If you’re needle-phobic, the thought of getting acupuncture—where thin needles are inserted into the skin—may seem unnerving. But, the traditional Chinese medicine practice has been around for centuries, and now it’s often used along with western medicine to treat a variety of conditions.
Even though acupuncture has become mainstream, and research backs its benefits, there are still a few misconceptions about the treatment, says George Stretch, interim assistant dean of acupuncture and oriental medicine at the National University of Health Sciences.
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture involves inserting thin-gauge needles through the skin at specific points on the body to control pain or other symptoms.
“When you look at the acupuncture practice, three things are most important: needling, specific points, and stimulation,” explains Jinhua Xie, an acupuncturist and professor of oriental medicine at Midwest College of Oriental Medicine.
In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture focuses on the “meridian system,” an invisible energy channel in the body. The purpose is to regulate and balance the body’s energy by focusing on yin and yang, qi and blood, cold and hot, and excess and deficiency. Xie says needle insertion and the stimulation it creates is essential for a good therapeutic effect.
Over the past few decades, researchers have been working to understand how acupuncture works from a biomedical standpoint, Xie says.
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