No, acupuncture needles do not usually hurt. They are hair thin and are nothing like the needles that you’re used to during your doctor’s visits! If done correctly, acupuncture should evoke calm and serenity. Here is a beginner’s guide to acupuncture for those looking for a less drug-filled and more natural health practice.
Acupuncture is often seen as an “alternative” to western medicine, even though it preceded our modern medical landscape for thousands of years. It is speculated that acupuncture may have been used as far back as 6000 BCE in China (Hwang, 1996; Ma, 1992). However, the basis for modern acupuncture is based on The Great Compendium of Acupuncture and Moxibustion dating back to the Ming Dynasty in 1368-1644 (Kaplan, 1997). In this book, there are clear descriptions of all 365 points where one may modify the flow of Qi.
But just because acupuncture is rooted in tradition doesn’t mean its effects on the body aren’t as effective as pharmaceutical drugs or modern medicine. Since acupuncture doesn’t center on popping a lot of pills (unlike its western counterpart), it’s a very natural health practice. Before we dive into the medical benefits of acupuncture, let’s give a little scientific background on the practice first.
HOW IT WORKS
Acupuncture is the practice of using extremely thin, medical grade needles to stimulate specific points on the body. These points have capillaries, mast cells, and nerve endings in abundance. When the needle is inserted, it stimulates a sensory receptor on the nerve, which sends signals to the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system. This then sets off other reactions within your body including the release of endorphins and neurotransmitters.
Endorphins are the body’s own natural painkillers, thus acupuncture is incredibly useful in treating any pain symptoms involved in acute injuries or even chronic back pain. Acupuncture can also help regulate hormones due to its effects in inducing certain neurotransmitters. It is effective in treating menstrual irregularity, PMS and infertility. Acupuncture works by stimulating the reactions of the nervous system, hormonal system, adrenal gland, and the connections between every cell and system of the body.
Our medicine is centered around the logic that you have all that you need already, but imbalances within your body give way to ailments and illnesses. There may be a blockage in blood or Qi (the energy force moving through your body, or in other words, your organ’s metabolic functions). By stimulating certain points, we are able to reduce or amplify a specific function in the body so that balance is restored.
Each organ is responsible for a certain function that allows your body to run at its optimum potential. Once that organ’s function is compromised, whether that be through bad diet, a stressful lifestyle or a harmful external pathogen, the body becomes imbalanced.
Tailored to You
Just like everyone is different, there are also various reasons why and how a certain illness affects you. For example, the reason for one person having a sore throat may be completely different than why you have a sore throat. The wonderful thing about Chinese medicine can be customized to each individual person’s Qi and ailments. Your personal acupuncturist will be able to identify what is out of balance and prescribe the correct point prescription (individualized point selection) for your treatment.
Regular acupuncture treatment is one way of maintaining your body’s condition. Patients usually leave with more energy, a clearer mind and a general sense of relaxation. And we could all use a little bit of each!
FINDING AN ACUPUNCTURIST
I believe that finding an acupuncturist that works well with you is similar to finding your favorite yoga teacher. Ours is a medicine that heals on such an individualized level that one acupuncturist’s treatment might agree with your body better than another’s. That is not to say that one acupuncturist is worse or better than the next. Each acupuncturist treats in a different style and it might take a few tries to find one that fits perfectly. It is beneficial to read reviews left by other patients if you are concerned before going in to your first treatment. A good acupuncturist should be able to answer all of your questions during your session and leave you feeling healed and centered.
Photo Credit: @theacuchick
Kaplan G. A brief history of acupuncture’s journey to the West. J Altern Complement Med 1997;3:5.
Huang KC. Acupuncture: the past and the present. New York: Vantage, 1996.
Ma KW. The roots and development of Chinese acupuncture: from prehistory to early 20th century. Acupunct Med 1992;10(Suppl):92–9.