What is acupuncture and how does it work?

Acupuncture | Johns Hopkins Medicine

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese practice that involves penetrating very thin needles in the skin at different depths and different points on the body. It is believed to relieve pain and is an effective treatment for several ailments. It is fast gaining popularity as a part of holistic treatments.


What is Acupuncture Therapy? 


In Acupuncture therapy, thin, solid, metallic needles are inserted in the skin at specific points on the body. The needles are then activated by the acupuncturist by using gentle and specific movements. An acupuncturist first examines the patient and then inserts one or more sterile needles at specific points, applying different pressures to treat the ailments or underlying conditions.


How does acupuncture work?


In Chinese medicine practice, the energy flowing through our body is known as qi. The Chinese believe that any disruptions in the qi result in imbalances in the body causing several illnesses.


Some types of acupuncture treatments are aimed at rebalancing the qi in the body with needles touching acupuncture points throughout the body. The body has hundreds of acupuncture points that are placed along 14 major Meridians (energy-carrying channels).


The acupuncture needles are used for stimulating the body’s systems to:

  • Respond to symptoms of an illness.
  • Rebalance the body.
  • Release natural chemicals like endorphins and neurotransmitters in the bloodstream. Endorphins act as natural painkillers and neurotransmitters are useful for controlling nerve impulses.


What happens at an Acupuncture visit?


When you book your appointment for Acupuncture treatment, on the first visit the acupuncturist will speak to you and discuss with you your illness or underlying condition. Then the acupuncturist will examine your body to determine areas that will react to acupuncture. Once the areas are selected, then the acupuncture practitioner inserts needles into the points.


The needles are as thin as human hair, they are sterilized and disposed of post-use.  The needles are inserted at various depths in different points, from a couple of centimetres to a few inches. The needles are left inserted for a few minutes before being removed.  


Is acupuncture painful?

Acupuncture is not a painful treatment. The needle pricks are not painful, they are less painful in comparison to the pain experienced while taking a vaccine or drawing blood. 


Each needle insertion will be like a small prick as the acupuncture needles are much thinner than the injection needles, unlike the injection needles they are not hollow.


When the needles are pierced you may experience a tingling sensation or a mild ache in your muscles. These sensations arise when the treatment starts working and impacts the targeted part. If the numbness or pain increases, inform the acupuncture practitioner.


How is acupuncture useful?


People undertake acupuncture treatment for several ailments and health conditions. Acupuncture is known to have a positive impact in curing or relieving symptoms of allergic reactions, osteoarthritis, sprains, migraines etc. It helps reduce chronic pain, menstrual cramps and PMS related symptoms. Acupuncture has been proven to be highly effective in dealing with psychological ailments like anxiety, depression, insomnia etc.  


Some studies have shown that acupuncture can also help with cancer treatment and multiple sclerosis.  However, the research is limited and still requires more studies to confirm the benefits of acupuncture in cancer treatment.  


Is acupuncture safe and recognized treatment?


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for regulating the quality of acupuncture needles. The agency has listed down the specifications and standards for acupuncture needles. FDA requires the needles to be made from steel, they should be solid, sterilized and nontoxic. Only qualified professionals can use the needles for performing the procedure. The needles need to be disposed of after the session.


When a qualified and experienced acupuncture professional performs acupuncture, there are very few complications or side effects. It is a safe and highly effective treatment for several ailments.