A patient receives painless acupuncture to treat shoulder pain

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a branch of Chinese Medicine, which dates back at least 5000 years.  It is based on the theory that health and life are sustained by Qi or bioelectric energy, which flows through the body along channels or meridians.  Disease, discomfort and pain occur when the movement of Qi is blocked, deficient, or otherwise unbalanced.  Acupuncture involves the insertion of very fine sterile stainless steel needles into points along these channels, and serves to restore the proper and open flow of Qi.  Like all branches of Chinese medicine, acupuncture seeks to trigger the body’s own innate healing ability, and to treat the root cause of disease, rather than simply suppressing symptoms.  From a Western perspective, acupuncture has been demonstrated to stimulate the release of pain-relieving compounds such as enkephalin and endorphin.  This accounts for a fraction of the beneficial effects of acupuncture on our physiology, there are still many unanswered questions regarding it’s exact method of action according to Western medicine.

How do you choose which points to needle?

The actions of each individual acupoint are well established based on thousands of years of study and clinical application, but the specific combination of points used in any given treatment will vary based on the patient’s symptoms, history, and constitution, as well as the treatment style of the practitioner.

Does it hurt?

Many people new to acupuncture are hesitant to voluntarily let someone place needles in them — understandable, given how uncomfortable standard hypodermic injection needles can be!  It’s important to know that acupuncture needles are between five to twenty times smaller than hypodermic needles, literally as thin as a human hair.  Also, no fluids are injected with acupuncture needles, which is a significant source of the discomfort associated with getting a shot.  Most patients report either no pain at all with needle insertion, or a small pinching or pressure sensation.  As your acupuncturist adjusts the needle, you may feel a warm, dull ache around the point — this is good!  It means your Qi is moving and the point is active.

How long do the needles stay in?

It depends on your condition, but generally around 15-30 minutes.  Most patients find this time very relaxing and may even fall asleep while the needles do their work.

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