What is Acupuncture?

Millions of Americans receive acupuncture treatment every year for many ailments, primarily to relieve pain. So I’m sure you are familiar with the term and probably know many people who have received acupuncture treatment.  But do you know how it is administered and how it relieves pain?

The history of acupuncture goes back at least 2500 years to ancient Chinese medical practices. Scholars of Classical Chinese Acupuncture studied nature’s patterns and rhythms and investigated how this wisdom applied to health and disease in the human body. The process has evolved over time and recently begun to gain a lot of attention in the western world; today many insurance companies even cover it as a part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

There are more than 2,000 points on the human body connecting with pathways (called meridians) which conduct an energy or life force throughout the body known as chi or qi. This energy travels through the body unless disrupted by some force. This disruption causes, or results in, discomfort or illness.

The treatment of acupuncture involves the insertion of hair-thin medical-grade needles into specific combinations of these 2,000 points in order to correct and/or maintain the normal flow of qi. Acupuncturists review the patient’s symptoms along with their medical history in order to determine where the flow of qi is disrupted. The needles are then placed into locations known to be associated with the difficulties the patient is experiencing and may be left in place for a span of ten minutes to an hour while the patient relaxes in a comfortable room. The treatment may also include the manipulation of the needles in order to enhance the session. In addition to heat, the acupuncturist may send electrical impulses through the needles.

Acupuncture works by stimulating the central nervous system and patients usually experience an agreeable tingling sensation, making them feel relaxed or even energized. Of course, these feelings vary depending on each individual patient.  Acupuncture is not painful as the needles are so thin and the tip has a smooth point, unlike hypodermic needles used for injections. The needles are regulated by the FDA in the same way other medical equipment is regulated. They are sterile, are in individual sealed packets, and only used once.

How does acupuncture relieve pain?  It is thought that acupuncture is successful because it releases certain chemicals into the body which relieve pain both physically and psychologically.  By stimulating the body’s chi or life force, it activates a flow of endorphins, otherwise known as the body’s natural painkillers. It has also been documented that acupuncture helps the body’s immune system.

As a general rule, a treatment will consist of 3 to 10 one-hour sessions. Some medical insurance companies will cover the cost, but it is advisable to check with your acupuncturist beforehand.

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