What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a branch of traditional Chinese medicine that involves the insertion and manipulation of fine needles into specific points (known as acupuncture points) of the body. Its purpose in Chinese Medicine is to stimulate, or balance, the flow of the body�s energy (referred to in Chinese medicine as qi) which is believed to influence the natural functioning of the human body and its own healing process. It is therefore used not only as a therapeutic intervention but also as a means of prevention.

Acupuncture is by far one of the most popular and well-established forms of complementary medicine practiced today outside China and the East.

What problems can be treated by acupuncture?

In the West, acupuncture is often associated with the benefits it brings to pain control, as well as it being a popular use as a complementary therapy for substance abuse. However, in the hands of a well-trained practitioner it is used to treat a much wider range of conditions. It may be used effectively as the sole form of treatment in certain conditions, or as a support therapy in others.

At present, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes the effectiveness of acupuncture for over 40 common disorders. Below are but a few:

Ear, Nose & Throat Disorders:
Toothaches, earaches, sinusitis, rhinitis, laryngitis

Respiratory Disorders:
Colds & flus, bronchitis, asthma, allergies, emphysema

Gastrointestinal Disorders:
Food allergies, nausea, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, ulcers, colitis

Circulatory Disorders:
Hypertension, high cholesterol, arteriosclerosis, angina pectoris

Urogenital Disorders:
Cystitis, stress inconinence, neurogenic bladder, prostatitis, prostatic hypertrophy

Gynecological Disorders:
Menstrual irregularity, endometriosis, PMS, infertility, menopausal syndrome

Musculoskeletal Disorders:
Tennis elbow, frozen shoulder, TMJ, sciatica, low back pain, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia

Psychoemotional & Neurological Disorders:
Depression, anxiety, insomnia, headaches & migraines, trigeminal neuralgia, intercostal neuralgia, post-stroke paralysis, dizziness & tinnitus

What is the science behind acupuncture?

The traditional theory of acupuncture is based on the theory of energy and the pathways that it circulates within in the body. According to the Chinese philosophy when your body is healthy, energy circulates smoothly along a series of channels in the body known as �meridians�. When there is a blockage in this flow, whether it due to illness, physical or emotional trauma, the flow of energy is disrupted and as a result our health worsens. By inserting needles into specific acupuncture points, it is thought to help release any blockages and hence restore the natural flow of energy throughout the body and as a result stimulating the body�s own healing process.

While not all effects of acupuncture can be explained using conventional medicine, there has been significant research showing how acupuncture can stimulate the body and reduce pain. When needles are inserted, it is thought to stimulate local nerves, muscles and tissue throughout the body. Such stimulation encourages the body to release specific chemicals. Two of such chemicals include endorphins and serotonin. Endorphins are the body�s natural form of painkillers that our body releases at times of pain and stress. Serotonin is also known to help with pain relief but is more specifically known to affect mood, emotions and behavior. This can help understand how acupuncture is used effectively in treating emotional problems such as depression.

Is acupuncture safe?

Acupuncture when performed by a trained professional is very safe. The number of complications reported is relatively low, however there is a substantial risk that a patient may be harmed if performed incorrectly by a non qualified or regulated practitioner. It is therefore vital that you know where your practitioner has trained and whether or not they are a member of a professional regulating body. Needles used in acupuncture treatment are either pre-sterilized in an autoclave, or are pre-sterilized and of single use.

What to expect?

The Consultation:

Like any other healthcare practitioner, during your first visit an acupuncturist will carry out an assessment of your general health and medical history. Most acupuncturists may also ask you questions about your lifestyle, such as your eating and sleeping habits. In Chinese medical diagnosis, it is believed that the tongue and pulse give an indication as to what is happening inside the body and it is therefore common for your practitioner to ask to have a look at your tongue and to take your pulse at both wrists.

The treatment:

During an acupuncture session you are usually asked to sit or lie down. It is common to be asked to remove some parts of clothing in order for the acupuncturist to access the relevant acupuncture points on your body. Once your acupuncturist has identified the points that will be used, the relevant skin area is first sterilized and the needles inserted. The amount of needles used per session depends on the acupuncturists� style and also the condition they are treating. The needles are remained in the body for 20 to 30 minutes.

What should I expect to feel?

A slight prick may be felt on initial insertion as the needle penetrates the skin, however it should not be painful. Once the needle is inserted to its correct depth and the needle is manipulated, people tend to feel a tingling sensation or a dull ache. In other cases you may not feel the needle at all. This all depends on the type of stimulation the acupuncturist is aiming to achieve. If you do experience pain make sure you let your acupuncturist know straight away, as they may need to readjust the needle. Generally speaking most people find acupuncture extremely relaxing.

How long will it take before I see a difference in my condition?

Like most treatments this depends on the duration, severity, and nature of your complaint. Certain acute conditions may only require as little as one session to see improvement, whilst other chronic problems will need at least 3-4 sessions. Chinese herbal medicine as well as dietary recommendations, and massage may also be prescribed in conjunction with acupuncture; all which may help increase the efficacy of acupuncture.


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