Acupuncture is often described poorly as:
"The insertion of hair-thin needles into various well-documented points in the body near nerves and blood vessels, along "meridians of Qi (pronounced ’chee’) flow," in an attempt to help regulate and restore natural balance to the body." This is because of an original misinterpretation of the language that is perpetuated even today.
"Qi" falls into several categories:
Oxygen, nutrients, and cells of the immune system flowing with the blood
ATP production in the cells
Genetic makeup received at conception
Energy gained from the food we consume, restorative sleep, the air we breathe, etc . . .
"Meridians" = physical vessels in our body that serve as transport conduits (nerves, lymph vessels, blood vessels, etc . . .)
At this point, there are enough good-quality acupuncture studies published in English that remaining skepticism in this culture is dogmatic in its nature. Fault lies in part with the continued use of archaic language and mistranslation in speaking about the medicine. Please click the link below to learn more.
Documented changes that acupuncture induces include:
1) It helps to soften muscle spasms and dilate blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more freely through your body. With this blood flow oxygen and nutrients vital to the function of every cell in your body. Increased blood perfusion into tissues also allows for metabolic waste products (like lactic acid build-up) an exit route.
2) It stimulates your body to produce and release endorphins and enkephalins - your own natural painkillers. In fact, opiates only work because they fit into receptors in your body that are made for these natural substances!
3) At the same time, acupuncture begins to inhibit your body from producing chemicals that create and perpetuate inflammation. Think how much safer it is to stimulate you to produce your own painkillers and anti-inflammatory effects than it is to take the pharmaceuticals.
4) In recent years, bioelectrical photography has seemed to capture images of channel/meridian activity, with the highest areas of activity clustered around well-known acupoints.
5) On another level, MRI scans during "real acupuncture" and "fake acupuncture" actually show changes in the brain's activity taking place. More change, and more lasting change, happens with real acupuncture than the fake stuff ("sham" acupuncture in research is often the actual use of a non-indicated point) - which is why it is important to get treatment with someone who has been well-trained (not just someone who took a few hours adjunct training to his / her regular degree) and is well-practiced.
These are not the only things going on, but they are the easiest to talk about in Western medical terms.
The Balance Method is a highly effective style of acupuncture wherein needles are placed at sites away from the location of the symptoms, and the patient feels immediate relief. Similar to flipping a switch on a wall, and having a light turn on across the room -- if I am getting the right points, you should feel at least 50% decrease in your symptoms (if you are experiencing them at the time of the appointment) right away. I almost always encourage patients to move the affected area during treatment, to get the circulation really going and test how well the acupuncture is working; thus if you are experiencing low back pain, I will have you twisting your back while the needles are in your arms and/or legs; for foot pain, you will often be asked to walk around the room with needles in your head and arms. Both patients and I love getting this immediate feedback.
In severe cases (such as problems that have existed 20+ years, problems due to congenital or severe structural issues, or problems not presenting at the time of treatment) it may take up to three treatments to start to see the results. In any case, you should begin to see some changes (even if minor) by the end of the first three visits.
In China, people will often come in for DAILY acupuncture until their conditions resolve. Here we encourage beginning with 3 visits per week so that each treatment will build on the one before it incrementally until your body is healthy enough to take over. You always want your next treatment to be before your symptoms return to the level they were previously! As you get better, we start to wean you off of the treatment until you no longer need me.
In some instances, (good health, minor problem, acute situation) people can get better in as little as 2-3 treatments. In other instances (poor health, major problem, long-standing issue) people end up taking 2-3 courses of acupuncture (one course being 8-12 treatments) and then coming in for long-term maintenance. Most people fall in between these two extremes, needing 6-30 treatments before dropping to a preventative care plan.