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Sick of feeling inexplicable pain in your joints and muscles? The last thing you would probably think to do to find relief is to jab yourself with small needles, but for many people, this surprising technique provides some much needed relief. It’s called acupuncture, and this ancient Chinese traditional healing technique might just change your life, if only you’re willing to give it a chance.

What is Acupuncture?

As a holistic healing technique that originated as part of Chinese medicine, acupuncture is a form of therapy where trained practitioners stick thin needles into your skin at different depths in order to stimulate specific points of your body for healing relief. Acupuncture is used to treat a wide variety of diseases, often in combination with other holistic healing techniques like massage therapy and herbal medicines.

Not just a system of inserting needles in your body to reduce pain, acupuncture is actually a medical system focused on correcting imbalances of energy by relieving pressure points where bad energy can build up.

The popularity of acupuncture has grown in recent years, especially in the United States. Over 3 million people try out acupuncture every year, and the number of visits to an acupuncturist has tripled in recent decades.

History of Acupuncture

Today, acupuncture is one of the most common forms of traditional Chinese medicine in the west. However, the practice goes back all the way to the ancient China over 2,500 years ago. Acupuncture spread to Europe several hundred years ago, but its popularity didn’t fully take off until the second half of the twentieth century. Since then, it has become widely popular throughout the western world.

The philosophy behind acupuncture is based on the belief that the body is dominated by two opposing forces: yin and yang. A balance between these forces creates a healthy body, but any obstructions within their flow cause the body to become unbalanced, which leads to pain, illness and depression. Through the use of thin needles, acupuncture can release blocked energy within the body and restore its function, therefore bringing your body back to health.

acupuncture practitioner inserting needle into skin

Needles? Isn’t That Painful?

Many people shy away from trying acupuncture because the idea of dealing with needles leaves them feeling faint. However, the process of undergoing acupuncture is almost entirely pain free. Because the needles are extremely thin, most people barely feel anything when they are inserted correctly. In fact, most participants agree that they feel energized and relaxed after their procedure, and that any soreness they feel goes away quickly.

What are the Benefits of Acupuncture?

The benefits of acupuncture for your health are becoming more well-known. Below are some of the conditions that this ancient treatment can help alleviate.

1. Helps Reduce Headaches and Migraines

Tension headaches are no fun, and relief can be hard to come by. Thankfully, research has shown that acupuncture might be able to provide you with relief. Headache patients treated by acupuncture find that their symptoms disappear faster and their headaches stay away longer.

2. Prevents Joint Pain and Arthritis

Joint pain and arthritis can be debilitating, but thankfully acupuncture can provide you with relief without any side effects. U.S. studies have shown that patients suffering from chronic back pain and osteoarthritis can be treated effectively through routine acupuncture treatments.

3. Helps Treat Insomnia

If you have trouble falling asleep every night, acupuncture might provide the relief you are looking for. The benefits of acupuncture help relieve the symptoms of insomnia, making it easier for you to get rest without the aid of medications or even herbal supplements- all without any side effects.

4. Improve Cancer Recovery

Studies have shown that acupuncture has real potential to boost the immune systems and help speed recovery for cancer patients. In one instance, patients that were treated with acupuncture had better levels of blood platelets and experienced less pain than the control group.

5. Helps Prevent Cognitive Decline

Research has shown that acupuncture has some big benefits for diseases like Parkinson’s and other age-related disorders. Because acupuncture treatments can generate a neural response in the brain, it can offset the debilitating effects of aging.

Is it Safe?

Despite how you might feel about having needles so close to your skin, acupuncture is considered safe by the National Institute of Health when it is conducted by a well-trained practitioner. So long as you see a certified specialist and attend a facility that uses clean needles, you should be fine. It’s especially important to make sure all the equipment you use is sterile, as there are records of complications occurring when non-sterile needles were used.

There isn’t a medical consensus about how much acupuncture you will need before you can start seeing results. In most cases, acupuncture is considered a treatment to try in combination with other pain relieving techniques like physical therapy, exercise and a healthy diet.
model of head with acupuncture points and needles

Understanding Acupuncture Points

By definition, acupuncture is considered to be a family of procedures, not one exact technique that can be followed the same way for every person. In general, however, all acupuncture practices involve the stimulation of different parts of the body using thin, metal needles.

In general, all forms of acupuncture are focused on targeting specific parts of the body called acupoints. These points are picked out because they are the places in the body where chi gets trapped the most often, so the biggest relief comes from freeing it. There are 14 main energy channels in the body, along which needles can be inserted in hundreds of different spots. These acupoints tend to be located where nerves enter a muscle, in the middle of a muscle, or where the muscle meets the bone.

Some of the major acupuncture meridians include:

  • Lung Meridian
  • Spleen Meridian
  • Kidney Meridian
  • Large Intestine Meridian
  • Stomach Meridian
  • Heart Meridian
  • Small Intestine Meridian
  • Liver Meridian
  • Urinary Bladder Meridian

What Will I Experience

It can be nerve wracking going to your first acupuncture appointment, but the process is usually quite simple. An acupuncturist will ask you about your health goals and what you’re looking to achieve, and then they will look over your vital signs to see if anything is significantly wrong. After that, they will place sterile, disposable needles along the meridians they think will make a difference for you. The acupuncturist will watch for pulses in your body to see how your energy is flowing and readjust the needle placement when necessary. Most appointments involve 15-20 needles, and the needles typically stay in for a few minutes at a time before being removed. Once they are all removed, you will be advised to drink lots of water to continue the detox process.

In most cases, acupuncture treatments are conducted weekly until your symptoms go away, usually over several months.

Where To Find Treatment

When seeking a place to get acupuncture treatment, it’s best to ask the advice of your primary care doctor to get a recommendation about who you should see, as doctors will only recommend licensed practitioners for you, which is safer.

Do You Even Need Needles?

Currently, there is some debate about whether acupuncture even requires the use of needles at all. Some studies have found that there are still benefits from the treatment even without needle penetration. This technique is called acupressure, and it uses light electrical stimulation, massage, or simple pressure applied with fingers to stimulate the release of energy from your meridians. If you want to experience the benefits of acupuncture without committing to dozens of needles, acupressure is well worth checking out.

Can You Treat Yourself?

If it’s too difficult for you to get yourself seen by an acupuncture specialist, self-treatment might be an option for you instead. Not only will you save money in the long run, you’ll also learn more about the energy within your body and what you need to do to keep yourself in top shape.

There are special needles that can be used for self-acupuncture that are shorter and thinner than standard needles, making them safer to use on you. In many cases, they can also be tapped in place so that you can enjoy the benefits while going about your daily life.

However, there’s a lot of potential for things to go wrong with self-acupuncture. If you’re new to the practice, it’s best to see a licensed professional for the first several times before you attempt the same techniques on yourself at home.

In Summary

If you’re suffering from aches and pains and finding that conventional treatment options leave you short on relief, it might be well worth your time to give acupuncture a try. This time tested Chinese remedy can increase the flow of energy throughout your body and leave you feeling better than ever. So long as you make sure to visit a certified professional, you have nothing to lose by diving into this beneficial remedy.

About Author

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Lydia Noyes is an Appalachian homesteader and writer that lives on a land trust deep in the mountains of West Virginia.