Acupuncture involves the insertion of extremely thin needles in your skin at strategic points on your body. Acupuncture originated in China thousands of years ago, but over the past three decades its popularity has grown significantly within the United States.
Traditional Chinese theory explains acupuncture as a technique for balancing the flow of energy or life force — known as qi or chi (chee) — believed to flow through pathways (meridians) in your body. By inserting needles into specific points along these pathways, the doctor will re-balance the energy flow.
In contrast, the doctor may use acupuncture to stimulate nerves, muscles and connective tissue. This stimulation appears to boost the activity of your body’s natural painkillers and increase blood flow.
Why it’s done
You may try acupuncture for relief of a variety of diseases and conditions, including:
- Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting
- Hip, knee, ankle, foot pain
- Labor pain
- Low back pain, Neck pain
- Menstrual cramps
- Postoperative dental pain
- Tennis elbow
- Shoulder, elbow, hand pain
What you can expect
The initial evaluation may take up to 60 minutes. Subsequent appointments usually take about a half-hour. A common treatment plan for a single complaint would typically involve six to 12 treatments, scheduled over a few months. Several maintenance sessions a year also may be recommended.
Acupuncture points are located in all areas of the body. Sometimes the appropriate points are far removed from the area of your pain. The doctor will tell you the general location of the planned treatment and if articles of clothing need to be removed. If appropriate, a gown, towel or sheet will be provided. After you lie down on a padded table, the treatment begins.
Needle insertion. Acupuncture needles are very thin, so insertion usually causes very little discomfort. Between five and 20 needles are used in a typical treatment. You may feel a deep, aching sensation when a needle reaches the correct depth.
Needle manipulation. Your practitioner may gently move or twirl the needles after they’ve been placed. Another option is to apply heat or a mild electric pulse to the needles.
Needle removal. In most cases, the needles will remain in place for 15 to 30 minutes while you lie still and relax. There is usually no sensation of discomfort when the needles are removed. The doctor will discard the needles after removal — no needles are reused.
Some people feel relaxed while others feel energized after an acupuncture treatment. There are no physical activity restrictions so you are able to go about your normal day-to-day activities. The doctor will discuss any home treatment recommendations before you leave the office.
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