The WellBe Guide to Acupuncture: All the Acupuncture Facts You Need to Know

Of all the natural healing therapies out there — energy healing, EFT, reiki, Ayurveda, and so on — acupuncture might be one of the most widely recognized. While certainly not everyone sees an acupuncturist (not even close!), most people have at least heard of it, and there have been a fair amount of rigorous scientific studies on the practice. But still, most acupuncture facts aren’t common knowledge, and many of us have a lot of questions about it: What does acupuncture help with? How does acupuncture feel? Is there actually a legit connection between acupuncture and fertility? In this in-depth guide, we’ll answer all these questions and more.

So, What Exactly Is Acupuncture and Where Did It Come From?

Let’s start with the basic acupuncture facts. First off, acupuncture is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and is based on the principle that the body’s qi (energy or life force in Chinese) needs to flow freely through the body 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 block these meridians, stopping the flow of qi and thus disrupting the free-flowing energy in your body. This, in turn affects your mental, physical, and spiritual health and can result in illness, pain, or lack of function. Acupuncture seeks to clear these blockages. It does this by stimulating specific anatomic sites, called acupuncture points or 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, one of the little-known acupuncture facts is that the term acupuncture actually encompasses a whole variety of other ways to stimulate acupuncture points. This includes many techniques ranging 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.

How Does Acupuncture Work?

In the realm of TCM, the concept of qi and meridians explains the mechanism behind acupuncture. However, Western medicine doesn’t see that as a sufficient answer to the question, “How does acupuncture work?” Because of this, many Western researchers have sought more traditionally science-based reasons for its effectiveness. 
From a conventional 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 that 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 and fight off whatever is causing you problems.
  • It makes the body more receptive to its own pain-reducing chemicals.
While none of these hypotheses have been confirmed, they all offer interesting possible explanations for the effects of acupuncture.

What Does Acupuncture Help With?

Whatever theory of acupuncture you choose, the fact is that it can help with healing. But what does that mean, specifically? What does acupuncture help with? 
The list of conditions that acupuncture can treat is very long. There are case-controlled clinical studies that show that acupuncture can be an effective standalone treatment for many conditions — take note of that word “standalone,” which is pretty impressive since it means that acupuncture on its own is doing all the healing work. Those conditions include (but are not limited to):
All of the above conditions have very strong scientific evidence suggesting that they can be healed with acupuncture. But there are many other conditions for which there is powerful but more limited evidence showing that acupuncture can help. Those conditions include infertility, insomnia, obesity, drug dependence, and even schizophrenia, among many others
Though conventional medicine can often be dismissive of forms of integrative or holistic medicine, this form of TCM has become so widely accepted (and corroborated by research) that many of the major insurance providers cover acupuncture treatment for a variety of conditions.

A Closer Look at Acupuncture and Fertility

If you’re mom-age or have any mom-age friends, you’ve likely heard some talk about acupuncture and fertility. There’s a reason for this: as we mentioned above, there’s limited but powerful evidence that acupuncture can help treat infertility. Because there’s such buzz around the topic of acupuncture and fertility, we wanted to look at this connection a bit more closely. 
Given that 12% of women ages 15-44 are affected by infertility according to the CDC, it makes sense that acupuncture and fertility would be a big topic. From a TCM perspective, infertility occurs because of blockages in qi and blood flow, which is why acupuncture makes sense as a treatment. From a conventional medicine perspective, acupuncture can improve fertility in several ways, including:
  • Improving sperm quality: This is important because only high-quality sperm will reach the egg (note that in this case, acupuncture must be done on the male partner).
  • Balancing the endocrine system and hormones: This is important because disrupted hormones can impair ovulation. 
  • Boosting blood flow to reproductive organs: This is important because better circulation can improve the function of ovaries and follicles. Additionally, improved blood flow to the endometrium helps facilitate a thick, rich uterine lining, which boosts the chances of a fertilized egg implanting in the uterine wall.
  • Relieving stress: This is important because the delicate relationship between the hypothalamus, pituitary, and reproductive glands mean that stress can prevent a woman from ovulating entirely. Stress can also cause spasms in the fallopian tubes and the uterus, which can interfere with the ability of the fertilized egg to move and implant. In men, stress can negatively impact sperm count and motility, as well as cause impotence.
Though the relationship between acupuncture and fertility hasn’t yet been confirmed by science, there’s a lot of research to suggest a connection. In one study, researchers found that acupuncture increases conception rates by an impressive 26%! The study, which came out of Tel Aviv University, found that when acupuncture and herbal therapy were combined with IUI (intrauterine insemination), 65.5% of patients were able to conceive, compared with 39.4% of the control group. 
The American Pregnancy Association notes that acupuncture can’t help certain causes of infertility, including tubal adhesions that can occur as a result of pelvic inflammatory disease or endometriosis. Still, the connection between acupuncture and fertility is strong (hey, it helped WellBe team member Kate get pregnant!), and acupuncture can continue to be helpful even after conception: since most miscarriages happen within the first three months of pregnancy, many moms-to-be will continue getting acupuncture through week 12 of pregnancy, since the increased blood flow, lowered stress, and thickened uterine lining all help support a healthy pregnancy and reduce miscarriage risk. 

How Does Acupuncture Feel? And More About What to Expect

Now that we’ve given you the basic acupuncture facts and answered the question of what acupuncture helps with, it’s time to get to the nitty gritty of what the whole process is actually like. If you choose to try acupuncture, where should you start? And what should you expect from your first appointment? Let’s get into it. 
Heading to an appointment to get needles stuck into you might seem a bit scary, but it really shouldn’t be. Here’s what you should expect from your first appointment:
  • First, your practitioner will ask for your medical history and concerns, and likely take your pulse and examine your tongue (they do this because the color of your tongue can reveal if you’re too hot or too cold). 
  • Then, you’ll lay down on the treatment table and the acupuncturist will insert needles into specific acupoints based on your needs.
  • The needles shouldn’t hurt. With some you might feel a bit more of a sensation than with others, depending on where the needle is being inserted, but it should never be painful and you shouldn’t feel any discomfort once the needles are in.
  • The acupuncturist will leave the room and let you relax while the needles do their work. They’ll stay in for around 5-30 minutes, depending on your needs.
  • Finally, the acupuncturist will return, remove the needles, and send you on your way!
To make your first appointment go as smoothly as possible, make sure to come prepared. So before your appointment you should:
  • Make a list of all your symptoms and current medications.
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing (you may be asked to roll up sleeves/pants or remove certain items of clothing depending on which acupoints the practitioner needs to access).
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, or sugar beforehand.
  • Don’t over- or undereat before or after the treatment. 
But above all, remember that acupuncture should be relaxing. So don’t stress too much about your appointment — just trust in the process and enjoy a rare opportunity to be totally still.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Practitioner

If you’re interested in getting acupuncture, you’re probably asking yourself a couple questions right now. Like how do you choose a good acupuncturist? How much will it cost? And will insurance cover it? Luckily, we’ve got some answers for you.
First off, finding a practitioner. The main thing you need to know is that there are two types of acupuncturists:
  • Certified Acupuncturist (CAc): This is a certified physician who has undergone a minimum 100-300 hours of training, which is often video-based. There’s no clinical experience requirement. 
  • Licensed Acupuncturist (LAc): This is the ideal practitioner. LAc’s are required to have 1,800-2,400 hours or more of clinical training and are certified with the NCCAOM, a nonprofit that regulates Oriental medicine credentials.
Be wary of other medical professionals that offer acupuncture. They may not be CAc or LAc credentialed and might be legally limited in what they can perform. If you’re looking for help finding the right practitioner, or determining if acupuncture is the best path to help you heal, schedule a 1:1 call with Adrienne. Her patient advocacy services can help you get to the root cause of your issues and start healing.
In terms of how much acupuncture costs and whether it’s covered by insurance, there’s not a simple answer. In general, you can expect acupuncture to run anywhere from $65-$120 per session, depending on your location and the practitioner’s experience. Acupuncture is covered by some insurance plans, but not all, and even plans that do cover acupuncture might only cover it for certain conditions. That means your best bet to know if you’re covered is to call your insurance company and ask (and make sure to also find out if you need a referral or if there’s a max dollar amount allowed for treatment!). If your insurance doesn’t cover acupuncture, there are a few ways to make it more affordable:
  • If you have a Health Savings or Flexible Spending Account (HSA or FSA), acupuncture is likely covered with the right documentation. 
  • Try an acupuncture school, where discount treatment by an acupuncturist-in-training can be found. Most schools have a discount rate of around $40 for 1-2 hours. Check out the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine to find an accredited school near you. 
  • Try community acupuncture. This is best for less serious medical issues, and can be as low as $15 per session! The People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture has a helpful directory for finding affordable acupuncture near you. 

Conclusion: The Acupuncture Facts You Should Take Away

There’s a lot to know about acupuncture. After all, it’s an ancient practice that has all sorts of different applications, methods, and results. But if you’re just looking to have a baseline knowledge of acupuncture facts and experience some of its benefits, here’s what you need to know:
  • Acupuncture is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that is based on the idea that qi (vital life energy) needs to flow freely through our bodies. Acupuncture stimulates certain points in the body (acupoints) to clear blockages so that qi can flow freely and our body can function at an optimal level. The most common way of doing this is by inserting thin needles into the skin, but acupuncture can also be performed via other techniques, such as massage, heat therapy, cupping, and herbal applications.
  • There’s strong scientific evidence that acupuncture can help with a variety of medical conditions, including anxiety, migraines, pain, arthritis, stroke, and more. There’s more limited but equally powerful evidence that it can also help with infertility, schizophrenia, obesity, and insomnia, among other issues. 
  • Acupuncture is commonly used to help boost fertility. There are a number of studies on acupuncture and fertility suggesting that the practice can help a woman get and stay pregnant, but the evidence is not conclusive. However, it seems likely that acupuncture can boost fertility by balancing hormones, increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs, reducing stress, and thickening the uterine lining.
  • At an acupuncture appointment, your practitioner will get your medical history and concerns, then insert needles to various points based on your specific needs. The needles shouldn’t hurt, and will usually remain in for 5-30 minutes.
  • For appointments, be sure to wear loose, comfortable clothing; avoid caffeine, alcohol, and sugar beforehand; write down your symptoms and current medications; and eat moderately both before and after.
  • When looking for a practitioner, try to find a Licensed Acupuncturist (LAc), as they have the most rigorous training.
  • Acupuncture sessions generally range in price from $65-$120. While some insurance plans cover acupuncture, many do not; call your insurance provider to find out if it’s covered for you. If you’re not covered, you can find affordable acupuncture by looking at acupuncture schools or community acupuncture.
Acupuncture is such a diverse practice that it can feel tough to pin down (see what we did there?), but with the acupuncture facts above, you should feel prepared to give this ancient natural therapy a try!
Citations:
1. Zhu, J. Open Access Maced J Med Sci. 2018 Sep 25; 6(9): 1685–1687.
Have you tried acupuncture? What was your experience? Tell us in the comments below!

 

 

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COMMENTS

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  1. Thank you for pointing out that acupuncture can help with anxiety. My brother is wanting to get acupuncture done for his anxiety. I’ll have to do some research and fin the best place in our area.

  2. Hello Adrienne, I just found and read some of your online site content. Congratulations on your own Journey to Wellness and the help you offer others.

    !I thought you might be interested in my story of my remission from chronic, debilitating fibromyalgia that was robbing me of life as I knew it. No longer able to teach, on long term disability, unable to look after my home, myself, or my beloved dogs I was considering spending what I was certain would be my final days, medicated out of my mind in a nursing home yet still in horrid pain. I prayed for a miracle. It was then my Uncle Bill, a free thinker, an avid reader, a great believer in metaphysics who was always giving me books about spirituality and healing which went beyond the bounds of traditional medicine phoned to tell me about Joy of Healing founders, Andrew and Tamara Overlee. He explained how the Overlees had helped him and his family as well as members of his Edgar Cayce group who had introduced them to him. “If anyone can help you, they can,” he assured me.

    The rest is history………………………………………………………………………………………………….
    ………………………..

    It has been nearly twenty years since my Uncle Bill introduced me to my dearest friends, Tamara and Andrew. I will forever be grateful for their unique work that has helped so many and has literally saved my very life. Because of the healing and counsel of Joy of Healing and Tamara’ timeless, captivating, common-sense book, “The Truth of Life From the World of Love and Spirit,” I am healthy and happy beyond my wildest dreams.

    From Joy of Healing I learned about passion and integrity and the burning desire to pursue what is near and dear to my heart. My passion is to share the good news of this life-altering work with others so they too might experience wellness in mind, body, and spirit.

    (To read the rest of my story which I’m certain will not fit in this space please check out:) my website http://www.jkomanchuk.com
    the Joy of Healing website http://www.joyofhealing.com
    Janet Komanchuk
    jkomanchuk@tampabay.rr.com

    1. Janet – Thank you so much for sharing! What an incredible journey you’ve been on! I just added “The Truth of Life from the World of Love and Spirit” to my must-read list. So happy with how things turned out for you. So glad you found me and WellBe. Hopefully you’re on the newsletter list so you can see all our latest content when it launches. If not and would like to receive it, this is easiest! https://www.getwellbe.com/subscribe xx Adrienne

  3. Two books by Alice Miller, who received worldwide recognition for her work with childhood trauma, are the perfect reading for you at this point in your journey. 
    The Drama of the Gifted Child and The Body Keeps Score. I just reread them both recently- they will rock your world! 
    Thank you for sharing all of your experiences and the knowledge you’ve gained along the way. Glad I found you!

    1. Leta thank you! I will add these to my “must read” list, and thank you for your kind words! So glad you found me and WellBe too! Hopefully you’re on the newsletter list so you can see all our latest content when it launches. If not and would like to receive it, this is easiest! https://www.getwellbe.com/subscribe xx Adrienne

  4. Love this article, love you too. I’m smiling ear to ear when you mentioned EFT, the end. Yesssss

    About me: had a TMJ problem in my twenties (before children), magically corrected after a dentist filed my teeth down to an even bite.
    Now 55, A health nut. A month ago I committed to yoga and walking and my bite is changing…lower jaw off slightly to the right. My left knee (or body side) is longer, or looser than the right side. Makes since, bunion surgury in my 30s shortened my toe by half inch or so. Lol, gosh my foot sure look pretty though. EFT was in my 40s awakening.
    Question: is the lower jaw tied to the lower body functions? If so I guess I’ll just try and smile more.

    1. Ha hello! So glad you find me and WellBe. We have had so many similar experiences! I’m not sure if it’s the lower jaw specifically but I know my hips and SI joint are certainly tied to my jaw! But smiling more sounds like a good idea either way. 🙂 xx Adrienne

  5. Thank you SO much for sharing this. I felt like I was reading my own story about my chronic pain when glancing at this. I too, have chronic pain. I have received every medical test/exam that’s applicable and I’ve seen most all different doctors (i.e. neurologist, sports medicine, orthopedic, etc). To this day, they still know nothing. I actually do Rolfing + acupunture to keep my pain at bay. If you ever, ever find a cure/treatment that works, please post so all of us can hear 🙂 Thanks for all you do!

    1. Hi Taryn! Thank you so much for writing and sharing this frustrating experience that we and I’m sure many others share. I will definitely let you know if and when I ever become totally pain-free. In the meantime, it is good to hear that acupuncture + bodywork seem to have helped both of us keep the pain at bay! And thank you for your sweet words! Hopefully, you’re on the newsletter list so you can see any new pieces I put out. If not and you would like to receive it, this is easiest! https://www.getwellbe.com/subscribe xx Adrienne

  6. I have had scoliosis since around 12-13. I did not have surgery. I am convinced that in most cases idiopathic scoliosis is caused due to repression of emotions. Particulars growing up in abusive, neglectful or bullying environments. We armor our bodies against feelings. Wilhelm Reich, the father of armoring theory postulated that blockages begin in our eyes and he was spot on. ocular armor is our first line of defense. We block out what we cannot bear to see. Since the last 3 years I have been healing my emotional trauma and not surprisingly my scoliosis has improved dramatically.
    I have written a lot on the emotional aspects of scoliosis
    https://mindkindmom.com/how-aces-cause-scoliosis/
    https://mindkindmom.com/scoliosis-repressing-negative-emotions/
    https://mindkindmom.com/scoliosis-your-protective-body-armor/
    https://mindkindmom.com/scoliosis-begins-in-your-eyes-ocular-armoring/

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us Cheryl! We also believe in the connection between physical pain and emotional trauma, and it is incredible that you were able to heal that way. Please keep up with us weekly by subscribing to our newsletter here: https://getwellbe.com/subscribe xx Adrienne & Team WellBe

  7. This article resonates with me a lot. I was diagnosed with scoliosis when i was 14 and have had 2 spinal fusion surgeries. I had a 56 degree curve so it was pretty urgent! I get mild pain here and there mostly if i am doing too much yoga..i wish i hadn’t got it fused because it limits me so much. On a lighter note (no pun intended) i haven’t had a period in almost a year. I listened to you on the pcos revolution podcast and i could really relate to everything you said about your journey. next step for me is continuing acupunture and finding a naturopath that can help me because i refuse to take hormones! i’m excited to explore the site and listen to your podcast!

  8. Hello! My name is Jeffrey Medina . I am an acupuncturist with 13 years of experience. I have to say this is a wonderful and very thorough article on acupuncture and Chinese medicine! Chinese medicine has 5 main modalities: diet, exercise including meditation and tai chi, bodywork i.e. cupping/massage, herbal therapy, and acupuncture. Traditionally acupuncture was considered the highest and most invasive form of medicine in ancient China similar to surgery. When patients failed to respond to dietary therapy and exercise, they would then use bodywork to externally improve circulation to organ and channel systems. If bodywork wasn’t enough the patient was given herbs to internally rehabilitate the meridian systems. Finally if herbs weren’t enough acupuncture was used to systematically repair the channels that had both physical and energetic blockages. The needles are able to remove deeper blockages than manual therapy alone because the needles actually touch dysfunctional anatomical regions directly, which promotes circulation to these troubled areas. We can feel these physical disruptions within the channel/meridian systems by palpating them! Palpation guides and helps to create the best treatments for patients. Thanks again for this article!

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