Demystifying The Practice Of Acupuncture


When faced with physical pain or discomfort some will seek out the advice of their family physician. Others visit a physical therapist in hopes of finding exercises and stretches that will strengthen problem areas of the body. And still, others search for a skilled massage therapist to help alleviate the pain. Seeking out acupuncture may not be the most popular or common form of pain relief, but it is one that can be beneficial. Acupuncture can not only help reduce pain and soreness but can help promote overall wellness.

Acupuncture is a type of Chinese medicine that is used for pain relief and to treat sickness. As part of this practice, extremely thin needles are inserted into key points, or acupoints, of the body that are linked to the sources of pain or health problems. The needles are left in for a length of time and may be stimulated manually or electrically. The goal of the needles is to promote healing by improving the energy flow of the body. The flow of energy is a fundamental part of wellness, according to Chinese medicine, and will be discussed more in depth later on.


The History


Acupuncture started in China. Unfortunately, there are not any existing documents that give a definitive date as to when it first began. However, there are sources that indicate records concerning meridians and qi, which are fundamental components of this alternative medicine. Documents containing details of this nature date back to 198 BC. Later a book was written around 100 BC called The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine. In addition to providing information about meridians and energy flow it also provides explanations of early acupuncture procedures.


Popularity Through The Years

Acupuncture popularity throughout the years

The popularity of acupuncture has fluctuated greatly over the course of history in China. Its popularity often depended on who the Chinese ruler was at the time and what his beliefs were regarding health and wellness. Some emperors and rulers hailed acupuncture, while others viewed the practice with ridicule.

During the 20th century, Western medicine saw many scientific advances. As people from all over the world tuned into these advances and modernizations, many in China started to question the value of acupuncture. In 1929 acupuncture was outlawed in China, along with other forms of traditional Chinese medicine.

In the 1950’s the Chinese Communist government re-established acupuncture and it became once again a relatively common practice in China. During the next decades, as international travel increased, people visiting China gained exposure to acupuncture. Acupuncture is now practiced in other parts of the world, including the United States.

However, in the United States, acupuncture wasn’t exactly embraced with open arms. Many have been skeptical of this type of alternative medicine. While there are acupuncture practices around the country today, it was actually illegal in many states not that long ago. Even today, many states still haven’t officially made it legal in writing.


The Principals Of Acupuncture

Acupuncture the principles of acupuncture

A big component of acupuncture is the idea that energy continually flows throughout the body; channels of energy link one part of the body with another. In Chinese medicine, this life-force energy is called qi (pronounced chee). The channels that qi travels through are called meridians. There are twelve organ meridians that run through the body. During a session, acupuncturists insert needles into points that are along these meridians. Pain or health problems may be experienced in one part of the body, and an acupuncturist will insert a needle into a different location. But since the needles are inserted into points along a meridian, the idea is that by addressing that point, it will promote wellness to affected areas along that meridian. There are over 2,000 points acupuncturists can make use of along the meridians.

Another important concept in acupuncture are the ideas of balance and harmony. You may have heard of the phrase of “yin and yang.” Behind this phrase is the belief that there are positive and negative forces, and it is important that they complement each other. According to Chinese medicine, an imbalance of energy forces leads to sickness and other health problems. An acupuncturist applies needles along the meridians in hopes of improving the flow of energy and therefore overall health.

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Making an Appointment


Compared to a health procedure like massage, finding an office that specializes in acupuncture is generally more difficult. It can be especially challenging to find a skilled and trustworthy acupuncturist. Despite the fact that acupuncture isn’t necessarily viewed as a scientific medical treatment, there are acupuncturists in all 50 states. In fact, there are probably more than 9,000 acupuncture practitioners in the United States. While there are offices all over, it generally is easier to find one in an urban area.

Rather than trying to locate a practitioner via the internet or through a phone book, it may be beneficial to conduct a search by asking around. It is always nice to get a referral from someone you know rather than feeling like a guinea pig at that first appointment. Many are fearful of an amateur acupuncturist sticking needles into their body. Nonetheless, prior to that first appointment, it may be wise to ask some questions about the background and experience of the acupuncturist. Some practitioners hold an MD and they usually charge a higher rate for a session.


The First Appointment

Acupuncture the first appointment

For the acupuncture appointment, you will want to wear loose and comfortable clothing. Shorts and tee-shirts are ideal if the weather allows for it. Generally, most acupuncture points can be accessed by rolling up a sleeve or pushing up a pant leg. However, there are some points that cannot be easily accessed; and if this is the case the practitioner may ask you to disrobe down to your underwear. Of course, if this makes you feel in any way uncomfortable don’t hesitate to speak up.

It is also a good idea to have a snack before heading off to the appointment and to be hydrated. First appointments can be longer than an hour and some even come close to two hours. It might not be a bad idea to tote along a bottle of water as well so that you can stay hydrated throughout the session.

At the initial appointment, the acupuncturist is going to assess your overall health. Just like a medical doctor would ask about your health history and symptoms, expect an acupuncture practitioner to do the same. Before he or she inserts any needles into the body your health is thoroughly examined. As part of this, the practitioner will probably check various pulse points, observe symptoms, and look at your tongue. Once the practitioner has a clear idea about your health he or she may proceed with the needle insertion part of the acupuncture appointment. However, that is only if it has been determined that you have enough energy to go through with the procedure.


Typical Costs

Acupuncture typical costs

The price of the session can vary depending on the skill level of the practitioner and the area in which you live. However, generally, acupuncture sessions cost less than a massage therapy appointment. An acupuncture session price ranges from $60 – $120. The first session is usually more expensive since it is longer.


The Needling

Acupuncture the needling

One of the common concerns many individuals have going into an acupuncture appointment is the pain factor involved as a result of the needles going on. Despite that needles are inserted into the body as part of acupuncture, few clients complain of pain. The needles are extremely thin, like pine needles, and are inserted into the skin layer only. In other words, they won’t cause bleeding like hypodermic needles. Seldom more than a slight pinch is generally experienced.

During an acupuncture procedure typically four to eight needles are inserted into the skin. However, the amount depends on the condition being treated and the severity of the problem. The acupuncturist may also insert some needles deeper than others if the treatment calls for it. In addition, the practitioner may stimulate the needles in some way to help improve the flow of energy through the meridians.

Once the practitioner has inserted all of the needles, he or she will leave the room for about 30 minutes. During this time the client lays still, usually either under a blanket or warming light, as the needles help to improve the flow of energy. Recipients of acupuncture usually enjoy this time since it can be meditative and relaxing. Also at this time, most begin to feel the positive effects. Closing the eyes and taking deep breaths during the process is a helpful way to maximize relaxation during the appointment.


The Great Acupuncture Debate


Against Acupuncture

Acupuncture Against Acupuncture

The biggest complaint critics have of acupuncture is the lack in scientific proof. The concepts behind acupuncture differ greatly to those in human biology. When gaining an understanding of the anatomy and physiology of the human body, the concept of “meridians” is not a fundamental component. Therefore, critics don’t view the fundamentals of acupuncture as a science; the American Medical Association currently does not recognize acupuncture as a medical specialty.

Another complaint of acupuncture has to do with its effectiveness in treating major diseases and health problems. There haven’t been any scientific or conclusive studies to show long-term positive effects of acupuncture. Even when it comes to the pain factor critics of acupuncture argue that there aren’t any significant studies that demonstrate that acupuncture reduces pain over time. Since it can’t treat broken bones or other physiological issues, scientists argue the medicinal value of acupuncture.


Advocates of Acupuncture

Acupuncture advocates of acupuncture

Despite the several criticisms made against acupuncture, multitudes of people continue to seek out this form of therapy. And those who do, tout that acupuncture is effective and has many health benefits.

Advocates of acupuncture say it can help with a wide range of physical and mental issues. Below are just some of the reasons people choose a therapy of acupuncture:
-Helps speed up recovery from surgical procedures and dealing with related pain.
-Beneficial to clients dealing with issues of the nervous system. Those suffering from headaches, anxiety, depression, or addictions have had conditions improved with acupuncture.
-Helps those who have muscle, bone, or nerve pain.
-Beneficial to women dealing with menopause-related health issues.
-Makes the Immune system stronger.
-Promotes overall wellness- physically and mentally.
-Many also believe that acupuncture helps those with cold and flu symptoms. Whether it is sinus congestion or a sinus infection, many claim that acupuncture makes them feel much better afterward.


What The Professionals Have To Say

Acupuncture what the professional have to say

Aside from clients seeking out acupuncture for their individual health reasons, there are health professionals that advocate acupuncture as well. For example, the National Cancer Institute suggests acupuncture as a way to help Cancer patients who are receiving medical treatment and struggling with the effects the medicine has on the body. Clinical studies have shown acupuncture to help reduce the vomiting and nausea Cancer patients experience as a result of Chemotherapy treatments. Acupuncture also helps to make Cancer patients’ immune systems stronger.

The World Health Organization also supports acupuncture. They have pointed to several medical problems that acupuncture can help with. While there is a strong track record proving western medicine to be effective, increasing studies show acupuncture as a complementary practice alongside western medicine to achieve improved health.




For those not interested in acupuncture or who don’t like needles in any shape or form may want to look into acupressure. Acupressure makes use of the same acupoints used in acupuncture; however, in acupressure, you apply pressure to the points rather than a needle. There are practitioners across the country who specialize and perform acupressure. Some massage therapists even specialize in massage techniques that utilize acupoints as well.


Acupressure Techniques

Acupuncture acupressure techniques

There are some acupressure techniques that you can perform right on yourself when dealing with common health ailments. Below are a couple common health problems and how you can help relieve them by performing self-acupressure.
1) Nausea – Whether the feeling of nausea is a result of the flu, pregnancy, or motion sickness, applying pressure to the inside of the wrist can help reduce that unpleasant sensation. To discover the point, find the two large tendons on the inside of the wrist at the base of the palm. Take the two or three fingers of your opposite hand and apply pressure to this spot for a few minutes. Take deep breaths to relax as you apply pressure for a few minutes.

2) Headaches – Headaches vary since there are many triggers that cause headaches as well as many locations where the pain occurs. Some may experience pains behind their eyes after a long day of work, while others suffer from persistent migraines. Others experience frontal headaches periodically after a busy or stressful day.

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Headaches and Acupressure

Acupuncture Headaches and Acupressure

Depending on the location of the headache there are a few different acupoints you can apply pressure to. Experimenting with the various points will hopefully allow you to find a spot that works best for you in terms of relieving pain. Below are a few examples:

– Third Eye Point – This point is located between the eyebrows at the very top of the nose. Applying pressure to this spot is useful for frontal headaches or when you experience strain behind the eyes.

-Wind Pool Point – This zone is located at the back of the neck where the skull meets the neck muscles. Reach behind your head with both arms, place your thumbs in this area and knead the area for a few minutes. Doing this can help reduce headaches, migraines, and fatigue. Even taking a few minutes to gently pull hair near the roots that grow in this area can help reduce the pressure and throbbing sensations in the head.

– Union Valley – This acupoint is situated in the hands. Using one hand find the flat space of your other hand that is situated between your index finger and thumb. Apply pressure to this spot using your thumb. Then switch hands. Using pressure on this point helps relieve frontal headaches as well as tensions in the neck and head.

When faced with pain or a sickness, sometimes popping a pill seems to be the easiest solution. But taking the pill approach is usually just a quick, temporary fix. Advocates of acupuncture claim that participating in acupuncture will not only bring about relief from pain immediately but also is beneficial for preventing pain and sickness in the future.

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