Acupuncture is a technique that involves inserting very thin metal needles into the skin at precise points on the body to clear energy channels, with the aim of restoring and maintaining health. The spots of insertion are picked based on a complex network of lines of energy, termed meridians. Meridians are thought to encircle the body like global lines of longitude and latitude.
Acupuncture is a mainstay of traditional Chinese medicine, which has been practiced for thousands of years. The Chinese healing tradition sees the body as a delicate balance of yin and yang. These are two opposing, but inseparable forces. According to traditional Chinese medicine, disease occurs when the forces of yin and yang are out of balance.
Imbalance, it is believed, blocks the flow of qi, a vital energy that regulates spiritual, emotional, mental and physical balance, along meridians. By inserting needles at specific points on the body that connect with these meridians, acupuncture is believed to unblock the flow of qi, restoring health to the body and mind.
Western medicine explains acupuncture’s effects within a different framework. Some Western scientists believe that acupuncture stimulates the central nervous system, signaling the body to release various substances including endorphins, immune system cells, opioids, neurotransmitters, and neurohormones. These may help control pain, change how the body experiences pain, and promote physical and emotional well-being. Some research also indicates that acupuncture influences involuntary central nervous functions, such as blood pressure, blood flow, and body temperature regulation.
What It’s Used For:
Acupuncture is used for a wide variety of ailments, such as:
- Persistent painful conditions including low back pain and pain related to arthritis
- Post operative pain
- Adverse reactions to chemotherapy and radiation therapy
- Hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms
It can be used as a stand alone treatment, or alongside more traditional medical treatments like prescription medication or surgery.
How It’s Done:
During your first appointment, Dr. Caskey is likely to ask you detailed questions about your health, lifestyle, and behaviors. The questions will range far beyond the specific symptoms for which you are seeking treatment. This is in keeping with the holistic nature of traditional Chinese medicine. You will also be asked about any medical conditions you have, which may or may not be related to your current symptoms, and about all medications and other treatments you are currently receiving.
Before the acupuncture treatment begins, you will be asked to lie down. You may lie face down, face up, or on your side, depending on where the needles are to be placed. Alternatively Dr. Caskey may want you to sit in a chair. You may be asked to roll up your sleeves or pant legs, or otherwise adjust your clothing to allow your acupuncturist access to the required body parts.
Dr. Caskey will wipe the spots where needles will be inserted with alcohol or another disinfectant. He will then begin to place the acupuncture needles at various locations on your body. The needles are metallic, solid, and hair-thin. You should feel no or minimal discomfort as the needles are inserted. Most people either feel relaxed or energized when the needles are inserted.
Acupuncture may be used as a stand-alone treatment. But it can also be used in combination with more conventional, Western medical treatments.
— Harvard Medical School