Acupuncture involves the insertion of extremely thin needles through your skin at strategic points on your body. A key component of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is most commonly used to treat pain.
Traditional Chinese medicine explains acupuncture as a technique for balancing the flow of energy or life force — known as qi or chi (CHEE) — believed to flow through pathways (meridians) in your body. By inserting needles into specific points along these meridians, acupuncture practitioners believe that your energy flow will re-balance.
In contrast, many Western practitioners view the acupuncture points as places to stimulate nerves, muscles and connective tissue. Some believe that this stimulation boosts your body’s natural painkillers and increases blood flow.
Acupuncture is used mainly to relieve discomfort associated with a variety of diseases and conditions, including:
• Chemotherapy-induced and postoperative nausea and vomiting
• Dental pain
• Headaches, including tension and migraine headaches
• Labor pain
• Low back pain
• Neck pain
• Menstrual cramps
Choosing a Practitioner
If you’re considering acupuncture, take the same steps you would to choose a doctor:
• Ask people you trust for recommendations.
• Check the practitioner’s training and credentials. Most states require that non-physician acupuncturists pass an exam conducted by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
• Interview the practitioner. Ask what’s involved in the treatment, how likely it is to help your condition and how much it will cost
The benefits of acupuncture are sometimes difficult to measure, but many people find it helpful as a means to control a variety of painful conditions.
Several studies, however, indicate that some types of simulated acupuncture appear to work just as well as real acupuncture. There’s also evidence that acupuncture works best in people who expect it to work. Since acupuncture has few side effects, it may be worth a try if you’re having trouble controlling pain with more-conventional methods.