Acupuncture: The Pointy End Of How It Works, The Uses And Benefits.
Acupuncture is a practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine that has been utilised for thousands of years. It stems from the theory that life force. known as Qi (pronounced “Chi”) flows through the body in pathways called Meridians. Practitioners of acupuncture believe it is the disruption to the flow of this Qi that can cause illness or disharmony within the body.
Acupuncture involves the insertion of thin needles, often so small they are the size of a single strand of hair, into strategic points (known as acupoints) along the body to restore or manipulate the flow of Qi. In doing so, the practice of acupuncture taps into our body’s own potential to heal and restores the intended vitality innately available to each of us.
Traditional Chinese Medicine – Promoting Balance In The Body
Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that optimal health is the result of the balanced extremes of “yin” and “yang” energy of the Qi. When there is harmony between these two forces, the body functions as is intended. When illness is present, practitioners will look to understand an imbalance between Qi and then correct it through the placement of acupuncture needles.
TCM practitioners examine these imbalances through a series of investigative style methods – accumulating information from your own reported symptoms, the taking of the place, examining your tongue, even checking over blood-work if you have it – and charting a holistic view of your health. Crucially, they examine you as an individual with a collection of symptoms, not just looking for a diagnosis or an “illness” to treat, as can be the case with Western medical practices.
There are 14 meridians and some 360 acupoints in the body, where the vital energy runs so a multitude of combinations of acupuncture points that can be focused on in a session to promote healing.
What to expect in an acupuncture treatment?
Acupuncture treatment sessions will begin with a consultation with the TCM. After a thorough discussion about why you are there – your symptoms, pulse and tongue checks etc –you will lie down for treatment.
The acupuncturist will prepare the skin by sterilising the meridian points, then using a single, sterilised disposable needle they will insert into the specific acupoints that correspond to the treatment protocol.
As each needle is inserted, you may feel a slight tingling, buzzing or sometimes zapping feeling – other times, you may feel nothing at all. But it is not a sensation of pain and any feeling would be quite brief. There may be a small, dull ache or as subsequent needles are inserted around the meridians, you may feel a sensation of the needles “connecting”, however, it is generally painless [editor’s note: said from a girl who is very needle phobic!]
You then rest, with the needles in place, for 5-30 minutes. Generally, 28 minutes is the time it takes Qi to circulate the body. Your practitioner may just leave you to rest, or they may enter at intervals to “tweak” the needles to continue to stimulate the Qi.
Once you’ve taken a rest (in many cases a time for a deep meditation or even a nap!) the needles are succinctly removed and you can carry on with your day.
Oftentimes, acupuncture is used in conjunction with other TCM practices such as moxibostun, herbal medicine or Tui Na massage, to enhance the benefits, however they are not necessary for the initial healing stimulated by acupuncture to take place.
How many Acupuncture sessions do you need?
The amount of sessions you require for acupuncture depends on your individual condition. For some more chronic conditions or ongoing management, it may be regular sessions for a period of months. For acute illness, a short burst may alleviate symptoms and bring about balance.
What can acupuncture help with?
The World Health Organization (WHO) listed a number of conditions in which they say acupuncture has been proven effective, these include:
Headaches, chronic pain, lower back pain, neck pain, high and low blood pressure, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, some gastric conditions, including peptic ulcer, painful periods, allergic rhinitis, facial pain, morning sickness, rheumatoid arthritis, sprains, sciatica, dental pain, reducing the risk of stroke, inducing labor.
The other beneficial side effect of acupuncture is for most, it is very relaxing, The relaxation effects and general holistic nature of the practice can assist to alleviate stress, which can have an accumulative effect for sleep, cortisol levels, mood and energy.
The Types Of Acupuncture
A TCM acupuncture session will, generally, include the placement of needles in various points across the entire body for the required treatment to take place. However there are other types of acupuncture that vary from this traditional practice. These include;
Cosmetic Acupuncture – also known as facial acupuncture, this involves the placement of needles around acupoints in the face to promote collagen production, improving skin health and the appearance of wrinkles.
Read: What Is Facial Cupping?
Auricular Acupuncture – TCM believes that certain areas of the body are represented in acupoints located in the ear. This type of acupuncture either focuses the attention of needle placement around the ear, or it can involve the placement of “seeds” held in place by a small plaster, that can remain on the acupoint for up to weeks at a time.
Electro Acupuncture – this practice involves the connection of an electro-current machine to the top of the needles place into the body already, to provide stimulation of a gentle electric current. This can enhance the sensations of tingling.
Editors Note: I have used acupuncture as a staple of my “wellness toolkit” for over 10 years. Initially, I was encouraged to try the practice for debilitating hormonal + stress-induced migraines – which was a massive success. I then returned to it for stress management and performance anxiety. In both circumstances, I used short, but intense bursts of treatments to alleviate symptoms. Upon my PCOS diagnosis, I returned to Acupuncture as it was a recommended alternative treatment option for hormonal imbalances + inflammation – two key markers of my syndrome. Since this point, I have engaged with acupuncture either weekly or bi-weekly, to manage both my PCOS symptoms and my general wellbeing. Not only have I seen beneficial improvements to my digestion, PCOS, cystic acne, Adrenal Fatigue and hormonal imbalances, but it now is a routine part of my stress management protocols. I am fascinated by the treatment opportunities to encourage my body to heal itself and the in-depth nature of each session which will chart and examine all aspects of my health: from the stage of my menstrual cycle, my bowel movements, how I am sleeping, my levels of stress or anxiety, my mood or my hunger levels. The vast improvements in my sleep, relaxation levels and pain management are additional side effects that I cannot be more grateful for!