by Sam Pierceall
One of the first questions people usually have about acupuncture is, “Does acupuncture hurt?” Having studied acupuncture for several years now, I have heard this and many other inquiries regarding the medicine. Before I began my formal schooling, I’d had very little exposure to acupuncture, and looking back I can see why it seems so mysterious. I’d like to take a few moments to address three of the more common questions:
1. Is acupuncture painful?
Many people fear needles, and generally associate needles with pain. However the needles that are used in hospitals are significantly larger, because they are hollow by design.
Acupuncture needles are known as filiform needles; they are solid and very thin (0.25-0.33 mm) and sterile, single use needles. When inserted into the skin, there may be a brief pinch-like sensation, but generally nothing more. During a treatment some people experience a spreading warmth, others a dull, achy sensation, or a feeling of fullness or heaviness. However, when done correctly, acupuncture should not be painful.
2. I’m not in any pain. Why would I need acupuncture?
Interestingly, acupuncture has gotten something of a reputation for being effective in treating various aches and pains throughout the body – knee pain, tennis elbow, shoulder pain, arthritis, sore back – if there is one thing most people think acupuncture can treat, it’s pain.
However according to the WHO, acupuncture is proven, in controlled trials, to be effective in treating over two dozen conditions, including headache, nausea, allergic rhinitis, and many more. There are also over seventy more conditions for which acupuncture shows beneficial results, but more research is needed. So while acupuncture can be great for chronic or acute pain, it is not just for pain.
3. Isn’t acupuncture just the placebo effect?
Some people think that in the world of modern medicine, modalities like acupuncture are a thing of the past, or that it is strictly a form of folk medicine with no merit. But as the list linked above should indicate, acupuncture is known to treat a wide variety of symptoms. Many doctors are recommending patients seek acupuncture as an adjunct therapy alongside chemotherapy, physical therapy, and even post surgery. It can work very well with much of Western medicine, and is certainly worth a conversation with your doctor.
I hope that sheds a little light on the subject. I encourage you to do your own research, so that you can make an informed, empowered decision, and find out what works best for you.