How can becoming a human pincushion possibly make you healthy?
The answer is that those hair-thin needles inserted just under your skin are actually stimulating the flow of a life-giving energy called qi (pronounced chee). In Chinese medicine, qi flows through invisible channels in your body called meridians to nourish your organs and limbs. Problem is, these meridians can become blocked by unhealthy living or injury, which results in illness and pain. But when acupuncture needles are inserted at specific points along the meridians, say acupuncturists, the flow of qi is restored — as is your health.
Mystical as it sounds, this ancient treatment is actually well researched and well accepted. In November 1997, a consensus panel at our own National Institutes of Health (NIH) concluded that it can help treat the nausea of pregnancy, chemotherapy and surgery, as well as postoperative dental pain. And although solid evidence is still lacking for other problems, some researchers feel that acupuncture may also relieve pain associated with arthritis, headaches, menstrual cramps, back pain and fibromyalgia. It may even lessen the symptoms associated with withdrawal from drug and alcohol addictions.
Although many Western scientists still have trouble believing in qi, they know that acupuncture triggers the release of endorphins — your body’s natural pain relievers. Plus, it may release a mood-lifting brain chemical known as serotonin and an anti-inflammatory known as cortisol.
As far as the actual needling is concerned, the needles themselves are extremely thin and flexible. So while they may sting a bit, they don’t really hurt. Treatment lasts 15 to 60 minutes, and the acupuncturist may twirl the needles for greater effect. You should always insist that the practitioner use disposable needles to avoid infection.
Qualifications: Look for certification by the National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCAOM) or an MD with 200 hours of acupuncture training.
Licensure: Most states provide licensing and/or certification. States without regulations on acupuncture as of publication of this article include ID, OK, SD, and WY.
Number in US: About 15,000 certified and/or licensed practitioners.
Cost: $35-$125 per session.
Insurance coverage: Increasingly covered; check with your company. Last November, the NIH consensus panel on acupuncture recommended that it be covered by Medicare.
For more information: American Association of Oriental Medicine, 433 Front St., Catasauqua, PA 18032; 610-266-1433