“Classical” acupuncture is an ancient therapeutic technique developed in China that has been used as a therapeutic intervention for over 3,000 years with the purpose of diagnosing and treating pain and disease. It is one component of Traditional Chinese Medicine that, according to the Chinese, aims to balance energy and blood in the body to maintain a healthy life.

Acupuncture incorporates the insertion of very fine needles into the skin and tissues on various areas on the body that are connected through channels known as meridians. The Chinese describe over 350 points on 12 meridians that are named after organs such as the stomach and heart that start and finish at various parts of the body. Although not anatomically connected, it is believed that these pathways allow for the circulation of an energetic force or Qi (pronounced “chee.”)

Even with its documented success, it is not until recently that acupuncture was adopted and practiced by western medical professionals. The recent research on acupuncture has increased to the point where a more modern approach of acupuncture known as “Anatomical” acupuncture has been developed. This new approach has combined some of the classical views along with the modern knowledge of anatomy, physiology and pathophysiology.

How Does Acupuncture Work?

Acupuncture has been scientifically shown to decrease pain via the release of your body’s natural painkillers, known as endorphins: endogenous (naturally made) + morphine (chemical pain reliever) = endorphins. These chemicals function by attaching to opiate receptor sites found throughout your nervous system. Endorphins block the pathways that send pain signals to the brain, resulting in pain relief. According to the Chinese, acupuncture can also increase energy in the body, promote physical and mental wellbeing, and some describe acupuncture as the best anti-inflammatory physical therapy tool available.

Does Acupuncture Hurt?

Everyone responds differently to acupuncture, however, most patients describeonly minor discomfort with the insertion of the needles. Once the needles are in you may feel nothing at all, or you may feel what the Chinese refer to as “De Qi.” This sensation is often described as a heavy, numb, achy sensation; much like what a toothache feels like. If you are discouraged from acupuncture due to the pain from larger injection needles, you may find it comforting that 2-3 acupuncture needles can fit into the barrel of a normal injection needle. Acupuncture needles are very thin.

Are There Any Side Effects or Risks to Acupuncture?

One of the greatest benefits of acupuncture is that it has limited side effects. The possible side effects are very minimal and include syncope (fainting), infection from bacteria on the skin or a non-sterile needle, and bruising from stimulating a minor blood vessel. At SEMI, all the acupuncture needles used by our acupuncturists are new and sterile, so the risk of infection is negligible. If you are pregnant or a hemophiliac, caution should be used when choosing acupuncture, however with the right treatment and acupuncturist, the method can still be used.

How Many Acupuncture Treatments are Required, and How Long Do the Needles Stay in?

As previously mentioned, everyone responds differently to acupuncture. Some people respond immediately to treatment, some require several treatments before they respond and others do not respond at all. Depending on the injury, as few as one treatment may be needed, while others may need several treatment sessions over a number of weeks before symptoms are relieved. Acupuncture treatments usually last between 15-30 minutes, but can be as short as a seconds. Generally our acupuncturists prefer to perform at least three treatments before discontinuing treatment, if no relief has been achieved.

How Quickly Will I See Results and Will They Last?

Some people experience pain relief immediately with treatment, or relief may occur after a few hours or even days. The effects of acupuncture treatments can last hours to days and have a cumulative effect over time.

Is There Anything I Should do Before or After Treatment?

Four hours prior to your treatment, it is recommended that you have a light meal, no alcohol or barbiturates. Also do not smoke for one hour prior to treatment.Following these guidelines will reduce the risk of fainting and will ensure that your body’s systems are functioning normally.

After your acupuncture treatment, it’s recommended that you rest for two hours, avoid strenuous activity for two days if the treatment is for a painful condition. Do not consume caffeine or alcohol for two hours following treatment and do not smoke for at least one hour after treatment. Again, following these guidelines will help your body recover from the treatment without over-stimulating your body’s nervous system.

Acupuncture is a therapeutic modality that can be used for a variety of both acute and chronic conditions. Whether you are an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, chances are that acupuncture can help your rehabilitation. So keep acupuncture in mind and ask your physiotherapist if it can help you, because as little as one treatment could translate into long lasting relief!

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Contact SEMI to discuss finding an acupuncturist to help with your condition. We’re here to help you find the best possible treatment.