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 energy throughout the body. Many diseased states correlate with insufficient flow of energy in the tissues or organs of the body, or, conversely, stagnation of toxic energies—often both. The stimulation of acupuncture points regularizes this flow, which in turn alleviates symptoms.
There’s much more to it, of course, and it gets into pretty intricate realms of reasoning and experimentation.
But, if you don’t believe this explanation, that’s fine. Belief is not required. Skeptics are welcome in the clinic.
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 style of acupuncture, a specific Japanese style called Toyohari, that is known for its gentleness, light touch, and sensitivity. It’s even applicable on infants and small children. The best part is that there’s no loss of effectiveness.
Considering having someone stick needles into you with the vague hope that it’ll make your symptoms get better can be daunting to think about. But rest assured, acupuncture has been around for thousands of years, and time and experience has seen it continue to work for many, many people throughout the world.