Pain is an unpleasant, negative sensory and emotional experience. It can be triggered by a variety of receptor and non-receptor stimuli. It is such a common phenomenon that everyone experiences it in a more or less intense way. The main relief comes from over-the-counter painkillers and more powerful prescription analgesics. There are also non-pharmacological treatments in the United States. Acupuncture deserves special attention.
A recent study found that acupuncture can relieve symptoms of mild cognitive disorders. This treatment method has helped people lose weight, quit smoking, or overcome depression. What does it actually do and how does acupuncture work?
How It Works
Acupuncture is a method of treating various diseases. It’s done by pricking the patient’s body with special needles. The areas on the skin connect to the various internal organs. Stimulating the skin with thin needles will provide relief from a specific disease.
Modern acupuncture involves pricking a selected area of the body with metal needles. It includes both the skin and subcutaneous tissue. This treatment enhances the vital energy and blood flow of the patient. It’s related to the dualism belief. A given area on the skin connects to a specific place inside the body by a network of nerves. Thus, stimulation of the former influences the condition of the latter in a positive way. It’s not a placebo effect, although sham acupuncture does exist.
According to clinical trials and national institutes of western medicine, acupuncture:
- Restores physiological and metabolic balance
- Strengthens the immune system
- Stimulates the circulatory and nervous system
- Repairs tissues and relieves pain
Where Does Acupuncture Come From?
Acupuncture is one of the oldest methods of treating illnesses and ailments. As early as 4000 B.C.E. in China this therapy used sharp, pointed rock fragments to prick the patient’s skin. Medical acupuncture comes from a therapy called Tcha-Tchin. It was in use in the Far East around 3000 BC. Before the invention of bronze, sharp spikes made of stone, bone, or bamboo were prevalent. Later, needles made of bronze, iron, and steel emerged. Then, gold and silver needles began to be common for acupuncture. They were for the sham treatment of members of the emperor’s family.
Traditional Methods In Modern Medicine
Of the many methods of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is the most researched. Yet, it still remains somewhat of an enigma. Scientific research is still underway to understand the capabilities of this treatment. This alternative medicine is not only about the needle insertion into the body. It’s a complete and documented medical protocol. The purpose of the treatment is to restore the balance of energy in the body by changing the flow of chi energy. In medical terms, it’s an action on trigger points in the body. It corresponds to areas of increased density of nerve damage.
Energy Flow Through Meridians
Let’s go back to the Chinese acupuncture tradition. They explain its effectiveness by the theory that the flow of life energy (Qi or Chi) through tunnels in the body. These are the meridians. One can aid them by stimulating specific points on the body. These are the acupuncture points.
Qi life energy means breath, air, ether. It’s considered to be the cosmic energy that sets the entire universe in motion. Including all human beings. It keeps organisms alive, but it is also present in the chemical elements. Meridians are a system of pathways inside the body through which life energy flows. There are 12 main meridians in the body as well as an extra number of extraordinary meridians.
Acupuncture points include over 400 locations on the body. All get crossed by the meridians. By pricking or pressing these points, the flow of energy through the body is then stimulated. According to oriental medicine, diseases occur when meridians are somehow blocked. This prevents the flow of energy or upsetting its balance.
Modern medicine explains how acupuncture works in a more scientific way. Acupuncture involves the stimulation of certain points on the body. It affects the biochemical and physiological balance within.
Acupuncture points are areas of specific sensitivity. Pricking these points with needles stimulates sensory receptors. This in turn sends impulses to the pituitary gland and hypothalamus.
The pituitary gland is a gland that produces hormones and neurotransmitters when stimulated. Endorphins are happy hormones and also natural painkillers produced by the body. This is why stimulation in acupuncture works for:
- Back or neck pain
- Painful periods
What Should You Expect From a Visit to an Acupuncturist?
In general, the first visit includes a comprehensive health history assessment. The questions asked may seem strange. In traditional Chinese medicine, the keys to diagnosing all physical illnesses are:
- Energy flow
- Whole-body interaction
This type of medicine includes acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage, and other modalities. An acupuncturist may ask you to examine your tongue. He or she may also ask many questions related to bowel habits and diet. That’s needed, even if it seems to have nothing to do with the underlying problem.
The Evolution of a Regular Session
After an initial consultation, the acupuncturist places sterile needles in very specific areas. After the puncture, you may feel a temporary sharp or hot sensation. Many patients admit they feel no pain at all. The depth of the puncture varies depending on the treatment and the doctor. Yet, needles should not deep enough or they would puncture organs. Needles are usually left in place for 5 to 20 minutes and then removed. Usually no longer than 60 minutes.
During the acupuncture treatment itself, the practitioner may use up to 15 needles. Complementary actions can reinforce the care treatment events, such as:
- Rotating the needles
Relief may be immediate or may occur over the next few days. A feeling of fatigue may occur after a session. Relaxation is necessary to enjoy the real acupuncture treatment. Two to three sessions in a national center should be enough to treat a specific dysfunction. Yet, regular sessions can act as a preventive measure in case of chronic disorders.
Among the imbalances on which acupuncture practitioners can intervene, we can mention:
- Disorders related to the musculoskeletal system such as arthritis and tendonitis
- Gastrointestinal disorders such as functional colopathy and reflux
- Gynecological and fertility problems
- Sleep and anxiety disorders
- Skin rashes of all kinds
Although it cannot cure organic and genetic pathologies, it can complement traditional treatment. The field of intervention of acupuncture is at the level of functional pathologies. This is before the organ gets damaged. In Chinese medicine, this effect corresponds to the energetic imbalance. When the organ is sick, acupuncture intervenes to reduce and relieve the symptoms.
What Does Acupuncture Needling Help With?
The goal of acupuncture is to rebalance the energy that flows through the body. As a result, the benefits of this practice can stretch far and wide:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
It can also help with pain syndromes caused by trauma. Or those associated with a chronic degenerative disease such as rheumatoid arthritis.
It’s also helpful in treating neurological problems. This includes migraines or Parkinson’s disease. It can be part of rehabilitation for people who have suffered a stroke. Respiratory diseases, including sinusitis and asthma, have been well alleviated with acupuncture. So did many gynecological disorders and infertility. Acupuncture is also beneficial in reducing fatigue and addiction levels.
Studies show that acupuncture can also help relieve:
- Chronic back pain
- Dental pain
- Migraine headaches
- Symptoms of osteoarthritis
It helps to treat emotional pain syndromes. This can include post-traumatic stress disorder. It also reduces chemotherapy-induced nausea in cancer patients.
Does Acupuncture Stop the Pain?
Treatments with an acupuncturist are salvation for people dealing with chronic pain. Taking huge doses of analgesics every day is not without adverse effects on the body. The kidneys, liver, and stomach are particularly affected. Over time, the body develops a tolerance to the drug. This results in the need to take increasing doses of the substance or use a stronger drug. Acupuncture can be a great alternative or at least a complement to clinic therapy. It enables the patient to reduce or sometimes stop taking pharmaceuticals altogether. Scientists have evidence to back that statement up.
Is the Acupuncture Treatment Painful?
Patients often wonder whether acupuncture hurts. After all, it is a procedure involving the insertion of acupuncture needles. Don’t mind them. Acupuncture does not hurt, although it depends on the place of the puncture and how you feel. Usually, the patient does not feel the needle or feels a pinch that subsides. A regular injection is much more unpleasant. Acupuncture thus becomes a very good substitute for the pharmacological treatment of pain. Especially if we add to this the lack of side effects, typical for pharmaceuticals.
How Many Sessions Does Acupuncture Need?
During the procedure, the selected acupoint gets punctured. The needles are in place for 10-30 minutes. Sometimes short punctures of a few seconds are more common. Much depends on the chosen treatment strategy. In general, one should repeat the treatments 10-12 times over a period of 3 months, up to six months.
This trigger point therapy is a stimulus method, so one must repeat it to achieve the desired effect. Sometimes a few treatments are enough, other times you might need dozens of them. The exact time and intensity of the therapy are always decided by the acupuncturist. For greater effectiveness, extra treatments can be useful. These include acupressure, placing bubbles, ear acupuncture, electroacupuncture, and laser pointing.
You’re still wondering how acupuncture works? Contact Dr. Ann Marie Nguyen for more detailed information or personalized diagnosis. Visit her in her medical center in California and enjoy some of the best clinic products.