What to Expect with an Acupuncture Treatment
Many forms of traditional medicine have been replaced by modern treatments that are overwhelmingly more effective. One big exception, however, is acupuncture. Developed in China thousands of years ago, acupuncture was originally designed to manipulate the flow of chi, or life force, along meridians, or pathways, throughout the body.
Western civilization has widely embraced the use of acupuncture. In 2007 alone, for example, more than 3.1 million people in the U.S. underwent an acupuncture treatment . From the Western perspective, the strategic points in which needles are inserted effectively stimulate underlying muscles, nerves, and connective tissues to provide a boost of painkilling relief for a variety of maladies. Indeed, acupuncture is now used throughout the world not only for pain relief, but for stress management and overall wellness.
Benefits of Acupuncture
Studies have shown that acupuncture provides many benefits both physically and mentally. However, the way in which it prompts these benefits isn’t always fully understood.
Hear are some of the most common benefits of acupuncture based on the underlying condition that’s being treated .
Reduction of Chronic Pain
Acupuncture has been shown to be an effective way to reduce chronic pain in various parts of the body. In particular, it provides relief for chronic back, neck, and knee pain. It may also provide relief for old injuries that aren’t fully healed, muscle tightness, and more. The mechanism by which this works isn’t completely understood, but when a needle is inserted, the underlying nerve endings communicate with the brain, which then releases a flood of pain-killing endorphins.
Reduced Frequency of Insomnia
In some people, acupuncture has been shown to reduce the frequency of insomnia. It is believed to do so by increasing the secretion of nocturnal melatonin. This chemical is prized for its ability to aid and induce sleep.
Reduced Pain and Frequency of Headaches
If you suffer from regular headaches, including cluster headaches and migraines, acupuncture may provide relief. For many, it is an excellent alternative to prescribed medications, which typically cause a variety of unpleasant side effects.
Relief for Nausea and Vomiting
People who suffer from post-operative nausea and vomiting or who are undergoing chemotherapy are often advised to try acupuncture, which has been shown to provide relief for such symptoms. In this case, a needle is usually inserted into a point on the underside of the forearm near the wrist. This action seems to reduce feelings of nausea in many people.
Reduction in Anxiety
Increasingly, people are turning to acupuncture for relief from anxiety. For many, it is a better alternative to commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medications, which usually come with long lists of unpleasant side effects.
What Acupuncture Can Treat
Today, acupuncture is recommended and used to treat a wide array of physical and mental maladies. Although this list is far from conclusive, some examples include the following:
- carpal tunnel syndrome
- chronic pain, including back, neck, and knee pain
- cluster headaches
- dental pain
- digestive problems
- labor pain
- menstrual cramps
- muscle spasms and pain
- myofascial pain
- nausea and vomiting
- tennis elbow 
Risks of Acupuncture
Fortunately, the risks that are associated with acupuncture are very mild. As long as the treatment is administered by a competent and experienced practitioner using sterile needles, the risk of infection — the most serious potential side effect — is extremely low. The FDA regulates the use of acupuncture needles as medical devices and requires practitioners to use sterile, single-use needles. This has further enhanced the overall safety of this procedure.
The most common side effects of acupuncture are soreness, bruising and mild bleeding at insertion sites. However, the procedure isn’t right for everyone because certain people have an increased risk of more serious side effects. If any of the following applies to you, you should probably think twice before undergoing acupuncture:
- You Use a Pacemaker: Certain types of acupuncture involve the use of electrical pulses. These pulses can interfere with the functioning of pacemakers. If you have a pacemaker, only undergo acupuncture that doesn’t involve electrical stimulation.
- You Have a Bleeding Disorder or Take Blood Thinners: The needles that are used in acupuncture are very fine and generally cause only very minor bleeding, if any. If you have a bleeding disorder or take blood thinners, however, these symptoms may be exacerbated to the point of being dangerous.
- You Are Pregnant: It is believed that certain types of acupuncture can stimulate labor, so the treatment is not recommended for women who are pregnant.
What to Expect During a Treatment
It’s normal to feel somewhat apprehensive about trying acupuncture for the first time, but most people come away very pleased with the experience. Every acupuncture practitioner employs his or her own unique style, and they may rely more heavily on an Eastern approach, a Western approach, or, more commonly, a combination of the two.
Your first treatment begins with an assessment. The practitioner will ask you about your lifestyle, behaviors, and current symptoms. They will then examine the areas on your body where you are experiencing pain and check the shape, color, and coating of your tongue. They will also check the rhythm, strength, and quality of the pulse in your wrist. Expect this initial assessment to take around one hour; subsequent assessments typically take around 30 minutes.
The frequency and number of treatments that are required will vary depending on the issue that is being treated. Treatment of one issue typically involves one to two treatments per week, and anywhere from six to eight treatments is pretty common.
You may have to undress to some degree, but you will be provided with a sheet, gown, or towel. After getting you situated on the padded table, the practitioner will start inserting needles. Anywhere from five to 20 needles may be used, and they are inserted at various depths at strategic points around the body. As needles are inserted, you may feel a dull ache at most. The practitioner may then apply heat or electrical pulses while moving, twirling or otherwise manipulating the needles.
Needles are usually kept in place for 10 to 20 minutes. As they are removed, you are unlikely to experience any discomfort. Afterwards, people report either feeling very relaxed or energized. Either way, as you complete additional treatments, you may start to experience relief from whatever ails you.
- U.S Depatment of Health & Human Services. “Traditional Chinese Medicine: In Depth.” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 16 July 2018, nccih.nih.gov/health/whatiscam/chinesemed.htm.
- OrganicFacts Staff. “8 Important Benefits of Acupuncture.” Organic Facts, Organic Facts, 22 Aug. 2017, www.organicfacts.net/acupuncture.html.
- Babcock, Jillian. “6 Ways Acupuncture Can Improve Your Health!” Dr. Axe, Dr. Axe, 18 Sept. 2017, draxe.com/what-is-acupuncture/.