Is it safe?
Acupuncture and TCM is one of the safest medicines in the world, with side effects being extremely rare-- especially when done by a licensed acupuncturist. The most common side effect is occasional bruising around an acupuncture treatment site. Only sterile, one time use needles are used and immediately disposed of after the treatment. Most people are surprised at how thin the needles are, where as many as 40 acupuncture needles can fit into one standard hypodermic needle (the same needles they use to draw blood).
Is it effective, and does it last?
YES. "Modern research shows that acupuncture can affect most of the body's systems--the nervous system, muscle tone, hormone outputs, circulation, antibody production and allergic responses, as well as the respiratory, digestive, urinary and reproductive."
- British Medical Acupuncture Society
As far as the long lasting effects of acupuncture, one study showed improvements after a series of acupuncture treatments to last the length of the study---at least 3 years.
Will it help me specifically?
As with any medicine, acupuncture is not a panacea or cure-all. Research has found that approximately 50% of people are good responders to acupuncture. 30% are high or super-responders and 20% are low or non-responders. It may take 3 to 4 treatments to determine your particular response rate and pattern.
The number of treatments for a specific condition varies from person to person. Some people experience significant improvement after one or two treatments, while others may take weeks or months to achieve lasting results. Chronic conditions generally take longer than acute ones, and the longer a patient has a condition, the longer it usually takes to resolve. Other factors that influence the number of treatments needed include the severity of the problem and the patient's lifestyle, overall health and consultation.
In some chronic conditions, a maintenance schedule may be worked out with your acupuncturist.
What does it treat?
Chinese medicine can treat a variety of diseases and illness, with the World Health Organization claiming its effectiveness in over 100 conditions. Acupuncture has been shown to be extremely effective with chronic pain, reducing inflammation, reestablishing homeostasis and more. For more information on what acupuncture can do, read my blog!
How does it work?
The practice of inserting the needles underneath the skin is relatively simple, but the answer to how it works is quite complex. The short answer is no one truly knows exactly how it works. Acupuncture is the most scientifically studied manual therapy in the world, and a large variety of scientific studies documents many different mechanisms to the actions of acupuncture. Much research has shown that not only is there a localized response, but significant modulation in the central nervous system. Neuroimaging studies with functional MRI, PET scans, electroencephalography, and magnetoencephalography have provided abundant proof of specific modulating effects in the brain, brainstem and spinal cord from acupuncture stimulation at peripheral points. But the answer to the question of how acupuncture works is even more complicated than this, considering that the practice of acupuncture is part of a larger medicine of TCM, which may incorporate a dozen or so treatment modalities---including herbs, massage, moxibustion, cupping, guan ha, electrical stimulation, nutrition therapy, etc.
As I have said before, the mechanisms behind acupuncture can be quite complex for such a simple therapy, however as more and more research is being done, the more we are learning about its amazing benefits.
View my blog for further research on acupuncture and TCM!
Does it hurt?
A common assumption about acupuncture is that it hurts---you are getting stuck with needles after all. Fear of pain and fear of needles is one of the biggest reasons why people choose not to seek treatment. To the astonishment of many folks, acupuncture usually does not hurt. However, no pain does not mean no sensation. Most of the time acupuncture produces some kind of sensation at the site of needling. This moment when the patient feels the needle at the site of the point is called de qi. De qi is a good thing---the needles are doing their job. 5 common acupuncture sensations are heavy, achy, warm, tingly and very rarely electric.
For more information, read this article!
What is this Qi that you talk so much about?
There is no direct translation for the word "qi" and is an often discussed and argued concept in the world of Chinese Medicine. Many practitioners relate the concept of qi to being the same as energy, while others believe it has more to do with oxygen, blood and lymph than a concept of energy.