Since awareness has increased about the current opiate crisis, many healthcare professionals and organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) are recommending acupuncture for pain management. You may have heard about it through the media, or through your local community members, and are curious about whether or not it can help you, too. If you are trying acupuncture for the first time, we’re here to address some of the concerns you might have.
Does Acupuncture Hurt?
Acupuncture therapy is generally pain-free; however, different sensations may be felt upon insertion and/ or during the treatment. These sensations, including tingling, lightness, pressure, or warmth, are considered to be good feelings that occur. Having the sensations mean that your brain and your body are receiving the signal to direct healing mechanisms to the areas that need it most.
How long do the treatments take?
Appointments are usually about 45 minutes to 1 hour in length; however this can vary depending on the practitioner. As a general rule, it takes about 15-20 minutes of needle retention for lasting effects.
How many treatments do I need?
The number of treatments vary by onset, condition and severity, along with consideration of an individual’s current state of health (including age, mobility, etc.). Generally speaking, a recent mild injury might take a few treatments, while a chronic condition may take months to improve significantly. Similarly to when you go into a doctor’s office, your treatment plan should be discussed with your practitioner during your initial visit and updated during follow up visits.
How does it work?
Acupuncture works by activating your own body’s natural pain killers, anti-depressants, and immune and inflammatory responses (endorphins, serotonin, cytokines etc.). Specific points are stimulated on the body, and are associated with observed “channels” on the body. These channels occasionally correspond with dermatomes, or nerve pathways in the body. Other theories suggest that these channels or meridians correspond with bands of connective tissue, called fascia.
Fascia is connective tissue that covers every muscle, tendon, ligament and organ in the body. Fascia is your body’s own electrical network. It has the ability to conduct electricity (including nerve signals) through its collagen structures within the tissue and sends signals to the central nervous system (the brain). When you move, your fascia sends signals to the brain so you know where your limbs are located to prevent over-stretching and damaging the muscles (proprioception).
When fascia is damaged or dehydrated, it can lead to pain and discomfort. Acupuncture adds a force to the system to allow for changes in fascia to occur and release tension in the body, similarly to when you stretch, use a foam roller or get a massage. Retaining the needles allows the structures to reform. In addition to relieving pain, it stimulates the inflammatory response to help with the healing process, and signals your body to release feel-good neurotransmitters to reduce anxiety and help improve sleep.