There’s a 3,000-year-old healing technique that’s providing relief for today’s chronic illnesses.

What Is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture–a core practice of traditional Chinese medicine–is often referred to as a complementary medical practice.

Many use it to support mainstream medical care. For others, acupuncture is considered a primary treatment, as well as a routine health maintenance practice.

Acupuncture is based on the concept of engaging the body’s inherent healing abilities.

Specific points are stimulated through the insertion into the skin of fine, sterile needles. Additionally, pressure, heat or sometimes light electrical stimulation may be used to further enhance the effects.

Similarly, acupressure is a massage modality in which specific points are stimulated with manual pressure. Typically this is done by hand or with a massage tool.

In traditional Chinese medicine, energy called “chi” or “qi” circulates through the body through meridians, or defined pathways. Along these pathways lie specific points where chi energy can be blocked.

When these blockages exist, the body’s balance of “yin” and “yang” energy is thrown off balance and discomfort, illness and disease states—both physical and emotional—result.

Whether or not you believe in the forces of yin and yang or the existence of chi, modern research has shown benefits from acupuncture. These include positive effects in the nervous, endocrine, immune, cardiovascular and digestive systems.

What Can Acupuncture Be Used For?

Consumers have turned to acupuncture for everything from mood and hormone imbalances to sleep disturbances and allergies. They’ve also looked to it for help managing the pain, nausea, fatigue and other effects of mainstream cancer treatments, including chemotherapy.

Some even turn to acupuncture in the hopes of treating cancer, itself.

Hundreds of clinical studies have proven the efficacy of acupuncture for conditions including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Migraine
  • Insomnia
  • Infertility
  • Pain
  • Hypertension
  • Arthritis

The list goes on. Others have even used the treatment as an aid to quit smoking or for weight loss.

Military Turns To Acupuncture 

Within the last decade, the U.S. military medical system began running collaborative studies looking at acupuncture for use with active-duty service members and veterans.

Results were so encouraging that not only do military medical programs now include acupuncture as a treatment, but clinicians also developed “battlefield acupuncture” protocols. “BFA” is highly transportable, easy to administer and doesn’t come with the potential side effects and delay in efficacy of pharmaceuticals such as opiates.

So far, BFA is proving highly effective in reducing or eliminating pain in as little as one treatment, lasting as long as several days. One researcher cites a roughly 80% efficacy rate.

Options For Accessing Acupuncture

Commonly, sessions take place in a care provider’s office and include an intake and assessment. The acupuncturist then typically places the patient in a restful position, places the needles then gives the patient time to rest as the body does its work (often as long as 30 to 40 minutes).

Depending on the patient’s needs and the acupuncturist’s training, the patient may also be provided with herbal remedies, dietary counseling or other interventions.

Physical interventions commonly used in conjunction with acupuncture include moxibustion—a warming treatment involving use of the herb mugwort.

Moxibustion—or “moxa”—provides deep warming. Research shows it can prompt an increase in white blood cells, which can decrease inflammation and boost the immune system.

Another common treatment is cupping, which is also becoming more commonly used in Western medicine.

In cupping, practitioners use cups (commonly made of glass, bamboo or medical-grade silicone) applied to the skin to create suction. Cupping is said to reduce inflammation and improve blood flow.

Many massage therapists use cupping as a form of deep tissue and myofascial therapy. (Fascia is a connective tissue wrapper that surrounds muscle, organs and other internal body structures.)

While these techniques are often applied in a one-on-one setting in a provider’s office, this type of fully private treatment may be cost-prohibitive. Some acupuncturists provide community hours, with discounted rates for services provided in a group treatment room.

Others run community clinics, where all services are provided in a group setting. Many such clinics also offer drop-in availability and sliding scale (pay-as-you-can) rates.

To add to its legitimacy, many insurance policies and most health savings plans now cover acupuncture.