Acupuncture is the primary technique used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat health conditions. Although it may seem very strange to the Western patient initially, it is a technique that is used based on choosing which points on the body can accomplish specific goals. These points are often referred to as acupoints (acupuncture points). These points on the body are mapped out in energetic pathways, corresponding primarily to the organs in the body (such as the Lung, Kidney, Liver, etc.) Modern research shows there are many possibilities as to how acupuncture works physiologically. For example, it is known that acupuncture in general releases endorphins in the brain, which sedates or calms the nervous system. This explains how acupuncture helps with such conditions as anxiety, depression or insomnia. It is also known that acupuncture stimulates the body to repair itself, such as when needles are inserted into an area of pain or injury, this stimulates the body to repair the area, thus resulting in pain relief and injury healing. Research has also shown that certain points stimulate the production of white blood cells (WBCs), which is the main cellular reaction of the immune system to fight infections, whether bacterial, viral or fungal. Therefore this explains how acupuncture can help heal an upper respiratory infection (URI) such as the common cold or bronchitis, or an intestinal infection such as a stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis), or an urinary tract infection (UTI). In summary, acupuncture is a basically a technique that stimulates the body to perform its natural ability of repair and healing.
Most people want to know, is acupuncture painful? The truth is that most people do not have much pain with acupuncture! However, there are many different styles of acupuncture and some styles are more aggressive than others, so acupuncture can be painful too. I practice a style that is not typically painful for patients. This is how I explain it to a new patient: One may feel a pin-prick sensation, or an aching or throbbing sensation upon needle insertion, but the sensation usually goes away very quickly. However, occasionally an electric, "zing-like" sensation can be felt. When this occurs, it is unpleasant but quickly is resolved as well. Certain points are stronger energetically on the body, so certain points may cause this sensation more often in patients. We call this sensation a "Qi" (pronounced "Chee") sensation and it is considered a positive thing in Chinese Medicine - one can think of it as the body has responded to the acupuncture technique, and therefore, the body will have a positive, healing reaction as well. But I do not stimulate the body to specifically have a "Qi" response, since I have learned through the years that patients generally don't want a "sensational" treatment. The wonderful thing is that acupuncture works whether strong "Qi" sensations are felt or not!! I also use a certain style of needle that I call "gentle needles", so this decreases the acupuncture "Qi" sensation as well. I also tell patients that sometimes people will be sensitive to needles too. Such cases are generally when someone would also be sensitive to anything that they encounter during this time - for example, when someone is sleep-deprived or fatigued for another reason or during a woman's "PMS-time" or when starting to catch a common cold or flu. Of course, certain health conditions can make someone sensitive to needles too, such as fibromyalgia.