Chronic pain in the muscles and joints can make life miserable. Standard treatments like ice and heat, anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, and appropriate exercises can often ease the pain. But when they don’t, acupuncture is an option with a good track record that’s worth considering.
So What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture originates from China and has been practiced there for thousands of years. Traditional Chinese medicine explains that health is the result of a harmonious balance of the complementary extremes of yin and yang of the life force known as qi or chi. Qi is said to flow through meridians (pathways) in the human body. Through 350 acupuncture points in the body, these meridians and energy flows may be accessed. Illness is said to be the consequence of an imbalance of the forces. If needles are inserted into these points with appropriate combinations it is said that the energy flow can be brought back into proper balance.
What Does Acupuncture Feel Like?
A common assumption about acupuncture is that it hurts. You are, after all, getting stuck with needles. Fear of pain from acupuncture needles is one of the most common reasons people forego acupuncture. In fact, one of the most popular uses of acupuncture is to reduce chronic pain throughout the body in a natural way, without the need for medications that can cause unwanted side effects. Often to the astonishment of those who take the plunge, acupuncture usually does not hurt. No pain, though, does not mean no sensation.
Okay, so acupuncture feels like something and that something isn’t sharp. Then what does it feel like? Here are the five most common descriptions of how acupuncture feels:
- Heavy: Having an acupuncture point needled can feel like a weight is being placed on the area. Sometimes this feeling of heaviness expands, spreading throughout the body part where the needle was placed. This heaviness is calming rather than oppressive.
- Achy: Along with heaviness, an achy sensation can occur at the needling site. It usually dissipates after a few seconds, but occasionally a point will ache or even throb slightly throughout the treatment. This is normal but it can be intense, especially on points that are located on the hands and feet. If it feels too strong, tell your acupuncturist so that he or she can adjust the stimulation.
- Electric: The needling of certain acupuncture points can feel almost like you’re being shocked or zapped. It’s usually a surprising, traveling jolt that quickly disappears. One of the most common acupuncture points for causing this sensation is Pericardium 6, since the median nerve runs directly beneath it.
- Tingly: A patient once told me that she feels like a Christmas tree when she gets acupuncture. Acupuncture points can cause tingling at the needling site as well as throughout the body. Sometimes this happens immediately upon needle insertion and other times, which is where the Christmas-tree analogy comes from, it happens while you’re resting with needles. Points intermittently tingle like twinkling lights.
- Warm: A spreading sensation of warmth sometimes engulfs the area around an acupuncture point. This typically occurs a minute or two after the needle is inserted. It is a pleasant feeling, like internal heating pads are being applied to various body parts.
What Can Acupuncture Help?
Overall, the Chinese have mapped the presence of 361 acupoints in the major meridians. Below is a list of conditions and circumstances for which people commonly find acupuncture treatment to be effective:
General: Allergies, Asthma, Sinusitis, Headaches, TMJ, Back Pain, Sciatica, Musculoskeletal Problems, Insomnia, Anxiety, Dizziness, Depression, High Blood Pressure, Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, Addictions, Indigestion, Constipation, Sexual Dysfunction, Post-Operative Recovery, Palliative Care.
- Women’s Health: Menstrual Irregularities, Menopause, Conception Difficulties, Pregnancy, Childbirth, Lactation Difficulties, Postpartum, Ovarian and Uterine Problems.
- Men’s Health: Prostate, Infertility, Impotence.
- Pediatrics: Asthma, Cough, Digestive Problems, Behavioral Problems, Ear Infections, Sleep Problems.
- Preventative Health: Prevention, Stress Management, Wellness, Seasonal Attunement
Acupuncture is recognized by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to be effective in the treatment of a wide variety of medical
problems. Below is a list of disorders for which acupuncture is effective (according to the NIH):
- Muscle, Bone and Nerve Pain Diseases
- Sprains / Strains
- Back Pain
- Leg Pain
- Foot Pain
- Stiff Shoulders and Neck
- Tennis Elbow
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Painful Joints
- Toothache, Headache and Migraines, Rheumatism
- Facial Paralysis
- Bell’s Palsy
- Menstrual Pain and Cramping
- Fetal Malposition
- Addictions such as Tobacco, Narcotics, Alcohol, Weight Loss
- Diseases of the heart and blood vessels such as Angina, High Blood Pressure, Obesity, Drug Addiction, Smoking
- Digestive disorders, Indigestion, Stomach Ulcers, Gall Stones, Diarrhea, Constipation, Nausea and Vomiting, Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Diseases of the respiratory system such as Allergies, Asthma, Bronchitis, Sinusitis
- Diseases of the nervous system such as Stroke, Neuralgia, Stress, Anxiety, Depression and other nervous disorders
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