According to legend, an arrow wounded an ancient Chinese soldier who was ill. The wound healed, and oddly, so did his illness. Intrigued, Chinese physicians began recording the places where stabbing wounds produced improbable healing. Their observations became acupuncture, Chinese needle therapy. After more than 2,000 years, this “alternative” therapy is more popular than ever worldwide.
Acupuncture is based on qi, the life force Chinese medicine says circulates around the body along paths called meridians. Like qi, the 14 meridians are invisible. But they pass close to the skin surface at spots (“points”) where insertion of needles or firm finger pressure (acupressure) changes the flow of qi, and heals illness.
Because the meridians are invisible, critics have dismissed acupuncture as mysticism. But many studies demonstrate its effectiveness. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the primary Federal agency in the U.S. for conducting and supporting medical research, “The data supporting acupuncture are as strong as those for many accepted Western medical therapies.”
That’s not entirely clear. But the needles stimulate the nervous system, triggering release of such compounds as endorphins, the body’s own pain-relievers — hence acupuncture’s success treating pain. According to the NIH, “Considerable evidence supports the claim that opioid peptides (opiumlike compounds) are released during acupuncture and that its analgesic (pain-relieving) effects are explained by their action.”
Acupuncture is safe — if needles are sterilized. Two British studies involving more than 65,000 people show that side effects are rare and minor, mostly slight pain on needle insertion and slight bleeding at needling sites. There were no serious side effects. The NIH agrees: “Acupuncture’s incidence of adverse reactions is substantially lower than that of many drugs and accepted medical procedures for the same conditions.”
Acupuncture is most effective for pain conditions:
Acupuncture also treats other conditions:
Skilled acupuncturists generally gets results in six to 12 sessions, says Efrem Korngold, L.Ac. (licensed acupuncturist), O.M.D. (Oriental medical doctor), co-author with Harriet Beinfeild, L.Ac., of Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine.
Acupuncturists are licensed in most states. For information, visit Acupuncture.com. Under “Practitioners/Students,” click “Laws and Regulations” for links to state licensing regulations.
To find an acupuncturist near you, visit the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Click Find a Practitioner. Or for referrals to M.D.s who use acupuncture, visit the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture. Click Find an Acupuncturist Near You.
Acupuncture typically requires payment out of pocket, but some health insurers cover it. Check your policy or ask your insurer.
Have you tried acupuncture? Whether you have or you’re just curious, share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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