- What is acupuncture?
- What problems can be treated by acupuncture?
- How deep do the needles go?
- Does it hurt?
- Are the needles clean?
- Are there standards for acupuncture needles?
- How does acupuncture work?
- How widely is acupuncture used in the United States?
- What criteria should one use in choosing an acupuncturist?
- What should I know about the proposed treatments?
- What can I expect after treatment?
Acupuncture is the insertion of fine needles into the body at specific points shown as effective in the treatment of specific health problems. These points have been mapped by the Chinese over a period of two thousand years. Recently, electromagnetic research has confirmed their locations. Western medical researchers that have studied acupuncture believe acupuncture reduces pain through the body chemicals opioid peptides that provide a calming effects, or by affecting glands such as the hypothalamus that produce substances hormones which regulate the body.
Acupuncture can effectively treat many acute and chronic health conditions as well as provide preventative care. It has shown to be effective towards the treatment of headaches, migraines, certain facial paralysis or nerve pain, partial weakness after a stroke, inflammation of nerve endings, frozen shoulder and much more. In China acupuncture is used consistently to treat sciatica, low back pain, osteoarthritis and most gynecological complaints.
That depends upon the nature of the problem, the location of the points selected, the patient's size, age, and constitution, and upon the acupuncturist's style or school. Usually, needles are inserted from 1/4 to 1 inch in depth.
If your practitioner has obtained the correct stimulus of the needle, the patient should feel some cramping, numbness, distention, tingling, or electric sensation either around the needle or traveling up or down the affected meridian. Some Western cultures may categorize these sensations as types of pain. In any case, if you experience any discomfort, it is usually mild and temporary.
The best practice among acupuncturists in America today is to use sterilized, individually packaged, disposable needles. Needles should not be saved and reused for later treatments. This eliminates the possibility of transmitting a communicable disease by a contaminated needle.
After reviewing the existing body of knowledge, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) removed acupuncture needles from the category of "experimental medical devices." The FDA now regulates acupuncture needles, just as it does other devices such as surgical scalpels and hypodermic syringes, under good manufacturing practices and single-use standards of sterility.
Here are current thoughts from the National Institutes of Health. Many studies in animals and humans have demonstrated that acupuncture can cause multiple biological responses. These responses can occur locally, i.e., at or close to the site of application, or at a distance, mediated mainly by sensory neurons to many structures within the central nervous system. This can lead to activation of pathways affecting various physiological systems in the brain as well as in the periphery.
A focus of attention has been the role of endogenous opioids in acupuncture analgesia. Considerable evidence supports the claim that opioid peptides are released during acupuncture and that the analgesic effects of acupuncture are at least partially explained by their actions. That opioid antagonists such as naloxone reverse the analgesic effects of acupuncture further strengthens this hypothesis.
Stimulation by acupuncture may also activate the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, resulting in a broad spectrum of systemic effects. Alteration in the secretion of neurotransmitters and neurohormones and changes in the regulation of blood flow, both centrally and peripherally, have been documented. There is also evidence that there are alterations in immune functions produced by acupuncture. Which of these and other physiological changes mediate clinical effects is at present unclear.
According to the 2002 National Health Interview Survey--the largest and most comprehensive survey of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use by American adults to date; an estimated 8.2 million U.S. adults had ever used acupuncture, and an estimated 2.1 million U.S. adults had used acupuncture in the previous year.
Patients should ask about where the practitioner trained, how long the training was, how long he or she has been in practice, and what experience the practitioner has had in treating the patient's specific ailment.
Your practitioner will explain the nature of your problem and what treatment he or she is recommending. Your practitioner will tell you what benefits and risks there are to the proposed treatment, what other treatment options are available to you through this practitioner or by referral to another practitioner or physician.
If you agree to go ahead with the treatments, your practitioner will tell you what progress to expect, what to do if you don't experience that progress and what to do if you feel worse.
Patients often experience the most dramatic results in the first treatment. Some patients experience an immediate total or partial relief of their pain or other symptoms. This relief may last or some pain may return. In a few cases, there may be no immediate relief only to notice the pain diminish over the next couple of days. Generally, you should expect to feel better.
Most patients will have more questions than this site can answer. Your practitioner is accustomed to answering questions such as: Should I continue to see my medical doctor? Should I continue taking my present medication? What should I eat? Is there anything I can do for myself at home? What signs of success should I look for first and after how long? You should discuss all of your questions in person with your practitioner.