Since it’s National Pain Awareness Month, we wanted to take this opportunity to showcase our guide to one of the most effective natural pain reducing treatments out there: acupuncture.
Now, you probably have a friend who swears by acupuncture, but what does acupuncture actually do, besides make you look like a pincushion? This form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is based on the principle that the body’s qi (energy or life force in Chinese) needs to flow freely through in order for you to function properly. Our qi travels through the body via meridians, which you can think of like waterways connecting rivers and streams; imbalances in the body can cause block these meridians — and thus stop the flow of qi — affecting your mental, physical, and spiritual health. Acupuncture, in short, is the practice of stimulating specific anatomic sites, called acupuncture points of acupoints, to encourage the flow of qi and help restore optimal health.
The most common way to stimulate these acupuncture points, and the thing you probably think of when you imagine acupuncture, involves inserting very thin needles into the skin. However, acupuncture actually encompasses a whole variety of other ways to stimulate acupuncture points, from massage to cupping to heat therapy and the application of topical herbal medicines. Many acupuncture practitioners will use a variety of different methods as they work with a client’s particular issues.
What Are Some Acupuncture Benefits?
The list of conditions that acupuncture can treat is very, very long. There are case-controlled clinical studies that show that acupuncture can be an effective standalone treatment for many conditions, including (but not limited to):
Many types of pain, including postoperative pain, low back pain, and facial pain
There is also powerful but more limited evidence showing that acupuncture can help with conditions such infertility, insomnia, obesity, drug dependence, obesity, and even schizophrenia, among many others. Though Western medicine can often be dismissive of forms of alternative medicine, this form of TCM has become so widely accepted that many of the major insurance providers cover acupuncture treatment for a variety of conditions.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
While qi is the guiding principle behind acupuncture, many Western researchers have sought more science-based reasons for its effectiveness. From a Western medicine point of view, there are a number of hypotheses on why acupuncture works, including:
It stimulates the nervous system, which allows the body to release chemicals to stimulate natural healing abilities and pain reduction.
It reduces inflammation by reducing certain pro-inflammatory markers.
The needles create a tiny injury, which causes your immune system to ramp up.
It makes the body more receptive to its own pain-reducing chemicals.
Now that you’ve gotten an overview on what acupuncture is, what it treats, and how it works, check out the second part of our acupuncture guide! It goes into just what to expect at your first acupuncture appointment.