How can acupuncture nourish your soul?
Acupuncture is probably the best-known practice associated with traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), and involves inserting very fine needles at key points on the body. These needles may be rotated by the practitioner, heated, or have a mild electric current applied to them. Acupuncture points may also be stimulated in other ways: the practitioner may use their fingertips (acupressure), project laser onto them, or burn mugwort on or near the skin (moxibustion).
There is written evidence of acupuncture treatment being used at least 2,000 years ago, although some believe the practice is much older. Acupuncture became popular in the West in the 1970s, after James Reston, a reporter for the New York Times, famously described his personal experience of acupuncture as well as observations of its use for surgical anaesthesia.
Traditionally, acupuncture is believed to affect the flow of qi, or vital energy, through subtle pathways of the body, known as meridians. By inserting various combinations of needles into key acupuncture points along the meridians, it is believed that practitioners can restore energetic balance and promote a natural flow of qi. In TCM, physical ailments are believed to be caused by imbalanced, blocked or stagnant qi, so by eliminating these blockages and disharmonies, physical health can be restored.
This modality is not normally used in isolation, but as one several therapies used in a holistic TCM treatment plan which might include cupping, massage and acupuncture. It is also incorporated as part of Western disciplines such as physiotherapy. In Australia, acupuncturists must be registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). Practitioners must also comply with health regulations related to skin penetration and sterilisation precautions.
Benefits of acupuncture
In its traditional context, acupuncture is intended to support whole-body wellness and encourage self-healing, rather than being seen as a ‘cure’ for specific complaints. It has been speculated that the minuscule traumas caused by the needles stimulate the immune system, promote blood flow and affect the way pain is perceived. Some researchers believe acupuncture may be effective for pain relief by stimulating the release of opioid-like molecules that are produced naturally in the body.
The results of a meta-analysis indicate that genuine acupuncture may be more effective in the treatment of chronic pain than a sham treatment, suggesting it is not simply a placebo-based therapy. Research suggests acupuncture and acupressure may help reduce nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy. There is evidence to suggest acupuncture may be an effective way of treating polycystitic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), with possible benefits including regulating hormones and improving fertility.
More general acupuncture benefits include the lack of side effects associated with it, the fact it is normally safe if performed by a qualified practitioner using sterile needles, and its possible effectiveness for pain relief in people who may not be able to take pharmaceutical painkillers. If used as an alternative to opioid-based medication, acupuncture may offer effective pain relief without the risk of addiction or other adverse effects associated with this class of drugs.
Acupuncture can assist in relieving symptoms related to:
- Anxiety and stress
- Back pain
- Bladder problems
- Blood pressure
- Chronic fatigue
- Heart conditions
- Joint problems
- Kidney and urinary tract
- Knee, ankle and foot problems
- Muscle tension and stiffness
- Neck/Shoulder problems
- Pain relief
- Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS)
- Sex and sexual conditions
- Sports injuries
- Sprains and strains
- Stress management
- Weight issues
- Women’s health
What to expect from an acupuncture session
Your first acupuncture session will begin with the practitioner asking you about your general wellbeing and various aspects of your life which might seem unrelated to the health concern you wish to be treated for. It is important to tell your acupuncturist about any medications you might be taking. Your acupuncturist will also feel your pulse and might look at your tongue as part of the diagnosis.
You will need to remove your clothing from the area to be treated, and you might be provided with towels or a gown to make you more comfortable. The practitioner will sterilise the acupuncture points using alcohol, and then gently insert the acupuncture needles.
If you find needles associated with Western medicine distressing, you might be wondering, “What is acupuncture like in comparison?” Acupuncture needles can be as thin as 0.12mm in diameter -- roughly the same as a human hair -- so it normally doesn’t hurt when they are inserted. The practitioner will often manipulate the needle to make your body respond, and some people describe this as a momentary ‘twang’ or electricity-like sensation. The needles are usually left in for 10-30 minutes, or sometimes longer, and removal is painless.
On average, your first session might last about an hour, while subsequent sessions will often be shorter. The number of follow-ups you need will depend on your specific health concern, but as a rough approximation, you can expect up to 10 sessions for an acute condition. The most common immediate response to treatment is a feeling of relaxation, sometimes also with sense of being energised. Some people report feeling deeply emotional, and may cry or feel as if they are letting go of long-buried emotions.
Acupuncture is not recommended if you have a bleeding disorder or if you are taking medication to thin your blood. The main risks of acupuncture are associated with unskilled practitioners, so the simplest way to avoid potential issues such as an infection or even organ damage is to choose a qualified, registered acupuncturist.
Acupuncture is not intended as a replacement for conventional medical treatment. As with any exercise or wellness program, please consult your medical professional before commencing acupuncture. If you have an injury or other health issue, or any concerns at all, also speak to your acupuncturist, who will be happy to address these and explore the option of adjusting the treatment to your individual requirements.