Acupuncture is a non-drug, non-invasive therapy that may produce a variety of benefits-from pain management to helping with nausea. According to the 2002 National Health Interview Survey, an estimated 8.2 million Americans have been to an acupuncturist, and an estimated 2.1 million U.S. adults used acupuncture in the previous year. Since the use of acupuncture has spread widely in the U.S. in the past 20 years, researchers are studying the benefits of acupuncture for many conditions, including low-back pain, headaches, and osteoarthritis of the knee. Acupuncture may be useful as an independent treatment for some conditions, but it can also be used as a complement to other healthcare therapies.
The philosophy of acupuncture
One of the oldest healing arts, acupuncture originated in China and other Asian countries thousands of years ago. Western medicine explains the effect of acupuncture through stimulating nerves, muscles, and connective tissue, which increases the body's natural activity to regulate pain and increase blood flow.
During your visit
During your first office visit, the acupuncture practitioner may ask you for details related to your health condition, lifestyle, and behavior. Be sure to tell the provider about all treatments or medications you are taking and all conditions you have. A typical visit-which usually lasts about 60 minutes- includes an exam and assessment of your condition, insertion of needles, and advice on home care. Before the needles are placed, you will lie down on a comfortable surface face down, face up, or on your side, depending on where the needles will be inserted. Usually the procedure isn't painful; however, you may feel a brief, sharp sensation when the needle is inserted and when it reaches the correct depth. Each treatment may require the insertion of as many as 12 needles, which stay in place for 5 to 20 minutes.
Benefits and risks
Just as with other therapies, acupuncture has benefits and risks. On the benefit side, acupuncture:
• Has few side effects
• Can be a useful complement to other therapies
• Is becoming widely available
• Helps control certain types of pain
If you have a bleeding disorder or are taking blood thinners, acupuncture may not be for you. Acupuncture treatment is experienced differently by different people-some report feeling energized by treatment; others feel relaxed. Most report feeling no or minimal pain from the insertion of the needles. Soreness and pain during treatment can result from movement of the patient. Some experience bleeding or bruising at the needle sites.
The effects of acupuncture
In addition to controlling pain, acupuncture may be used for:
• Headaches, especially migraines
• Menstrual cramps
• Tennis elbow
• Myofascial pain
• Low-back pain
• Carpal tunnel syndrome
• Dental pain
• Labor pain