Acupuncture is a system of medicine that originated in East Asia, and has been documented in ancient medical texts over 2,000 years ago but is known to have existed as a practice well before then.
It is a medicine that works to bring harmony (homeostasis) to the body by guiding it through the insertion of fine, solid point, filament-like needles into specific designated acupressure and trigger (ashi) points throughout the body.
The insertion of these needles and their stimulation help give the body simple instructions on how to better function by releasing excess and nurturing deficiencies.
What is the difference between acupuncture, dry needling and trigger point needling?
Dry needling is acupuncture. Trigger point needling refers to a method of robust needling that uses either regular acupuncture needles or long wire needles that are threaded through trigger points or ashi points and acupuncture points.
As in many techniques and healthcare practices, there are a lot of different types of needling, needle use and traditions and acupuncture is no different. They are all effective, and therapeutic.
The MOST important thing to look for in a practitioner who uses some mode of needle therapy in their healthcare practice is training time and a track record of safety.
Typically speaking acupuncturists and doctors (medical and naturopathic) have the most training in Washington state for hours practiced in the use of needles, before their licensing, the training of which includes thorough safety procedures.
How does acupuncture work?
Acupuncture accesses the body’s natural ability to heal by stimulating key points that in turn utilize and improve several intercellular communication functions of the body including vagal, metabolic, hormones, neurotransmitters, connective tissue, and circulation.
It causes a cascade of reactions that in turn reduce inflammation and pain, modulate immune reactions, increase circulation venously and intracellularly and stimulate the repair functions of tissues (i.e., the collagen matrix).
We know this because with the advance of diagnostic technology, studies can now focus on monitoring exactly what is happening in a body being treated with acupuncture.
Does it hurt?
The needles used in acupuncture are not the same as the ones your doctor uses to draw blood or administer vaccines. Those needles are hollow and have a larger sharp edge surface and tend to have to be a little bigger gauge to be able to draw or administer fluids.
Acupuncture needles are solid point, fine, filament sized needles all of which aid in making it relatively painless on insertion.
Most acupuncturists will then advance or manipulate the needle which can sometimes elicit a sensation that is described as heavy or achy or a handful of other sensations that are considered therapeutic. Most of the time patients do not feel the needles go in at all. There are a few needle locations where this is not true, the acupuncturist will usually let you know what to expect and always let them know when something is uncomfortable.
Does it work?
For a very large percentage of the population, yes. Most of those patients are the small, but significant number who have tried more traditional forms of medicine with no effect or very little help in relieving their symptoms or the side-effects outweighed the benefits of the therapy. They have turned to acupuncture and herbal medicine as a last resort.
What we know is that acupuncture has a harmonizing effect on the body which in biomedical terms means it helps the body reach homeostasis.
Overall acupuncture has helped improve prognosis for a long list of conditions and reduce the recovery time. Some of the more common symptoms that patients would benefit from acupuncture are pain, injuries, digestive issues, insomnia, anxiety, irregular periods, and systemic inflammation, to just name a few.
What does a course of treatment look like?
This depends on the condition, whether it is acute or chronic, and how well an individual patient’s body responds to acupuncture.
In general, and on average, for acute conditions, patients will need 4 to 6 weekly or twice weekly acupuncture appointments to see quick results. Sometimes the course requires longer but at any stage of the treatment there should be notable progress made.
Some additional components like physical therapy and or herbal medicine may be needed depending on the health concern.
But in cases of chronic issues, it tends to be a longer term, maintenance course of treatment where acute inflamed phases require frequent regular acupuncture and the non-active inflammation phases require far fewer.
For new injuries or symptoms the course of treatment might be more frequent visits in the beginning that taper off as symptoms improve or disappear.
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