What Is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a form of alternative or complementary medicine that primarily involves using needles to stimulate certain points in the body to treat different conditions or lessen pain. Practiced in China thousands of years ago, acupuncture is fairly new in the Western world although it is slowly growing in terms of popularity among the public and even with practitioners of modern medicine. Acupuncture is used to alleviate pain in the lower back, tension headaches, neck pain, migraine and osteoarthritis as well as to prevent nausea and vomiting following surgery or chemotherapy. However, there is still a lot of debate on the efficacy of acupuncture to actually provide relief for these conditions.

Acupuncture is anchored on the belief that chi or qi—a form of energy— flows through the body. The pathways by which this energy goes through are known as meridians. When the energy gets stuck or blocked or somehow becomes unbalanced as it flows along these meridians, illness is often the result.

According to acupuncture, the solution is to unblock or release the trapped energy so that it gets flowing again and the person’s health is restored. The most common mechanism that frees this trapped energy is the insertion of fine needles at different acupuncture points in the skin. The acupuncturist utilizes different needling techniques to get the needle inserted as quickly and as pain-free as possible. Once the needle is in, the acupuncturist may then manipulate it in different ways, such as by flicking or spinning, to achieve the desired results.

It is a misconception to think that acupuncture only uses needles to get a person’s qi to start flowing again, although this is the most popular. Other methods are also used by acupuncturists to stimulate these points. These are moxibustion and cupping. Moxibustion involves the use of an herb known as mugwort which has been grinded into wool. Acupuncturists either apply the herb directly or indirectly on the skin, with the process involving the lighting of the herb or “moxa” on the acupuncture point. Cupping, on the other hand, involves putting a glass cup with burning paper inserted on it over the acupuncture point. After the cup is removed, it leaves red marks on the skin which usually disappears after a while. Both moxibustion and cupping are said to remove cold and increase the flow of blood to the body.

In a typical acupuncture treatment session, the acupuncturist will first inquire about the patient’s overall health and ask about their symptoms the way a Western medical doctor would. After identifying what their problem is, the acupuncturist will then inform the patient on the number of sessions that they need to treat the condition.

During treatment, the acupuncturist will look for the points in the body where the needles are to be inserted to free the blocked energies and provide relief for the condition. Treatment typically takes anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour.

Although the risks of acupuncture are low, there are some patients who have reported soreness, bruising and even a little bleeding at the puncture sites. Rare complications include injury to an internal organ when the needle gets pushed in too deeply and infections that come from reusing needles. This is why it’s very important to get acupuncture treatment only from a licensed acupuncturist to prevent these from happening.

Career Spotlight: Acupuncturist

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