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Acupuncture has been long established in Asian countries as a trusted healing procedure. In Western countries, such as the United States, it is quickly becoming seen as a plausible treatment for many different ailments.

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a procedure that usually uses wispy needles to gently pierce the skin. The needles come in a variety of lengths and are used in the treatment of many different health ailments. The acupuncturist inserts the needle into the skin and, with a careful rubbing motion, manipulates the needle to restore energy and cure ailments.

Acupuncture is thought to work by removing blockages from the body’s meridians. These are vessels that allow energy, also known as chi, to flow throughout the body. If energy cannot flow through the meridians, this may bring about various health ailments. The insertion of needles releases blockage within the meridians and is what restores the body’s natural chi. Note that needles are not the only tools used in acupuncture. Other forms of acupuncture treatment may involve the use of pressure, heat, and electrical current to restore the body’s chi.

Yin and yang is another concept in traditional Chinese medicine. It represents balance in the body. Yin harbors the passive qualities of a person and yang harbors contains the active qualities. It is believed that if chi is blocked from flowing freely along the body’s meridians, then the balance the yin and yang represents is disrupted. This disruption is the cause of a variety of health ailments and may affect a person spiritually, emotionally, or physically.

What is Acupuncture Used For?

Acupuncture procedures are used for a wide variety of things. Auricular acupuncture, which involves inserting needles into the ear, is used as a means of healing addiction problems and chronic pain. The ear is thought to have pressure points that stimulate various corresponding parts of the body.

Applying acupuncture needles to the area spanning the hair on your head is called scalp acupuncture. The needles are carefully inserted between the scalp and the cranium with the intention of helping neurological disorders and motor dysfunctions. Stroke victims in China are among those who have found success in using scalp acupuncture.

A November 2002 journal article in Neuroscience Letters confirms the benefits of scalp acupuncture in Chinese stroke patients. With scalp acupuncture, victims of stroke experienced twice the recovery rate when compared patients who relied only on medication. Medical doctors who treated stroke victims with scalp acupuncture therapy reported that patients had improved muscle function and speech abilities.

Acupuncture techniques are also used to treat menstrual cramps, carpal tunnel syndrome, migraine headaches, and labor pain, just to name a few ailments.

What are the Benefits of Acupuncture?

Acupuncture, and how it treats illnesses, is not fully understood by researchers yet. It is thought to positively affect hormones in the body. Some researchers think that stimulation of nerve fibers sends a signal to the spinal cord and brain. This, in turn, triggers the body’s central nervous system to free hormones that will improve our health and ability to cope with pain. It may be, as some studies suggest, that the insertion of acupuncture needles into the body increases our natural pain limits.

Acupuncture may also increase blood circulation and body temperature, affect white blood cell activity (responsible for our immune function), reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and regulate blood sugar levels.

What are some Safety Concerns and Risks of Using Acupuncture?

Opponents of acupuncture warn that it is not as effective as scientifically proven Western medical treatments. Whether this often controversial point has merit or not, it is true that acupuncture procedures can carry risks. Just as with any form of medical treatment, it is vital that one is seen by a knowledgeable doctor who works in a sterile environment.

Some of the risks that can occur with an incompetent acupuncturist include: fainting, blood clotting, lung puncturing, and nerve damage. In addition, infections can occur if the medical setting is not a sterilized environment. Hepatitis B and contact dermatitis are just two of the various infections that can result from an acupuncturist treating a patient with unsterilized needles.

The Mayo Clinic advises finding a credentialed acupuncturist. In the United States, the majority of states require certification from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). Also, ask friends and family members for recommendations, if possible. Finding a credentialed acupuncturist is half the battle; having feedback from actual patients who you trust is priceless.

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