Ancient documents indicate that acupuncture originated in China thousands of years ago. In the past two decades, its popularity has grown significantly in the United States. The procedure involves the insertion of extremely thin needles at various depths at strategic points on your body. Although scientists don't fully understand how or why acupuncture works, some studies indicate that it may provide a number of medical benefits — from reducing pain to helping you quit smoking.
If you're considering acupuncture, it may help to know more about the theory behind this procedure, what its known risks and benefits are, and what to look for in an acupuncture practitioner.
The theory behind acupuncture as a medical treatment is very different from that of Western medicine. In traditional Chinese medicine, imbalances in the basic energetic flow of life — known as 'qi' or chi (pronounced 'chee') — are thought to cause illness. 'Qi' is believed to flow through 20 major pathways (meridians) in your body. These meridians and the energy flow are accessible through approximately 400 different acupuncture points. By inserting extremely fine needles into these acupuncture points in various combinations, acupuncture practitioners believe that your energy flow will rebalance. This allows your body's natural healing mechanisms to take over.
Acupuncture therapy usually involves a series of weekly or biweekly treatments in an outpatient setting. A series of treatments (up to 12) is fairly common. Acupuncture practitioners, like medical doctors, each have their own individual style and way of structuring an office visit. But, in general, an acupuncture visit lasts about an hour. Like a visit to your doctor, an acupuncture visit includes an exam and an assessment of your current condition, the treatment itself, and a discussion afterward to suggest self-care tips. During acupuncture treatment, the practitioner uses sterilized, individually wrapped stainless steel needles that are used once and then thrown away.