their appointment! Because of this, certain conditions may be ameliorated within minutes of needle insertion, even if it is a chronic condition being treated. However, the effects may last only hours to days after just one treatment. Thus, multiple treatments are necessary, typically once per week for 6-8 weeks, to see more lasting effects.
If you have ever been curious about what an acupuncture treatment might be like, or whether it can help address your health concerns, give it a try! You may just find it to be therapeutic on many levels!