Do you suffer from back pain? Allergies? Depression? According to the World Health Organization, these conditions-and many more-may be treated effectively using acupuncture. Widely used around the world, the practice of acupuncture began in China approximately 2,500 years ago. In 2006, more than 3.1 million American adults and 150,000 children experienced the benefits of this therapy.
Acupuncture involves the placement of sterile needles at specific points on the body. These points are typically located on invisible pathways, called meridians. Needles stimulate the body’s “vital energy” or “Qi” (also spelled “Chi”). By stimulating Qi, the needles are able to correct blockages and imbalances which have lead to pain or illness. There are several different forms of acupuncture, including Chinese, Korean and Japanese. Most acupuncture practitioners borrow from a variety of different traditions.
Acupuncture is usually well tolerated. It may be briefly uncomfortable, and occasionally lead to bruising or bleeding. Many acupuncturists also incorporate massage or moxibustion (heat applied to acupuncture points) in an acupuncture session. They may recommend the use of herbs, a change in diet, or movement practices such as t’ai chi. Most patients require more than one acupuncture session, depending on the problem being addressed.
How does acupuncture work?
There are numerous theories, and an increasing body of research on the subject. One theory is is that it causes the release of neurotransmitters such as the “feel good” hormone serotonin. In the case of injuries, the needles can also stimulate a local healing response. Recent studies using brain imaging have shown that acupuncture causes activation of brain cells in specific patterns.
Most states require that acupuncturists be licensed, and that they have the equivalent of a masters degree in their field. An increasing number of physicians are also offering acupuncture as part of their practice. These physicians typically have at least 300 hours of acupuncture education, in addition to their medical training.
The next time your back acts up, consider a trip to your nearest licensed acupuncturist or physician for a little needling. 2500 years of tradition and 3.1 million Americans can’t be wrong…