Acupuncture points are believed to stimulate the central nervous system. This, in turn, releases chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. These biochemical changes may stimulate the body's natural healing abilities and promote physical and emotional well-being.
There are tens of thousands of scientific research articles published in English alone on Chinese medicine, including randomized controlled experiments and studies using functional imaging methods such as MRIs. Some studies examine how acupuncture alters the body’s biochemistry and the release of neurotransmitters and hormones. However, this is an area where the “Western” or biomedical system of medicine is playing catch-up in trying to understand how acupuncture works. Most importantly we know that acupuncture works.
At its most basic, acupuncture is the insertion of hair- thin, sterile needles into the skin. The patient might experience a pinching sensation at insertion or nothing at all, possibly followed by feelings of tingling, warmth, pressure or fullness. Some patients may feel these sensations move around the body. Five to fifteen needles are inserted for 25-35 minutes, dependent on the conditions treated. Needles may be heated during the treatment or mild electric current may be applied to them. Some people report acupuncture makes them feel energized. Others say they feel relaxed. Still others simply fall into a deep sleep or dream state.
Improper placement of the needle can cause pain during treatment. Needles must be sterilized to prevent infection. That is why it is important to seek treatment from a qualified acupuncture practitioner. The FDA regulates acupuncture needles just as it does other medical devices under good manufacturing practices and single-use standards of sterility.
Instead of needles, other forms of stimulation are sometimes used over the acupuncture points, including:
- Heat (moxibustion)
- Pressure (acupressure)
- Suction (cupping)
- Impulses of electromagnetic energy
Like all medical treatments, the answer to this question depends on each person. For acute injuries 1-12 treatments may be required. For long-term chronic disease, ongoing weekly treatments may be necessary. In our ideal world, everyone would get acupuncture, and a number of other supportive treatments each week regardless of their health condition to prevent disease and maintain health. We will discuss a treatment plan after your first visit.
When a qualified professional performs acupuncture, it has very few complications or side effects.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates acupuncture needles. The agency requires that all needles be steel, solid, sterile, nontoxic and properly labeled. Only qualified professionals may use acupuncture needles. After one use, practitioners throw the needles away.
Receiving acupuncture from unqualified practitioners can be harmful. An untrained provider or one who uses non sterile needles can cause infections, organ punctures and central nervous system injuries.
All acupuncturists must complete all of the standard pre-medical education requirements including Anatomy & Physiology, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics before entering a graduate program for Chinese Medicine. They attend graduate school for 3-6 years in order to receive a Master’s of Science in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Each person must then pass a series of rigorous licensure exams on a wide range of medical topics including biomedicine, pathology, safety and ethics, herbal medicine, adjunct therapies, herb-drug interactions, pharmacology, acupuncture techniques and theory, diagnosis and treatment strategies. In Oregon, acupuncturists are licensed by the Oregon Medical Board. They can continue on for a PhD or Doctorate should they choose.
Dry needling IS acupuncture. In other words, dry needling is one of many ways to practice acupuncture. The focus of dry needling is on pain and the musculoskeletal system. Dry needling, also known as myofascial release using trigger point therapy, is a relatively new and effective natural treatment for chronic and acute pain. During treatment, needles are inserted into trigger points, or tender bands of muscle located within larger muscles. When needles are inserted into trigger points, they elicit a response that releases the trigger point and restores normal function. Both acupuncturists and physical therapists use this tool, however, acupuncturists have a more in depth training in the specifics of using needles for the reduction of pain.
Yes, of course, acupuncture is just another medicine that can be made accessible to anyone.