What Is Acupuncture? (The Ultimate Guide)

Quick Summary of What Is Acupuncture (The Ultimate Guide):

  1. What is Acupuncture?
  2. How Is Acupuncture Supposed To Work?
  3. What Does Acupuncture Do?
  4. What To Expect At An Acupuncture Treatment
  5. 6 Different Acupuncture Techniques
  6. Does Acupuncture Have Side Effects?
  7. Additional Thoughts on Acupuncture

What Is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a thousand-year-old medicinal practice created in China that is still popular today. It’s based on the belief that health issues can be caused by a disturbance in one’s qi (commonly pronounced “chee”). Qi is a word that refers to the life energy flowing through our bodies. Acupuncture is designed to bring balance to a person’s energy flow. This is done by inserting very thin needles into certain points on the body. It is said to encourage relaxation, accelerate healing, provide energy balance, and re-establish one’s qi.

These points throughout the body are called acupuncture points. Over 1000 of these exist on the human body, according to professional acupuncturists. Each point lies on a meridian or invisible energy channel. Every organ in your body is associated with a particular median.

How Is Acupuncture Supposed To Work?

Though it’s viewed as an alternative form of medicine, there are hundreds of thousands of practitioners around the world. Acupuncture advocates swear by its many benefits. So does it actually work? The truth is that research on this topic isn’t conclusive, but many theories exist.

One theory has to do with endorphin release. Endorphins are chemicals in the body that relieve pain. It’s said that acupuncture stimulates endorphin release, providing relief to targeted areas. Another theory involves the regulation of bodily functions by influencing the autonomic nervous system. These natural chemicals are more accurately regulated through acupuncture. This results in reduced inflammation, better blood pressure, better blood flow, and a calmer mind.

What Does Acupuncture Do?

Here are some of the common ailments you might seek relief from through acupuncture: Infertility. Weight loss. Tinnitus. Anxiety. Stress. Sinus issues. Sciatica. Addiction recovery. Nausea. Migraines. Insomnia. Depression. Chronic pain. Arthritis.

There’s also a branch called cosmetic acupuncture. People seek this for facial skin rejuvenation. This treatment is sometimes called facial acupuncture.

A Closer Look At Some Specific Acupuncture Benefits

The following four benefits have considerable research (and customer feedback) backing them up.

Knee Pain

Pain in the knees is a condition that acupuncture has been known to alleviate. Many recent studies found that participants experienced both long and short term improvements. Participants in the studies mentioned all had knees affected by osteoarthritis (the most common form of arthritis). However, the main benefit these people experienced involved medication. They either needed much fewer opioids after acupuncture or none at all! Some of the participants had even recently undergone knee surgery.

Tension Headaches

People who get headaches a lot make up a large percentage of acupuncture clientele. Relieving headache discomfort is one of acupuncture’s most reported benefits. Many people report that they no longer require extra-strength pills for their headaches after a handful of acupuncture visits. Some of these folks also report that their headache frequency is down as well.

Here’s an interesting fact about acupuncture’s relationship to headache relief. Studies suggest that where headaches are concerned, acupuncture points aren’t the foundation of the positive effects. But rather the needles themselves.


Similar to the information above, acupuncture is known to truly help people with regular migraine problems. Treatments tend to offer more short term migraine benefits than permanent long terms ones, studies show. However, almost all the participants report that they get migraines less frequently after regular acupuncture visits.

Lower-Back Pain

Acupuncture has long been linked to better back health. Experienced patrons say they have greater mobility and lower pain in their backs as a result of acupuncture. Compared to other benefits, this one, in particular, seems to have the most immediate results. Many study participants, however, report that long term effects are limited. Eventually, you need to go back and have the treatments done again.

What To Expect At An Acupuncture Treatment

This (and others like it) is one of the most common acupuncture-related questions. What’s going to happen on my very first visit? Should I be scared?

No. There’s no need to be anxious.

After you set up an appointment, the receptionist will ask you to fill health history paperwork. When it’s time for your visit, the acupuncturist will first ask you some preliminary questions. Similar to those a doctor would ask at the beginning of a standard care visit. She’ll need to know your general stress level, general emotional state, sleeping habits, diet, health concerns, appetite, perhaps more.

Because acupuncture is alternative medicine, she may ask some exploratory questions. Something like “how do you respond to different seasons and temperatures?” or “What are your likes and dislikes?” Answers to these kinds of questions help the specialist customize your treatment. They may look carefully at things like your tongue color, voice, complexion, and appearance. Your pulse will be taken on both wrists and at various points. Taking note of the rhythm, quality and strength of your pulse is important. According to TCM (traditional Chinese medicine), a person’s organ health can be deduced almost entirely from the pulse and tongue.

Other Things To Expect On Your First Acupuncture Visit

On average, you can expect the acupuncturist to use up to 15 needles (sometimes less) during your treatment. There is no correlation between how many needles are used and how intense the treatment is. The number of needles necessary during a given treatment is up to the acupuncturist. Needles are left in for up to 20 minutes, sometimes less, but usually not more. Depending on your needs, sometimes needles are twisted slightly to produce additional effects.

Most acupuncture treatments last around 30 minutes, but they can be more or less than that. However, if it’s your first visit, plan to be there around an hour. The most common state of being after an acupuncture treatment is sleepiness or relaxation. Some people say they feel energetic afterward. Both are normal. Consult your doctor if you feel unusual or strange after acupuncture.

6 Different Acupuncture Techniques

There are also multiple acupuncture techniques used by professionals. Moxibustion, for example. This is when the specialist holds heated sticks next to the needles for further stimulation and warmth. The sticks are usually made out of dried herbs. This gives off a nice scent in addition to providing additional health benefits.

Cupping is another technique. The acupuncturist uses glass cups placed against your skin upside down. According to traditional Chinese medicine, the suction from the cup encourages blood flow and promotes free-flowing qi.

Acupuncturists often incorporate herbs into their treatments. The aromatic and healing nature of specific herbs adds to the experience and also positively affects qi. Herbs used during acupuncture can come in capsule form, pill form, or tea form. They are also sometimes burned for the aromatic effect.

Have you ever head of electroacupuncture? This is when the specialist connects a few of the needles to a device. The device sends an electrical current (a very weak one. Don’t worry.) designed to simulate the effect of the needles. Many acupuncture patrons swear by this method, saying it greatly enhances the effects of the treatment.

Similar to electroacupuncture, there’s another treatment called laser acupuncture. This is when needles are substituted entirely for lasers and purportedly offer the same effect. This is primarily used for people who get squeamish with the thought of needles in their skin.

And finally, ear acupuncture. This treatment is believed to have very different effects than traditional acupuncture. It’s often used specifically to treat anxiety, addictions (like smoking), and weight loss. This treatment is sometimes referred to as auricular acupuncture.

The Question You’ve Been Waiting For: Does It Hurt?

As you would expect when considering that needles are inserted into your skin, you do feel something. But it’s not bad at all. Acupuncture regulars describe the feeling like a little pinch or sting. You might feel a slight aching feeling, but that’s normal. Specialists often manipulate the needle after it’s been inserted. They always communicate to you beforehand what to expect, so don’t worry about any surprises. The needle is sometimes rotated or moved up and down which will usually result in a small sensation. But nothing to worry about.

If you feel any discomfort or slight pain during the treatment, you are experiencing de-qi (‘dee chee’). This is considered desirable according to TCM. It means the treatment is working. Just communicate your sensations with the acupuncturist before and during the treatment.

Does Acupuncture Have Side Effects?

Yes. There are some risks involved, but almost all of them are the same risks involved with standard medical procedures. It’s possible that you may experience any of the following: Infections. Fainting. Dizziness. Nausea. Bleeding. Pain. Bruising. Allergic Reactions. Skin Rashes. But it’s unlikely. Make sure that your acupuncturist is licensed and trusted. At least trusted by someone you trust. And of course, the needles should always be sterilized before use.

Though these additional side effects are even rarer than the ones above, we’ll mention them to be thorough. There have been cases where clients experienced some of the following: Tissue injury. Hemorrhage. Spinal cord injury. Central nervous system complications. Punctured organs. Pieces of the broken needle in the skin. Blood vessel injury. Nerve damage. Infections.

Here’s the bottom line. If you have any preexisting health issues, consult a doctor before going forward with acupuncture. Particularly if you’re on blood thinners or have a bleeding disorder. You should be following this procedure no matter what treatment you consider. Acupuncture shouldn’t be treated any differently.

Additional Thoughts on Acupuncture

Can Acupuncture Replace Standard Medical Care?

No. Standard care should be prioritized over acupuncture. In other words, don’t consider acupuncture an all-encompassing alternative to standard care.

How Often Should You Get Acupuncture?

That depends on a few things. Things like the response your body has to acupuncture and your current state of health. But in most circumstances, one acupuncture session is not enough to relieve the ailment in question. Most treatments encompass 5-6 weeks of treatment; 2 sessions per week.

What Should You Do Before An Acupuncture Session?

Because metabolism is different for everyone, this suggestion isn’t set in stone. But it’s recommended not visit the acupuncturist on an empty stomach. Eating two hours before your appointment should be about right. And don’t eat spicy food or that will give you gas. Your body should be in as comfortable a state as possible before walking in the door for your appointment.

What Should You Do After An Acupuncture Session?

Get sleep. Rest as much as you can. Don’t exercise too much. Stay warm. Don’t drink stimulants like coffee or soda pop. Don’t drink alcohol. Keep your mind as clear as you can so don’t watch TV or go to the movie theater. Eat healthily.

What Is The Average Cost Of Acupuncture Treatments?

Usually somewhere between $70-100. This typically includes a consultation as well as a treatment, at least on your first visit. Subsequent visits can be expected to be between $45-75. Costs should be relatively similar nationwide, regardless if you go to a private practitioner or clinic. Sometimes chiropractors are also practicing acupuncturists.

Is Acupuncture Covered By Insurance?

Sometimes. If it’s prescribed by a doctor, then yes. Otherwise, usually not.

Can You Drive After Acupuncture?

This question is pretty common. And the answer is: it depends. Everyone’s body is different in how it responds to acupuncture. Some people feel really lethargic after a session. If this is you, you probably shouldn’t drive immediately afterward. In our experience, though, most people are fine to drive after an acupuncture treatment.

What Is Acupuncture? (The Ultimate Guide) – Conclusion

If you’re still skeptical about acupuncture, we recommend you give it a try. If you have lingering ailments that still remain after other forms of treatment, why not try it? Many people who try it experience such great results, they become advocates themselves. Give us a call. We’re happy to answer any more questions you have.

Remember that it’s always recommended to consult a doctor first just in case.

If you are interested in receiving an acupuncture treatment, give us a call or stop by one of our clinics.