Is Acupuncture Real?
Pain relief that works by sticking needles into various parts of your body? It might sound unbelievable, but acupuncture is, in fact, both real and highly effective.
Acupuncture, as we know it, has existed for around 2,500 years, originating in Ancient China. The first documents that describe acupuncture date back to 100 BCE, from an early Chinese book known as The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine. However, acupuncture may have been in use since as early as the Copper Age.
Does acupuncture work? Just ask the many patients, practitioners, and medical researchers who have successfully incorporated acupuncture into specific pain relief and holistic wellness therapies. When done by an experienced, reputable clinic such as USA Sports Medicine, acupuncture can help alleviate chronic pain, help with sports injuries or whiplash, treat recurring headaches, reduce stress, and much, much more.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
Traditional Chinese acupuncture is based on an understanding of qi (pronounced “chee”) in the body. Qi is seen as a flow of energy that moves through major channels throughout the human body, known as meridians. There are thought to be over 1,000 distinct acupuncture points in the body, each of which is linked back to one of these main meridians. Traditional Chinese acupuncture aims to release blockages to this flow of energy, stimulating qi’s circulation throughout the body to restore balance.
Today, modern medical studies seek to understand the nuts and bolts of exactly how acupuncture works. Many scientists believe that acupuncture may stimulate inhibitory nerve fibers, which according to the Gate Control Theory of Pain, decreases the transmission of pain signals throughout the entire body. Other theories suggest that the insertion of small needles may stimulate the nervous system without overtaxing it, giving the body’s “self-healing” mechanism a mild workout. Acupuncture is also thought to release endorphins and send natural opioid-like pain-relieving chemicals circulating throughout the body.
Even though the exact hows are still being fully understood, the benefits of acupuncture are clear and have been clinically proven many times over. For example, one widespread study in 2012 divided 20,000 people suffering from chronic pain into control groups. The groups received authentic acupuncture treatments, fake acupuncture treatments, or no acupuncture at all. Those who received the real acupuncture treatments experienced a 50% reduction in pain.
What Does Acupuncture Treat?
Acupuncture can be used as a specific pain relief tool or as a holistic wellness practice. Research from the National Institute of Health has shown that acupuncture is effective at providing relief to a wide variety of concerns, including:
- Chronic pain, especially lower back pain, knee pain, and neck pain
- Sports injuries
- Tennis elbow
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Menstrual pain
- Dental pain, especially after surgery
- Nausea during chemotherapy
While most acupuncture research focuses on how well it treats chronic pain, some studies also suggest that acupuncture can help manage depression, anxiety, stress, allergies, and even play an important role in stroke rehabilitation.
What Does Acupuncture Do?
During an acupuncture treatment, expect to answer quite a few intake questions about your general health. Even if you have a specific concern or injury that brings you in, acupuncture is often geared towards creating a holistic experience, so you may discuss your overall wellness with an acupuncturist. In the session, an acupuncturist will likely examine your tongue as the internal organ visible from the outside and discuss any symptoms you’re experiencing with you before beginning the treatment itself.
Acupuncture itself involves inserting very thin, flexible needles into certain points around your body as you lie down comfortably. The needles will be inserted into different acupuncture points around your body – sometimes directly adjacent to where you’re experiencing pain but sometimes removed from the area. The needles stimulate the areas where they’re placed, reaching down to different depths, depending on the location. They may be left in for just a few minutes or around 20 or 30 minutes before being removed.
Does Acupuncture Hurt?
Even though needles are involved, acupuncture therapy is not painful. The acupuncture needle is extremely thin, about the width of a human hair – much thinner than the kinds of needles used to draw blood or give tattoos. An acupuncture needle also typically has a blunter tip and is shaped more like a pencil than a sharp point.
Acupuncture is meant to be relaxing, not painful. Most people don’t feel acupuncture needles when they’re inserted, although some people report feelings of calming warmth, weight, or slight tingling. Some people also report other acupuncture benefits besides pain relief, such as feeling uplifted, energized, soothed, or experiencing an emotional release during an acupuncture session.
What Are Common Acupuncture Side Effects?
Unlike using pharmaceuticals to relieve pain, acupuncture, when done correctly, generally has few to no side effects. A licensed acupuncturist will use sterile, steel, disposable acupuncture needles for each session, which avoids any complications. After some acupuncture sessions, some short-lived side effects such as mild soreness, fatigue, or slight bruising have been reported, but in general, most people will not experience any negative results from acupuncture.
When performed improperly in non-sterile environments, acupuncture can have serious side effects like infections or injuries. You can easily circumvent these concerns by choosing a reputable acupuncture provider.
How Much Does Acupuncture Cost?
Some insurance providers may cover the cost of acupuncture treatments or help defray the expenses associated with it. Check your benefits to see if acupuncture is covered under your plan. You can also consult with your acupuncturist to get an estimated cost that accounts for the number of sessions they expect to provide.
Even though exactly how acupuncture works is still being studied, countless trials have shown that it can be a safe and effective way to relieve chronic pain, with little to no side effects. When done by a licensed professional, the benefits of acupuncture speak for themselves. Let the specialists at USA Sports Medicine help you on your journey towards feeling your best.