Acupuncture is, technically speaking, the insertion of hair-thin needles that are filiform (that is, not hollow, so they aren’t designed to draw blood) into various points on the body to effect a positive therapeutic outcome. The disorders and conditions that can be affected are very broad; a list can be found on the Conditions Treated page.
That, of course, is the short version, and leaves out a lot of information. The long version is too long and too intricate for a brief website article.
On the practical side, there are three basic things people want to know about acupuncture..
Does it work?
In a nutshell, yes. But, to be more refined, really the answer is, it depends. On one end of the spectrum, acupuncture can yield a very quick result with pain conditions, for instance. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’ve got a heart attack or any other sort of medical emergency, by all means call 911. But I have seen acupuncture relax a stroke victim’s arm; I’ve seen it calm irritable bowel syndrome; I’ve seen it clear up ear pressure; I’ve seen it get rid of headaches. It’s powerful stuff.
How does it work?
Acupuncture ensures the proper circulation and flow of blood, energy, and fluids throughout the body. Many diseased states correlate with insufficient circulation to the tissues and organs, or, conversely, accumulation of blood and toxins—often both. The stimulation of acupuncture points regularizes this flow, which in turn both alleviates symptoms and treats the root.
There’s much more to it, of course, and it gets into pretty intricate realms of reasoning and experimentation.
Does it hurt?
I’ll be straight with you: Usually, it doesn’t, but sometimes it does.
It depends on a number of factors, such as the needle size chosen, the depth of penetration, and the sensitivity of the patient.
Acupuncture as it’s often practiced in mainland China can be very painful. But, most American acupuncturists practice much more gently. Even so, there’s a wide range of needle types, styles, theories, and methods.
The vast majority of people find acupuncture treatments to be relaxing. Any discomfort is momentary at best.
Moreover, if you’re happy with the results, any momentary discomfort is soon forgotten.
Some people are more sensitive to needles, and these are the people who usually shy away from acupuncture. However, I also practice a few styles of acupuncture from Japan, including Toyohari, that are more gentle on the body and even suitable for use on infants and small children.