When I was 13, I went through the frustrating ordeal of being in constant pain with no known cause. For months I went from doctor to doctor looking for answers to what exactly was causing my unbearable pain. Finally, I ended up at a children’s neurologist who diagnosed me with a condition now known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. To sum it up the nerves, mainly in my legs, were misfiring and sending false pain signals to my brain even though there was no stimulus for the pain. I was relieved to finally know what was wrong with me but was also shocked when the doctor suggested acupuncture as a promising treatment. I was beyond skeptical but was in so much pain I was willing to try anything. The next week I was in my first session and honestly didn’t see much of a difference but my acupuncturist assured me it would take time. I kept going week after week and after maybe 4 sessions I was already noticing a reduction in my pain. After a few months of treatment, the pain was mostly gone and after 6 months of treatment, I was pain-free. Needless to say, I was blown away that these small, hair-thin needles had taken my pain away and allowed me to live a normal life again. This was the moment I decided I wanted to pursue this as a career so I could help others going through pain and offer something other than endless painkillers. Here I am now 3 years into my practice of acupuncture working to educate people about what I do and how it can help them.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a therapy hailing from China that involves the insertion of small, hair-thin needles into various points throughout the body. After the needles are inserted, the patient is left to rest with the needles for 20 to 40 minutes. Patients often report feeling very relaxed during a treatment session or even falling asleep.
How Does it work?
While all of the mechanisms of action are not fully understood, studies have shown acupuncture promotes the release of naturally occurring neurochemicals such as dopamine and serotonin while also promoting blood flow to targeted areas. In addition to this, acupuncture helps get people out of the “fight-or-flight” state which is our body’s natural reaction to stressors. This causes the blood which was going to the muscles and brain to redirect to our vital organs to help heal them with our natural resources.
What does it feel like?
It really depends on the points being used. If the points are in the hands or the feet you may feel a small pinch or an aching sensation but this subsides quickly. If the points are in your back, arms, or legs you will feel nothing most of the time but could feel a small pinch. Once the needles are inserted most people don’t feel them at all. Sometimes patients report feeling a moving sensation within their body or a twitching sensation but rarely is it considered painful or unpleasant.
What does it treat?
As the title and story above hint at, acupuncture is a fantastic modality for treating pain. Studies done over the past 60+ years show it is effective at treating various forms of pain and its effects linger beyond the end of a treatment session. Specific types of pain commonly treated with acupuncture include low back pain, migraines, headaches, neck pain, joint pain, arthritic pain, and sciatica. In addition to pain, acupuncture can help those suffering from various digestive complaints, anxiety, high stress, seasonal allergies, insomnia, fertility issues, asthma, addictions such as cigarettes or drugs, and those undergoing chemotherapy for cancer treatment.
Why should I try acupuncture over conventional treatment for pain?
The first reason is working with the body’s own resources to resolve pain naturally. Acupuncture redirects blood flow to targeted areas and promotes the release of natural painkilling chemicals found in the body. It can take multiple sessions to see initial results because acupuncture doesn’t focus on the symptoms but rather is working to fix the root cause of the pain. As an example, if someone is seeking treatment for their sciatica over the course of acupuncture treatment, they should notice their hamstring muscles loosen up from session to session. Eventually, normal blood flow will be returned to these muscles and they will no longer be impinging the sciatic nerve which was causing the pain.
The second reason to choose acupuncture over a conventional treatment is that it is incredibly safe when performed by a trained professional. The needles are so thin they don’t cause any extra damage to tissues and when needles are removed bleeding will be minimal or not happen at all. The third reason is that acupuncture is an incredibly cost-effective modality with the potential to become even cheaper in the future. A box of 1,000 acupuncture needles can be purchased for $20 with no other expensive or fancy pieces of equipment required. Acupuncture sessions generally cost the patient about $80 apiece out of pocket but more and more insurance providers are covering it. If it is adopted more at the national level, it could be performed at a fraction of the cost of existing modalities such as painkilling drugs which carry far more long-term risks.
That brings us to the end of my article and my brief introduction to acupuncture. I hope it has left you with a desire to learn more about acupuncture and hopefully experience it firsthand. As laid out above, acupuncture is a safe, effective, and impactful way to help those undergoing pain and other health conditions. Look out for more articles in the future helping to explain acupuncture and other aspects of Chinese medicine.