If your doctor has recommended acupuncture treatment, you may be curious as to what’s involved and how it works.

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medical therapy designed to balance the flow of energy in a person’s body, in turn maintaining or restoring good health, treating a number of conditions (especially pain) and encouraging overall well-being.

More and more Western medical professionals agree that their patients can benefit from acupuncture treatment, and that it does deliver important physical results.

The acupuncture treatment itself involves placing extremely thin needles into specific points on the body. By stimulating these points, the practitioner can increase the patient’s blood flow; activate nerves, muscles and other tissues; and promote production of endorphins (the body’s natural painkillers).

Comprehensive care physicians will sometimes recommend acupuncture as a complementary component of a patient’s treatment plan.

Acupuncture has been used to treat a wide variety of pains, conditions, diseases and other ailments, including:

  • Headaches
  • Back pain
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Arthritis
  • Effects of chemotherapy
  • Muscle pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Spastic colon
  • Neck pain

For your first acupuncture treatment, expect the practitioner to ask you about your medical history and any current conditions. Then, he or she may do a physical examination to determine reactive areas on your body. This will help identify which acupuncture points he or she will use.

Next you will be asked to get into a comfortable position that will provide access to most, if not all, of the pressure points to be used during your treatment. Usually it is necessary to remove some articles of clothing for the most accurate placement of the needles.

The acupuncturist will place the needles, which are prepackaged and sterile. (The needles will be disposed of following your session.) Practitioners use different techniques for inserting the needles, and may place them at different depths in your skin, depending on what they are targeting.

The insertion of the needles will feel like pricking sensations. Most patients describe the feeling as less intense than the sensation caused by an injection or immunization, since the needles are so much thinner.

After several seconds, you may feel tingling, mild soreness, numbness or a sensation of “heaviness” at the acupuncture points. The acupuncturist will ask the patient to announce the onset of numb or heavy sensations, as they are signals the treatment is working.

Following treatment, you may feel soreness for a few days. Complications with acupuncture treatment are relatively few, but can include infection, excessive bleeding, organ injury or premature labor (for pregnant women).

Make sure your acupuncture specialist is highly trained and always uses sterile needles, and your risk of complications will be extremely low.

Image by Official U.S. Navy Imagery via Flickr


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