If you have been thinking about trying acupuncture, it’s important to know that while there are many benefits, there are also some risks and side effects.
Acupuncture is a form of traditional medicine used by thousands of people across the world to treat pain and many other conditions.
However, like many people, you subscribe to western medicine. So, you probably have no clue how acupuncture works. Besides, there’s minimal scientific research on the effectiveness of acupuncture.
Some studies do suggest that acupuncture is effective against pain. However, there’s little evidence on its effectiveness in the treatment of other conditions.
That said, it is a safe form of alternative medicine. So, if you are looking for medication-free ways of pain management, it is worth trying.
The purpose of this article is to help you better understand acupuncture. How safe is it? Is acupuncture painful? What are the side effects? What are the benefits? Read on to find the answers to these questions and more.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that involves sticking thin needles into the skin at strategic points on your body. Typically, acupuncture is a procedure for treating pain.
However, gradually people all over the world are accepting it as a way of overall wellness and stress management. According to traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture balances the life force or flow of energy.
Balancing the life force cures pain, cures some illnesses, and promotes the wellbeing of a person. In a moment, we will discuss the health benefits of acupuncture, together with the side effects and risks. But first, let’s dive into how it works.
How does Acupuncture work?
As mentioned before, the Chinese believe that good health is a result of the optimal balance of the life force, also called chi. when the two extremes of chi, yang, and yin are imbalanced, the result is pain or illness.
The life force flows through pathways called meridians. These pathways found throughout the body are accessible through 350 acupuncture points. So, acupuncture needles target these points to re-establish the proper balance of the life force.
Acupuncturists know precisely the right combination of points to target to heal your symptoms.
Modern science can neither prove nor disapprove of the existence of these pathways. That said, one cannot ignore the fact that acupuncture works for some conditions.
However, some scientists have tried to explain acupuncture. In neuroscience, the acupuncture points are areas where nerves, connective tissue, and muscles can be easily stimulated.
The stimulation from the acupuncture needles increases blood flow and triggers the action of your body’s natural pain relievers.
The invasive nature of acupuncture is the main reason there are few scientific studies on its effectiveness.
A researcher would have to find a control group willing to undergo fake acupuncture to compare the results with another group receiving genuine acupuncture. Plus, animal studies are not an option.
What are the health benefits of Acupuncture?
According to the NCCIH, there’s evidence that acupuncture can help with the following conditions:
The NCCIH list additional conditions but notes that there’s a need for further research.
According to this research conducted in Germany, acupuncture can treat headaches and migraines. So, if conventional medicine is not helping with your migraines, you could try acupuncture.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is also lenient towards acupuncture. The official position of the WHO is that acupuncture has proven effective in the treatment of conditions such as:
- Vomiting and nausea caused by chemotherapy
- Morning sickness
- Gastric conditions such as peptic ulcers
- Menstrual cramps
- Tennis elbow
- Facial pain
- Dental pain
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- High and low blood pressure
- Allergic rhinitis
- Inducing labor
Other acupuncture benefits include:
- It is safe when performed the right way
- Results in very few side effects
- Can be combined with other forms of treatment
- It is a viable type of therapy when pain medications are not the best option
Does Acupuncture have any side effects?
Like any other treatment, besides the many health benefits of acupuncture, there are some risks and side effects.
The common side effects include pain and bleeding from the insertion of the needles.
Some people can experience adverse side effects, such as:
- allergic reactions
- skin rashes (example, rashes on the butt, rashes under the breast)
- excessive bleeding
To reduce the risk of these adverse side effects, get acupuncture from a trained and licensed practitioner.
Also, acupuncture is not suitable for everyone. You are risking complication if you;
- Are pregnant: acupuncture can induce labor, meaning it is a risk for premature delivery
- Have a pacemaker: some acupuncture procedures use mild electrical pulses that can interfere with the operation of your pacemaker.
- Have a bleeding disorder: the insertion of needles causes bleeding, which poses a significant risk for people on blood thinners and those with blood disorders.
Does Acupuncture hurt?
It depends on your pain accommodation. You might feel a slight pinch, sting, or even throbbing pain as the practitioner inserts the needle.
After insertion, the practitioner performs needle manipulation, which is generally painless.
You should immediately alert the acupuncturist if you experience extreme pain and numbness during the treatment. The removal of the needles is a smooth process that does not involve any pain.
Can Acupuncture provide stress relief?
Evidence on the effectiveness of acupuncture for stress and related conditions is increasing. Research from the University of York suggests that acupuncture alongside counseling and medication can significantly reduce depression.
The study involved 755 people suffering from moderate to severe depression. At the end of the study, acupuncture helped reduce the depression scale from an average of 16 (over 27) to 9.
The study also found out that the effects of acupuncture on depression lasted for three months after stopping the treatment.
Tips for your first Acupuncture treatment
Now that you know the health benefits of acupuncture, as well as the side effects and risks, are you ready for your first acupuncture session? The following are some helpful dos and don’ts:
- Don’t go on an empty stomach to avoid dizziness
- Stay hydrated
- Avoid coffee a few hours before the treatment
- Wear loose clothes that can easily be adjusted
- Avoid wearing jewelry, as you will have to remove them for the treatment
- Do not wear an underwire bra
- Go prepared to answer detailed questions about your health
- Avoid strenuous exercise a few hours before the treatment