Frequently Asked Questions: Acupuncture
- What is Acupuncture?
- What is medical acupuncture?
- What conditions does medical acupuncture treat?
- What are the benefits of acupuncture?
- How do I choose an acupuncture practitioner?
- Is acupuncture safe?
- Does acupuncture hurt?
Simply put, acupuncture is a therapeutic intervention involving the insertion of fine needles into specific points in the body. Combining thousands of years of anecdotal evidence with modern biomedical research, acupuncture has proven to be a valuable therapy in the treatment of many conditions, both acute and chronic.
Medical acupuncture is a biomedical approach to acupuncture that combines traditional acupuncture and acupuncture theory with modern, biomedical knowledge, practiced by Western-trained health practitioners (e.g. chiropractors, physicians, physiotherapists). Coupling traditional Chinese acupuncture methods, with our current concepts in neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and pathophysiology, allows Western practitioners to better organize clinical information to generate safe and more efficient treatments for their patients using acupuncture as a sole therapy, or in combination with other therapies. With medical acupuncture, healthcare practitioners take a proper, thorough history, and perform a physical and neurological examination to arrive at a diagnosis. Selection of relevant acupuncture needling sites follows.(1)
Medical acupuncture may be used in the treatment of many acute and chronic injuries and conditions. Common problems that are responsive to acupuncture include:
- Acute sprains and strains
- Pain from nerve entrapment (e.g. sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome)
- Repetitive strain disorders (e.g. tennis elbow, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis)
- Myofascial pain patterns (e.g. temporo-mandibular joint pain, muscle tension headaches, shoulder pain, neck and back pain)
- Arthralgias (particularly osteoarthritic in nature)
- Degenerative disc disease with or without radicular pain, pain following surgical intervention (both musculoskeletal and visceral)
- Postherpetic neuralgia
- Peripheral neuropathic pain
- Miscellaneous headaches (2)
The most common chronic condition treated (with excellent therapeutic effects) is osteoarthritis. It should be noted that acupuncture (nor any treatment) actually “cures” patients of osteoarthritis – but, rather, it is part of a pain-management solution, allowing for pain-relief, increased mobility, and ultimately, significantly improved quality of living.
In addition to the above-mentioned conditions, the World Health Organization recognizes the use of acupuncture in the treatment of various other conditions:
- Digestive disorders: irritable bowel, constipation, gastritis
- Menstrual and reproductive problems: dysmenorrhea, infertility
- Respiratory problems: sinusitis, asthma, recurrent respiratory tract infections
- Stress and psycho-emotional problems (3)
The benefits of acupuncture have been widely studied. The main benefits can be summarized as follows (4):
- Control of pain (analgesic)
- Healing and regeneration
- Normalization of autonomic nervous system
- Control of addictions
Since acupuncture is not regulated in all provinces, it is important to realize that not all acupuncture practitioners are equal in terms of qualifications. Therefore, it is important that you choose a practitioner who is trained according to World Health Organization standards, and who is fully certified through a reputable university or college-based program. As well, it is of benefit that your acupuncture practitioner be a registered, regulated health professional. Health professionals have spent the hundreds of hours in a university setting learning anatomy, physiology, pathology, and clinical sciences needed to render a proper diagnosis. (Remember that only medical doctors, chiropractors, dentists, optometrists, and psychologists are legislated to make a diagnosis). The expertise in the sciences of the human body that health professionals possess is also important when considering the precision and accuracy of the needles being inserted into the body. You may contact the College of Chiropractors, Physicians, or Physiotherapists, to find a qualified acupuncture practitioner in your region.
In the hands of a properly trained and qualified acupuncture practitioner, acupuncture is one of the safest therapeutic interventions in existence. Acupuncture has a time-tested record of millions of treatments with extremely few significant side-effects. Nowadays, the use of sterilized, single-use, disposable needles has eliminated any risk of infections from needles.
In the vast majority of patients, acupuncture does not cause any significant discomfort. The needles are very fine, and do not cause any damage to tissues when inserted. A minority of patients may experience momentary discomfort upon needle insertion, drowsiness, or localized bruising. For many people, acupuncture is considered to be a pleasant, relaxing experience, enhanced by the known therapeutic effects that follow treatment.
- Fargas-Babjak A, Claraco AE. Clinical Applications of Medical Acupuncture. The Canadian Journal of CME. September 1999.
- World Health Organization (WHO) Consultation on Acupuncture, Guidelines. 1996.
- Neuro-anatomical Acupuncture Volume 1: Musculo-Skeletal Disorders. Wong JY. 1999.