Acupuncture: What's the Point?

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture involves the insertion of needles in the skin in order to create neurological and metabolic changes in the body. It is a therapeutic tool used by numerous health care practitioners for a wide variety of health conditions. It has been practiced for over 3000 years and can be helpful for many ailments in order to improve function and decrease pain. It is important to note that there are a variety of different health professionals that can use acupuncture as a treatment modality and they may use different methods to explain how it works. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture is said to help to maintain and balance the flow of Qi, or vital energy, in the body. From a Western medicine perspective, the principle of acupuncture is that stimulation from a needle at one particular site can have effects on nerves, muscles and blood vessels in numerous sites throughout the body.

How does it work?

Acupuncture works in several ways to help improve function and decrease pain. Firstly, it helps to increase blood flow (vascular perfusion) to the area of dysfunction. Increasing blood flow allows for more oxygen and cell mediators to get to the injured tissue, which causes increased healing and repair of damaged cells. Secondly, acupuncture needles stimulate nerves at the site of insertion. Once stimulated, these nerves send signals to the spinal cord and brain. Pain is felt through the central nervous system from the brain, so sending signals through nerves to the brain can change pain sensation. Acupuncture can also help break up knots or trigger points that form within muscles and soft tissues. Whether a person sits at a desk most of the day or is working on his/her feet, it is likely that certain muscles will get overused and develop trigger points. Acupuncture can be very effective in breaking down the adhesions that form those knots.

What to expect during an acupuncture treatment?

Treatment involving acupuncture can range from a couple of minutes to hours, depending on the individual needs of the patient. Sometimes a patient only needs a few needles for a couple of minutes to make the needed changes, while other people require more time to make a positive change. Electricity can also be applied to the needles in order to increase the stimulation to nerves.

What conditions can it help?

Acupuncture can be an effective treatment modality for a wide variety of neuromusculoskeletal conditions from sprained ankles to low back pain to headaches. It’s effectiveness increases when it’s used in conjunction with other forms of treatment, such as joint mobilization, soft tissue therapy and rehabilitation exercises.

Is acupuncture safe?

Acupuncture is considered a very low risk treatment modality available for patients. Despite the overall low risk, there are possible side effects that you should be aware of before receiving acupuncture. Although extremely rare, infections or trauma such as bruising can occur. In order to minimize the risks, diligent health care providers always wash their hands, use sterile needles and are as precise as possible when inserting needles. Attentive health practitioners will also perform a proper health history and physical examination in order to ensure that acupuncture is a safe treatment option for the patient.

Final Word

Acupuncture is a great treatment tool that can help many people experiencing pain or dysfunction by helping to decrease inflammation and increase cell repair. It’s important to receive a proper examination and diagnosis before receiving acupuncture to make sure that it is the correct treatment option for you and it works best when it’s used in combination with other treatment techniques and exercises.

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