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What is Acupuncture?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Acupuncture is a component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) which involves sticking solid, hair fine needles into the body at specific points. The procedure is designed to release blocked energy and address imbalances in the body which may cause ill health, and it has been used in China for thousands of years. In the West, acupuncture is a relatively recent introduction to the medical library, but its popularity has quickly grown.

The theory behind acupuncture is that everybody is filled with a life force, called qi, or chi. When the masculine and feminine aspects of the body, known as yin and yang, are in balance, the qi is in balance, and will flow smoothly through the body along meridians of power. When someone is unhealthy, this suggests that there is an obstruction or imbalance that must be corrected. A TCM practitioner talks to the patient about the situation and may choose to use acupuncture, among other modalities, to treat it.

During an acupuncture session, the patient lies flat on a table adjusted to the height of the practitioner. Depending on where needles are inserted, the patient may be fully clothed or asked to undress and draped with cloths for modesty. Acupuncture needles are inserted into various points of the body at angles ranging from 15 degrees relative to the skin to 90 degrees, depending on the judgment of the practitioner. Once inserted, the needles may be manipulated by hand in twisting motions, gently vibrated, heated, cooled, or electrified with a gentle current to stimulate the meridian.

After the session, the patient may feel highly relaxed or invigorated—results vary widely depending on the session. The underlying cause of the problem may have resolved itself, or it may take several acupuncture sessions to eradicate it altogether. The session should not be painful, and if placed properly, the needles do not cause bruising or bleeding. To make sure that you have a productive acupuncture session, it is recommended that you seek out a certified acupuncturist who has attended a TCM school.

Studies conducted on acupuncture in the West suggest that it may help to relieve pain, headaches, treat nerve conditions, mitigate asthma, and address nausea and vomiting. It is also useful for conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain, cramps, fibromyalgia and the pain of arthritis. The World Health Organization recommends acupuncture to help with stress, substance abuse, and allergies. In general in the West, acupuncture is used as a complementary form of medicine, and is combined with other treatments for maximum effectiveness.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon223197 — On Oct 18, 2011

I have had acupuncture many times, for many issues, in several states/cities, and it can work wonders.

By anon120762 — On Oct 21, 2010

I've always had a fear of needles ever since a blood draw gone wrong, but acupuncture, now that I know more about it, doesn't seem frightening.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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