Acupuncture involves the insertion of extremely thin needles in your skin at strategic points on your body. Acupuncture originated in China thousands of years ago, but over the past three decades its popularity has grown significantly within the United States.
Traditional Chinese theory explains acupuncture as a technique for balancing the flow of energy or life force - known as qi or chi (chee) - believed to flow through pathways (meridians) in your body. By inserting needles into specific points along these meridians, acupuncture practitioners believe that your energy flow will re-balance.
In contrast, many Western practitioners view the acupuncture points as places to stimulate nerves, muscles and connective tissue. This stimulation appears to boost the activity of your body's natural painkillers and increase blood flow.
You may try acupuncture for symptomatic relief of a variety of diseases and conditions, including:
Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting
Low back pain
Postoperative dental pain
Scientists don't fully understand how or why acupuncture affects the amount of pain you feel. Several studies have found that acupuncture has little or no effect beyond that of the sham treatment used in some study participants - the control group - for comparison. The lack of firm results can be explained, in part, by the difficulty of devising a realistic but inactive stand-in for acupuncture.
During acupuncture Acupuncture points are located in all areas of the body. Sometimes the appropriate points are far removed from the area of your pain. Your acupuncture practitioner will tell you the general location of the planned treatment and if articles of clothing need to be removed. If appropriate, a gown, towel or sheet will be provided to preserve your modesty. After you lie down on a padded table, the treatment begins.
Needle insertion. Acupuncture needles are very thin, so insertion usually causes very little discomfort. Between five and 20 needles are used in a typical treatment. You may feel a deep, aching sensation when a needle reaches the correct depth.
Needle manipulation. Your practitioner may gently move or twirl the needles after they've been placed. Another option is to apply heat or a mild electric pulses to the needles.
Needle removal. In most cases, the needles will remain in place for 15 to 30 minutes while you lie still and relax. There is usually no sensation of discomfort when the needles are removed. Your acupuncture practitioner should discard the needles after removal - reusable needles can spread infection.
After acupuncture Some people feel relaxed while others feel energized after an acupuncture treatment. But not everyone responds to acupuncture. If your symptoms don't begin to improve within a few weeks, acupuncture may not be the right treatment for you.