Does Acupuncture Hurt? (And How Does It Work?)
Pretty much everywhere you look, people seem to be raving about acupuncture. Some people swear it does wonders for their allergies, while others have turned to it to relieve chronic pain, digestive issues, and a host of other issues. But just how does acupuncture work? And what are those needles all about? To help you better understand this ancient treatment, we threw together this handy guide that attempts to answer all your questions about acupuncture.
Acupuncture is an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine and has been used, in some form or another, since 100 BC. Today, licensed practitioners use it to treat a variety of conditions, most notably chronic pain.
How acupuncture works on a physical level is something that Western medical practitioners are just beginning to understand. During an acupuncture treatment, the acupuncturist inserts very thin, disposable needles into the skin at specific sites. These sites correspond to ancient "maps" that show practitioners where energy meridians lie in the body. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) posits that acupuncture balances "chi," also known as life force, which is believed to flow through specific pathways in the body.
The meridian or pathway points of TCM do, by and large, correspond to specific nerves and organic structures in the body. Many Western practitioners believe that the use of needles and pressure may stimulate nerves and boost blood flow.
This is a tough question to answer since everyone's pain threshold is different. Most acupuncture enthusiasts report feeling only slight discomfort—like a dull ache or slight tingling sensation at the point of insertion. If you are receiving an acupuncture treatment on your fingers or toes, the pain might be a little greater, as these are particularly sensitive areas of the body.
Many people turn to acupuncture to address ailments that Western medicine has failed to resolve or as an alternative to treatments that come with side effects. It's also frequently recommended by Western practitioners as a complement to their treatment plans.
The list of conditions that acupuncture has been used to treat includes (but is not limited to):
- Chronic pain
- Tension headaches
- Chronic fatigue
- Digestive problems
- Menstrual cramps
Once upon a time, acupuncture was viewed with a hefty dose of skepticism by many Western doctors. But with more and more studies showing that the practice can have real benefits for patients, it's becoming more widely accepted by the medical community.
- In 1996, the FDA classified acupuncture needles as medical devices, which helped the practice gain respect from doctors.
- Acupuncture proven effective in treating common pain, and many practitioners believe it can be an alternative to potentially-addictive pain killers.
Acupuncture is considered to be very safe as long as you visit a licensed practitioner. If you're pregnant, you may want to avoid acupuncture as some needle positions are thought to spur on labor.
It depends on where you're located, but an acupuncture treatment with a consultation will typically cost $60 to $120. But getting a deal for acupuncture near you can bring that cost down more than 50%.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a common treatment plan may schedule 6–12 sessions over several months. The exact treatment plan will vary depending on the condition you're treating and how you respond to each treatment. Speak to your practitioner to learn more about the typical treatment course for your ailment.
What are acupuncture reviews like?
"First time trying acupuncture and it was AMAZING! Lesley was great. I've been having back pain for years and I felt immediately better after just one session. Recommend 100%." – from Elizabeth A.'s review of Lesley M. Heidrich Acupuncture in Chicago
"Frank was the acupuncturist and he was very knowledgeable and easy to talk to. As the first of a series of three I look forward to the other two sessions. It was an excellent experience." – from Jerrihusch's review of Urban Tao Acupuncture and Herbology in DC
"This is the first time in 2 years that my shoulder is not in pain. Almost everything I did in my day to day life I had pain in my shoulder and lower back. I'm proud to say today I am pain free. Thank you Dr. Yeh!!! I will be back." – from Brooke T's review of Dallas Acupuncture Clinic
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