In the modern wellness world, there is a spectrum under which the most popular trends fall – you have "woo-woo" at one end and proven, science-backed methods at the other. There is also a gray area in between, where acupuncture fits.
Acupuncture is an old practice of putting at the end of a thin needle in the body to relieve pain, reduce stress and provide other health benefits. Although there is mixed evidence as to whether or not it works, even the most skeptical people can find relief from a practice dating back to ancient history with roots in traditional Chinese medicine. And although Western and Eastern medical practices can agree on exactly how acupuncture works – it is said to help many people deal with pain, stress, hormonal imbalance and migraines among other issues.
What is interesting about acupuncture is that it has really kept up with the test of time – people come back to it despite all the other types of treatment invented for pain treatment. "Acupuncture has withstood the test of time and gained momentum over the years because of its positive results and lack of harmful side effects," said Gabriel Sher, a licensed and board-certified acupuncturist and head of acupuncture at Ora in New York City.
If you are curious about trying acupuncture, keep reading to find out more about potential benefits, risks, and other tips you need to know before your first session.
What is Acupuncture?
"Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine that originated thousands of years ago. Acupuncturists insert thin needles into the skin at specific points in the body to balance the flow of" Qi "energy flow into the body," Sher says. Qi (pronounced "chee") travels along roads (or meridians) in your body. Acupuncture points are located along these meridians and stimulating them is said to balance the flow of Qi.
Pain relief is one of the main reasons people seek acupuncture, but It is often used for a variety of health problems. "Acupuncture is commonly used to treat pain, but can be used for general health, including stress management, depression, headaches, asthma, hormone regulation, fertility problems, gastrointestinal disorders and many other diseases," says Sher.  Although commonly used, acupuncture is not usually recognized in Western medicine, but Western medicine e who use or recommend acupuncture treatment believe it can be effective in relieving certain illnesses because acupuncture points are known to stimulate nerve, muscle or connective tissue that can help with pain. Some believe that it can help the body release endorphins, which are chemicals that help with pain.
What is it like to get acupuncture?
Your experience will vary greatly depending on where you go and who your practitioner is. But to give you an idea, at Ora in New York City, you will begin the session with a first consultation. This is a common practice because it takes some time for a practitioner to evaluate how best to treat you and decide which acupuncture points to stimulate.
You usually lie on a comfortable massage table in a private room while the practitioner inserts 12 to 25 needles at strategic points in the body and then leaves them for 25 minutes. According to Ora, some people notice immediate relief after a session, while others need more regular sessions to see results.
Acupuncture costs can vary depending on where you live and what type of office you go to. A private session will be more expensive and in a big city, like San Francisco, it can cost between $ 80 and $ 120.
Does it hurt?
If you are not a fan of needles, acupuncture may not be for you. The process usually involves a practitioner inserting many (sometimes as many as a hundred or so) small, fine needles into your skin. Most people say it doesn't hurt because the needles are so thin, but you have to stay very still while in your skin, which can be uncomfortable.
It won't be as painful as getting a flu shot, since the needles are much smaller. But you may feel a pain of pain when the needle is inserted, which usually disappears quickly.
What does science say?
The scientific evidence of acupuncture is mixed, but it has been studied in clinical trials for a long time. A 2012 study showed that it can be effective for patients with chronic pain conditions such as neck, back, shoulders and headaches. A meta-analysis confirmed the same claims in 2018.
The research on the effectiveness of acupuncture for mental health problems such as anxiety and depression is promising, but more needs to be done before conclusions can be drawn.
Acupuncture has been studied for its effects on heart rate variability (HRV), which is a sign of general health and stress resilience. Some studies have shown that it can help improve HRV, which is promising news for those seeking treatment to help with stress, whether psychological or physical.
How to find a legit practitioner
Since your acupuncture experience will vary so much depending on who you see, it is important to take steps to find someone who is well educated and certified appropriately.
First, you want to make sure that the acupuncturist takes appropriate action before they even treat you – and not rush through the process. "Unlike Western medicine, acupuncture seeks to understand and treat the entire patient. A good acupuncturist will do a thorough interview of the patient to understand their current mental and physical condition and lifestyle, including their diet, exercise habits, sleep and other factors," says Sher.
Actual licensing requirements vary by state, but the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine is a good place to start if you are looking for a certified acupuncturist.
Acupuncture risks and safety
Overall, acupuncture is considered relatively safe and usually has no side effects. However, there are some risks that are useful to be aware of, because someone inserts needles into your skin, which can potentially hit places you don't want them to or trigger nerves incorrectly.
An example of a negative effect is pneumothorax (a collapsed lung). This is not so common, but one of my former colleagues had this happen to her after an acupuncture on her back. Since it is so common to use acupuncture treatment to treat back pain, it is important to be aware of the risks of putting needles in the vicinity of bodily organs. Some researchers believe that pneumothorax can be under-reported, so there is a potential for it happening more than we know.
Other risks include bleeding and infection, so if you are taking medications such as blood thinners, you will want to check with a doctor and be extra careful before trying acupuncture.
The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified healthcare provider about any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objective.