To deeply understand wellness, you might study the latest research, as well as delve deep into antiquity to understand the roots of current treatments. Acupuncture encompasses ancient roots and cutting-edge modern treatments for health and wellness. Read on to answer the question “what is acupuncture” and learn how it can be used to boost well-being.
What Is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture was used in China by 500 BCE, but some references to its use go back many thousands of years.1 This treatment is part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and focuses on the body’s energy meridians which carry qi—life force energy—through the body.
Obstruction of the energy channels can result in an imbalance in organs and tissues beyond the blockage. A block to energy flow can eventually increase the chances of disease in the organs serviced by the meridian. Acupuncture encourages free energy flow, stimulating the body’s natural ability to heal.
In China, acupuncture is widely accepted, but its popularity in other parts of the world varies. In the U.S., acupuncture has become more commonly used and even recommended by medical doctors over the last 40 years. More than 10 million acupuncture treatments are administered in the U.S. per year, and many studies demonstrate the effectiveness of acupuncture.
How Acupuncture Works
In TCM, Ayurvedic medicine, and other traditions, it is postulated that there is an energy system in the body. The energy system is not taught in Western medicine because physical evidence of it is not easily found. With the accumulated success of acupuncture and related therapies that work with the body’s energy system, along with improved detection and continued research, acceptance of a system of energy meridians in the body has grown.2
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The 12 main meridians in the body supply the major internal organs. The less commonly known eight extraordinary meridians are storage vessels for energy reserves. There are over 600 acupuncture points on the body. The acupuncturist inserts thin needles into a few of these points to release blockages as needed. Sometimes, acupuncturists apply heat or mild electrical charges to the needles.
Finding an Acupuncturist
Acupuncturists are highly-trained professional caregivers. Many have trained in China and have a deep knowledge of TCM and recent advances in acupuncture.
These professionals are licensed by the Board of Medicine or the Board of Acupuncture in each U.S. state or territory. There is also a National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine for practitioners who are not medical doctors.
While you may not be familiar with acupuncture, it is much more common than you might imagine. In 2015, there were 34,481 licensed acupuncturists in this county.3
Even though there are many licensed acupuncturists in the U.S., if you’re looking for an acupuncturist, you still might know where to start. A good place to begin is by asking your physician about acupuncture in your area. Often, acupuncturists open offices in wellness centers or alternative therapy centers.
Ask your friends if they’ve ever used acupuncture and how their experiences were. The American Society of Acupuncturists also lists acupuncturists in an online database.
What to Expect from Your First Appointment
Your first visit with an acupuncturist will be quite different than visiting a physician. However, the first step is for you to feel comfortable with your practitioner. Ask questions or set up a time to interview your acupuncturist so that you feel comfortable working with them. You’ll also want to feel confident that acupuncture might be a healing modality that will be effective for your condition.4
Once an acupuncturist answers your questions, they will have questions for you. The purpose of acupuncture is restoring balance in your body, so your acupuncturist may ask about many aspects of your health, including sleep patterns, energy levels, digestion, heart and lung function, body temperature, mood, emotions, and strengths and weaknesses within your different body systems.
One part of the visit that is often a surprise to new patients is that your acupuncturist will be very interested in the appearance of your tongue. In TCM, the tongue is an indicator of what is going on in your body. Your practitioner will consider the shape, color, size, and coating of your tongue. They might even photograph your tongue as part of the file they are compiling on you as a patient.
Another item of interest to your acupuncturist is your pulse. They may take your pulse in several locations and on both wrists, comparing one side of your body to the other. In TCM, practitioners evaluate pulse for more than its rate. Other factors that the acupuncturist considers include the strength of the pulse, beat pattern, and other characteristics that provide your acupuncturist with insight into the function of organs in the body.
For those with fears of needles, an acupuncture needle is very thin, like a hair. They are soft and flexible, requiring a small applicator tube to support them during insertion. The experience is nothing like the needles you know in traditional medical environments. If you have concerns, ask your acupuncturist specific questions before treatment so that you can release your fears and reap full benefits.
With time, the popularity of acupuncture in the U.S. has increased substantially, and you might even know someone personally who has had a great personal experience with acupuncture. If you’re looking to try out an alternative therapy to help balance the energy in your body, then acupuncture might be a good fit for you.
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