Acupuncture is commonly used as a form of alternative medicine in the West; however, it is a major component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). According to TCM, Qi, which is life force energy, was believed to flow through channels in the body referred to as meridians. When there is an imbalance of Qi in the body, mental or physical disease arises. In order to balance Qi in the body, Acupuncture needles are inserted into the acupuncture points, which are arrayed along the meridians.
The scientific basis of why acupuncture works is also quite interesting, although it is still heavily debated. Currently, most scientists believe that acupuncture points stimulate the central nervous system to initiate a biochemical cascade that promotes physical and emotional wellbeing. Other research suggests that acupuncture points are at sites with multiple sensory neurons, which affect the activity of receptive fields. Furthermore, physical stimulation at these sites may affect how the central nervous system processes pain while also increasing blood flow to certain regions of the body. For all the skeptics out there, a meta-analysis conducted in 2018 measuring acupuncture's effect on chronic pain found that acupuncture could provide better pain relief than the placebo control. Although the exact mechanism explaining the healing process of acupuncture has not been discovered, it clearly works. Hopefully, more money will be invested into researching alternative medicine so we can enhance our knowledge on alternative medicinal practices.
Acupuncture is most commonly done by the insertion of hair-thin needles into the body at points, where a sensation of pressure or mild ache is induced. However, common alternative forms of stimulation are used instead of needles such as heat, pressure, friction, suction or impulses of electromagnetic energy. Different types of treatments may be beneficial for different individuals or different conditions, therefore research into the benefits of each type should be done if you are considering acupuncture. If interested, you should discuss treatment with a doctor and find a licensed acupuncture practitioner who can guide you towards the most beneficial treatment.
As acupuncture carries virtually no risk when done under the care of a licensed professional, it can be beneficial to combine it with other treatments. Acupuncture is a very flexible treatment, as it can often target several health concerns at once. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, acupuncture can assist with osteoarthritis, knee pain, neck pain, low back pain and headaches. The number of treatments required for each individual is unique to the patient.