Why use acupuncture?
People see an acupuncturist to relieve a variety of ailments, including migraines, tennis elbow, dental pain or chronic pain, such as pain related to the sciatic nerve. Acupuncture can help stimulate nerves and muscles, which can help increase blood flow and your body's production of chemicals to relieve pain, practitioners say.
Acupuncture can serve as complementary care to other modern medicine. For example, some integrated cancer treatment centers have acupuncture available for patients undergoing chemotherapy to help with nausea and vomiting.
Acupuncture has been practiced for thousands of years in some Asian countries and is one of the key components of traditional Chinese medicine. There some debate around the value of acupuncture and whether it's more than placebo.
Some insurance companies cover acupuncture. It's best to talk with the acupuncture practitioner about cost and what your budget allows.
What happens during treatment?
An acupuncture practitioner will apply needles and other treatments, including heat and pressure, to places in the skin, referred to as acupuncture points. The acupuncturist will place between five and 20 fairly thin needles into your body and leave them in for a few minutes.
The needles will go anywhere from a few millimeters to a few inches deep. The number and location of needles placed is based on you and your specific condition, or conditions.
Does it hurt?
You might feel a slight prick from the needle, but it likely won't hurt. Some patients feel a deep sensation once the needles puncture the skin. The needles used are generally 32-gauge to 40-gauge, which are similar in size to a strand of hair.
What are the risk factors?
It's important to find a certified acupuncture practitioner. Oklahoma does not license acupuncturists, but the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine offers a certification. You can check the commission website to find a certified acupuncturist in your area.
During acupuncture, you might bleed at the spot where the needle is inserted. You also might experience dizziness. There is a rare risk that the needle will go too deep and harm you. This is a risk factor in pediatric patients as well. For example, a needle in the chest can go too deep and puncture a lung. This rarely happens but is a risk.
Also, it's important to go an acupuncture practitioner with good sterile practices. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that the needles be sterile, nontoxic and labeled for single use. If a needle is reused, it can expose you to disease and infection.
And it's recommend that you not see an acupuncture practitioner if you're pregnant. There's concern that it could cause you to go into early delivery.
What's the recovery time?
Some people begin to feel the benefits of acupuncture after a day or after a second treatment. Others feel the treatment's effects immediately. It will depend on what type of condition you suffer from and how extensive your treatment is.
If you don't find relief after a few sessions, acupuncture might not be right for you.
What's the follow-up?
The number of sessions depends largely on what you're being treated for. You likely will go once a week, ranging anywhere from two treatments to 12 treatments. For some severe conditions, your acupuncturist might recommend you come once a week for a year.
Source: Amit Gumman, acupuncturist at Harmony Healing Center; The Mayo Clinic: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine; National Cancer Institute; American Cancer Society.