There are many misconceptions and rumors about acupuncture.
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a medical practice that involves the stimulation of certain points in the body by needles being inserted into the skin. It can be traced back at least 2,500 years to 100 B.C. when it was first described in Chinese writing, however, this ancient practice likely precedes its written history. The goal of acupuncture is typically to alleviate pain or help with a number of health conditions. It is a key component of traditional Chinese medicine and is a technique used to balance the energy and life force that flows through your body. This energy, known as chi or qi (pronounced ‘chee’) is believed to flow through pathways in your body and disease is caused by disruptions to this energy. Acupuncture needles are thin, solid, and metallic, and when they are inserted in specific points along these pathways your energy will become re-balanced.
In western medicine, acupuncture is viewed as a way to stimulate nerves, muscles, and connective tissue. It has been shown to be effective for the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea or vomiting, dental pain, lower back pain, menstrual cramps, headaches and migraines, and a number of other conditions. Current western research has shown that acupuncture is capable of exciting the biochemical responses in the human body by stimulating the nerves. When the nerve becomes stimulated it sends a signal to the brain that causes a release of endorphins, leaving patients feeling euphoric or happy – this increases their pain threshold.
If you are interested in starting or you’re just curious about acupuncture benefits, we’ve debunked a few myths surrounding it in hopes that we can ease some concern you may have and help you better understand the practice as a whole.
Myth #1 – Acupuncture is painful
When we think needles, we think pain – vaccinations, tattoos, stitches. However, acupuncture is known to be very relaxing. The placing of the needles may create a small sting but any pain or discomfort you may possibly feel in the beginning will fade very quickly.
Trained acupuncturists take great care in ensuring that the needles do not cause pain.
A common misconception is that the needles are the same size and thickness as those used for other medical procedures. Those needles typically have a diameter of .45mm to 1.1mm but acupuncture needles are as thick as a human hair with a diameter of only .13mm to .25mm.
Many patients have reported that they find it so relaxing that they fall asleep during their treatment. The release of endorphins that results from the placement of needles in the skin is accompanied by a strong, electrical sensation that creates a wave of relaxation, making for a very pleasant experience. The sensation felt during acupuncture is the qi, when felt, the patient will know that the body’s healing energy has started to work.
Myth #2 – Acupuncture is dangerous
Risks associated with acupuncture are low. Some minor acupuncture side effects include soreness, minor bleeding, or bruising in the areas where needles were inserted. Always ensure that you are choosing a certified, and experienced practitioner who uses sterile needles.
While acupuncture can be beneficial for most people including children, seniors, and some pregnant women, you may not be an ideal candidate if you have a bleeding disorder, are taking blood thinners or have a pacemaker. Some types of acupuncture are thought to stimulate labor in pregnant women, so it’s important to consult a doctor beforehand in order to ensure that there’s no risk of premature delivery.
Myth #3 – Acupuncture is addictive
Sometimes patients require a few sessions in order to see benefits from acupuncture, but it is not addictive. It has actually been used to compliment addiction recovery. There are claims that it helps those recovering from addiction by; reducing cravings, easing withdrawal symptoms, regulating emotions, decreasing anxiety, and regulating sleep. There is very little documented evidence of acupuncture related addiction, just patients who are very enthusiastic about its benefits. Some patients may need regular treatment for long-term symptom management, but this can be compared to physiotherapy or seeing a chiropractor regularly. Starting acupuncture does not mean you will always need it; acupuncturists aim to solve your main problem so that you do not need to return for more treatments than necessary.
Myth #4 – Acupuncture is illegitimate
Acupuncture has been sometimes categorized as “folk medicine” which, by definition, means “treatment of disease or injury based on tradition, especially on oral tradition, rather than on modern scientific practice, and often utilizing indigenous plants as remedies.” Some believe that because of its ancient history, it must be outdated. This is actually quite the contrary. Acupuncture is widely accepted and recommended by many medical institutions. Both the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recognize it as a valid form of treatment for various conditions. While research is still ongoing, there is growing scientific evidence to back up the benefits associated with acupuncture treatment.
Myth #5 – Acupuncture is only useful in treating pain
Although it is most commonly known for its treatment of pain, there is an extensive list of other health conditions that acupuncture can provide relief for.
WHO has compiled a list of over 100 conditions in which it is effective including; cardiovascular, neurological, musculoskeletal (arthritis, fibromyalgia), respiratory, gastrointestinal, gynecological, and psychological (anxiety, depression, insomnia).
Additionally, as mentioned in the introduction, acupuncture is commonly used to treat side effects associated with chemotherapy, and can also be used to help with morning sickness and high blood pressure.
Myth #6 – Acupuncture is expensive
In comparison to drugs, therapy, and hospital visits that are associated with the prevention and treatment of chronic health conditions, acupuncture is surprisingly affordable. Private insurance companies have also become increasingly more willing to cover acupuncture treatments within their packages. We’ll see more of this as acupuncture becomes more popular and recommended by physicians and large organizations like NIH and WHO. Fees vary depending on location and availability but acupuncture visits typically range from $75-$95 for a session and consultation, and approximately $50-$70 a week after a consult is completed.
Myth #7 – Acupuncture is not sanitary
Some fear associated with needles has a lot to do with hygiene. Skeptics believe that acupuncture needles are reused and can transfer illnesses to other patients, but this is not true whatsoever.
Acupuncture needles are individually packaged and single-use. Needles are sterilized, and then properly disposed of in a sharp’s biohazard container. Qualified acupuncturists are required to pass a Clean Needle Technique exam before becoming licensed. Alike to any other medical procedure, the health and safety of patients is a top concern, the risk of infection from an acupuncture needle is extremely low.
Myth #8 – Acupuncture results are immediate
Acupuncture requires weekly treatments until progress is made. It is not a band-aid solution to a problem; its intention is to solve the problem at its root. It is meant to teach the body how to heal itself by producing natural painkillers, and this takes time. In some cases, one or two sessions can alleviate symptoms but the number of treatments varies depending on the severity of the condition and the patient. Some patients may see results after three treatments but others may not see results until their tenth. Many feel immediate relief after one session and this could be caused by the initial endorphins released but over time the problem will likely resurface. Acupuncturists will determine how their patient is responding and will recommend the necessary course and length of treatment depending on their evaluation of type and intensity of pain.
As more people start to learn the mind-body benefits that acupuncture can provide, it continues to gain more and more popularity in western medicine. It has the ability to improve health substantially if used correctly and can promote quick self-healing. In addition, it’s advised that patients also maintain a healthy diet, active lifestyle and partake in other stress-reducing practices like yoga, tai chi, and massages in order to obtain long-term wellbeing. Benefits can be sometimes difficult to measure so patience and self-awareness are valuable. Acupuncture has also been shown to greatly increase the effects of medication and is complementary to conventional treatments. Many doctors will not dissuade their patients from trying acupuncture if traditional medicine fails them or burdens them with too many side effects.
If you are interested in starting acupuncture, make sure to consult your doctor to determine if it’s safe for you. Always make sure that the acupuncturist you choose is certified, experienced, and knowledgeable.