Acupuncture

An ancient, traditional healing practice, acupuncture has its origins in Chinese medicine.  Acupuncturists typically insert very thin needles at precise points on the body to direct the flow of the body’s vital energy, called qi (pronounced “chee”).  In theory, pain and sickness develop when the body’s qi is hindered or imbalanced.  Stimulating acupuncture points can free up the body’s energy and allow it to flow in balance once again. 

What takes place during an acupuncture session?

In order to gain a full picture of your health, your acupuncture provider will first ask you about your overall health, any pain that you may be experiencing, and any medications and treatments that you may be taking. 

Your provider will then determine which points on your body relate to the health problems you are experiencing.  In theory, qi flows along 14 to 20 different pathways, called meridians, which intersect in a webbed pattern at 2000 points on the body.  Your provider will locate the points at which your qi may be blocked or out of harmony.

Your provider will then insert several very thin needles at these specific points on your skin.  Acupuncture needles are solid, metal, and extremely thin.  Licensed acupuncture providers always use sterile needles that are disposed of after each use.  Your provider may manipulate the needles with their hands or apply a mild electrical current or heat to the needles.  The needles are typically inserted at varying depths.

Most people experience no pain from the needles.  You may experience tingling, numbness, or itching at the sites.  For some people, acupuncture is relaxing, while others may be energized by the experience.  Each session may last for 15 minutes to an hour, and you may need to return for several sessions over a few weeks.

Can acupuncture relieve back pain?

In the United States, acupuncture is considered to be a form of complementary and alternative medicine.  It is used to treat a wide variety of health conditions, but it is most frequently used to relieve back pain.   In fact, in 2007, approximately 3.1 million Americans used acupuncture therapy, and the majority of these visits were precipitated by back pain, followed by joint and neck pain and other chronic pain.  Although acupuncture is still somewhat controversial and is not completely understood, more and more patients and doctors are choosing acupuncture. 

Moreover, a growing number of scientific studies support the effectiveness of acupuncture as a treatment for back pain.  One study published in 2009 in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that acupuncture was more effective than pain medications and physical therapy in relieving chronic lower back pain.

Doctors do not know how acupuncture works, but some theorize that it operates both psychologically and physically on the body.  Acupuncture may cause the brain to release opioid peptides, change the balance of neurotransmitters and neurohormones in the brain, and stimulate endorphins by affecting electromagnetic areas in the body.

If you choose to use acupuncture therapy for your back pain, be sure to let your physician know.

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