What Is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a practice that aims to treat diseases by inserting very fine needles into acupuncture points located on the surface of the body.
The term “acupuncture” is derived from the Latin words acus (needle) and puncture (to pierce, to puncture). Acupuncture points are located on linear meridians that cover our body. In acupuncture treatment, these points can be stimulated by needling, pressing, ultrasound, light, or electrical current. There are more than 2000 acupuncture points in our body.
These points are situated along the meridians and create a flow of energy called “Qi”. Disruption in this energy flow can cause diseases. Acupuncture treatment on specific points helps correct this flow and promotes a state of well-being.
Acupuncture therapy is primarily used for pain management. However, in reality, acupuncture not only alleviates symptoms but also treats diseases.
In modern times, the use of acupuncture has been increasing for general health purposes such as stress management and weight loss. When we look at the history of acupuncture, we can see that it dates back to 4000 years ago. Initially, stones were sharpened and inserted into specific points on the skin, but over the years, sticks made from bone and wood were shaped into needles and used.
Today, acupuncture clinics have been established and acupuncture education is provided all around the world.
How Does Acupuncture Treatment Work?
The mechanism of action of acupuncture has been increasingly studied over the past 60 years. Sensory nerve pathways (including A delta, A beta, and C fibers) and descending pathways of the nervous system, which include specialized nerve fibers, have been mapped.
Many biochemical substances such as opioid and non-opioid neuropeptides, serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, cytokines, glutamate, nitric oxide, and GABA have been identified. It has been shown that naturally released opioid neuropeptides (such as enkephalin, endorphin, dynorphin, endomorphin, and nociceptin) are effective in the analgesic effects of acupuncture.
The roles of non-opioid peptides, including substance P, vasoactive intestinal peptide, and calcitonin gene-related peptide, which have a central role in the pathogenesis of migraines, have been investigated in the analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of acupuncture.
70-80% of acupuncture points are the same as trigger points. Many acupuncture points correspond to motor points of muscles. These points have low electrical resistance and have unique functions.
Acupuncture application has not only analgesic effects but also has an effect on the release of substances such as endorphins, serotonin, enkephalins, cortisol, which alleviate depression, reduce inflammation, regulate the immune system, and create a sense of happiness.
It has positive effects on regulating bowel movements and glucose metabolism.
Acupuncture has proven to affect many biochemical and signaling pathways, one of the most important being its direct impact on purinergic signaling pathways.
ATP is used as a co-factor in all nerve transmissions and the body uses purine levels as a primary signal. Purinergic signaling pathways play a central role in various clinical areas such as migraines, headaches, immune dysfunction, inflammation, cancer, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular diseases, endocrine function, embryonic development, and the gastrointestinal system.
In addition to biochemical effects, acupuncture also directly affects the central nervous system. Through spinal reflex effects, acupuncture induces muscle relaxation and affects visceral organs.
Acupuncture modulates functional connections in the brain, reduces activity in limbic structures due to stress and illness, and improves regulation in the hypothalamus.
Furthermore, acupuncture is effective in regulating the parasympathetic activity, which is associated with relaxation, digestion, and tissue healing.
What Does It Feel Like To Get Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is applied with very fine needles. A slight pain may occur at the needle site in most people. The needles are applied to points that cause pain or pressure sensation.
The needles can be heated or low-level electrical current can be applied during treatment. After acupuncture, some people feel relaxed while others feel an increase in energy levels.
Instead of inserting needles to stimulate acupuncture points, heat, pressure, friction, cupping, or electromagnetic energy can also be used.
What Are The Common Conditions That Acupuncture Is Used For?
- Headaches (including migraine and tension-type)
- Dental pain
- Back pain
- Neck pain
- Osteoarthritis (OA)
- Tennis elbow
- Myofascial pain syndrome
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Stroke rehabilitation
- Respiratory conditions (asthma, allergic rhinitis, etc.)
- Nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy and after surgery
- Pains and cramps during menstruation
- Gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome, hepatitis, hemorrhoids
- Anxiety, depression
- Parkinson’s disease
- Rhinitis, sinusitis
In the past 20 years, numerous studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of acupuncture, and there is evidence of effectiveness in 117 conditions.
Conditions with positive evidence of effect include allergic rhinitis, knee osteoarthritis, migraine prevention, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (with antiemetic drugs), chronic low back pain, postoperative nausea and vomiting, postoperative pain, tension-type and chronic headache.
Conditions with potential positive effects include acute low back pain, acute stroke, anxiety, obesity, neck pain, joint pain associated with aromatase inhibitors, asthma in adults, low back and pelvic pain during pregnancy, perimenopause and postmenopausal insomnia, plantar heel pain, insomnia after stroke, shoulder pain after stroke, ambulatory anesthesia, modulation of sensory perception threshold, cancer pain, cancer-related fatigue, spasticity after stroke, post-traumatic stress disorder, constipation, depression (with antidepressants), dry eye, restless leg syndrome, recovery after colorectal cancer resection, schizophrenia (with antipsychotics), hypertension (with medical treatment), sciatica, shoulder impingement syndrome (with early exercise), insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, labor pain, shoulder pain, smoking cessation (up to 3 months), lateral elbow pain, stroke rehabilitation, temporomandibular pain (jaw pain), menopausal hot flashes.
What Are The Risks Associated With Acupuncture Treatment?
Acupuncture treatment is low-risk when performed by a qualified and experienced acupuncturist using sterile, single-use needles. The most common side effects are pain, bleeding, and bruising at the site of needle insertion.
The risk of infection has been greatly reduced with the use of single-use needles.
However, there is a higher risk of complications in patients with a bleeding tendency, those with diseases that lead to blood clotting disorders, and those who are taking blood thinners, as there may be more bleeding and bruising. Acupuncture is not recommended for people with metal allergies or who have developed an infection at the needle insertion site.
Electroacupuncture in patients with pacemakers can cause interference with the function of the pacemaker.
Acupuncture should be used with caution in pregnant women, as stimulation of some points can lead to bleeding and premature labor.
What Should Be Considered Before Acupuncture Treatment?
There is no need for any special preparation before acupuncture treatment. However, some people may experience fainting, feeling sick, dizziness, or worsening of their symptoms.
How Is An Acupuncture Session Performed? How Are The Number And Frequency Of Sessions Determined?
Acupuncture is a personalized treatment.
The number and frequency of sessions are determined according to the patient’s condition and situation. The initial session duration varies from 20 minutes to 1 hour. You will need to sit or lie down during the session.
During the acupuncture session, you will be asked to remove your clothes from the areas where acupuncture needles will be applied. The needles used are sharp, single-use needles that are a few centimeters long. Point selection is made according to your complaints, and many points can be used in one session.
The needle can be inserted only under the skin or into the muscle. After the needle is inserted, it can be left in place for a few minutes to about 30 minutes. The number of sessions may increase and more frequent sessions may be applied in chronic diseases.
Symptoms are expected to improve within a few weeks. It is important to get information about the number, frequency, and cost of sessions before acupuncture treatment.
In the improvement of the disease, a faster recovery is expected in newly started cases, while it is recommended to continue sessions and follow the doctor’s recommendations for long-term improvement. For example, in chronic painful conditions (painful conditions lasting longer than 3 months), the initial expectation should not be the complete disappearance of pain, but the decrease in its severity and frequency in the following sessions.
It is important to make sure that the necessary tests are done and the correct diagnosis is made before acupuncture treatment. You should consult your doctor about whether acupuncture treatment is effective and have acupuncture treatment done by a physician authorized to do so.
Medium/strong evidence has been reported for the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment in 46 cases. Acupuncture is a safe treatment in the hands of a trained practitioner.
Especially in painful cases, patients are unknowingly taking excessive medication. Every drug used in addition, although it has a low potential to benefit, can harm the patient. In order to prevent this, the addition of acupuncture to the treatment is gaining importance due to its low risk of harm.