A Common Misconception

Whenever the subject of a conversation turns to acupuncture, it is common to hear one or more of the following: “Does it hurt?” or, “I don't want to be like a porcupine, with all those needles inserted in me!” or, “Needles? I'd much rather take my pills.” These opinions are typical of those who have never experienced acupuncture before.

While needles are often associated with pain, first-time acupuncture patients soon realise that their treatment actually involves little, if any, discomfort. The needles are very thin -- especially the Japanese ones, which I use in my practice -- and they are inserted to such a shallow depth that the sensation is minimal.

In fact, people who have undergone a few acupuncture sessions often make a remarkable discovery: they actually enjoy them.

One noted practitioner puts it this way: “Acupuncture is a pleasurable experience. It makes you feel as if you have had a few sips of champagne or wine, but without any bad side effects.”

What Conditions Can Acupuncture Help?

For many centuries, several cultures across the world have relied on acupuncture to treat a wide range of health challenges, ranging from neurological and digestive disorders to muscular problems to urinary, menstrual and reproductive imbalances.

The first mention of acupuncture and its benefits is found in the "Nei Ching," the classic Chinese text of Internal Medicine, which dates back to 3,600 BC. However, archaeological findings suggest that the use of needles for therapeutic purposes goes back even further.

Today, acupuncture is being increasingly embraced by Western medicine. In 1997, a panel of experts convened by the National Institutes of Health in Bethseda, Maryland, concluded†that, “acupuncture is remarkably safe, with fewer side effects than many well-established therapies.” The World Health Organisation also recommends it to treat numerous medical problems.

In my own experience, I have found acupuncture to be particularly useful in the alleviation of stress and emotional imbalances like depression, anxiety, smoking and drug addiction.

Moreover, one doesn't actually need to be ill to experience its invigorating effects. Many of my patients choose to receive regular treatments long after their initial health challenge has disappeared.

How Does Acupuncture Work?

Acupuncture does more than simply relieve symptoms: it treats the whole person by seeking to restore the balance between the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of an individual.

According to the classical Chinese explanation, energy (known as Chi or Qi), flows in regular patterns through certain channels, or ‘meridians,’ in our bodies. When the movement of Chi is obstructed, the same thing happens as when a dam of logs blocks a river: the Chi, or vital life force, stagnates. It can no longer do its job of ‘feeding’ energy to certain parts of the body, which eventually brings about illness.

Acupuncture needles unblock these obstructions and release the stagnating Chi, encouraging a regular, healthy flow of energy throughout the body.

The Western scientific explanation of acupuncture is that the needles, when inserted into certain pressure points, stimulate the nervous system to release chemicals in the muscles, spinal cord and brain. In many scientific studies, these chemicals have been shown to trigger the release of other chemicals and hormones which influence the body's own internal regulating system.

What Does the Treatment Involve?

The initial consultation and treatment takes more than an hour and includes the practitioner asking many questions about the health challenge being faced, as well as other questions that tend to surprise patients. Among these are: “Do you sigh a lot?” or, “How do you handle emotions?” and, “Do you have a feeling that there is a ‘plum’ stuck in your throat?” While this line of enquiry often seems strange to patients, it is actually very important for the therapist. Somewhere in these answers lies the key to the patient’s recovery.

Once the course of action has been determined, subsequent treatments are shorter. The acupuncturist will also normally make recommendations about nutrition and exercise to support the healing process.

Who Can Have Acupuncture?

From young babies to the elderly and infirm, acupuncture is right for anyone who is looking for a natural way to restore and maintain health without the side effects of drug therapy. It is also, of course, especially useful for those to whom Western medicine offers no solution.

How Long Does the Treatment Take?

A course of treatments, rather than a single session, is usually needed. The effects of acupuncture are cumulative, and the aim is to achieve a permanent cure rather than temporary relief of symptoms.

The length of the course needed depends on how long a problem has existed, the overall physical condition of a patient, and – crucially – the level of his or her commitment to healing.

In general it is realistic to expect about ten sessions, although, as previously noted, many people like to continue receiving regular treatments as a physical and emotional ‘tune-up.’