Acupuncture involves the insertion of hair-thin, disposable needles into the skin. The needles are inserted gently and painlessly into acupuncture points along meridians (or energy pathways) that run along your body. Instead of needles, acupressure practitioners use fingers to apply pressure to the points.What Do Acupressure and Acupuncture Do?
Both acupuncture and acupressure stimulate the meridians, prompting self-healing, by increasing the circulation of blood and lymph as well as releasing endorphins. They also release muscle tension and stop pain by changing our chemical and hormonal signaling systems. The treatments can improve a long list of issues like migraines, arthritis, digestive problems, menstrual irregularities, insomnia, and fatigue.
According to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, there are invisible pathways of energy flow within the body called meridians. There are thought to be at least 14 meridians connecting our organs with other parts of the body. Acupuncture and acupressure points lie along those meridians.
If the flow of energy (also called “chi” or “qi”) is blocked at any point on a meridian, it’s thought to cause various symptoms and health conditions anywhere along the meridian. That’s why a practitioner may apply pressure to an acupressure point on the foot to relieve a headache.
A Typical Acupressure Session
Acupressure is often administered by an acupuncturist, with the person receiving the acupressure sitting or lying down on a massage table.
Acupressure can also be self-administered. While it’s best to consult an acupuncturist for proper instruction, acupressure is generally done by using the thumb, finger, or knuckle to apply gentle but firm pressure to a point. You can also use the tip of a pen to gently press within your comfort zone. The pressure is often increased for about 30 seconds, held steadily for 30 seconds to two minutes, and then gradually decreased for 30 seconds. It’s typically repeated three to five times.
For example, the point “P6″—primarily used to treat nausea and vomiting—can be found by turning the arm so that the palm is facing up. Place the thumb at the center of the crease of the wrist (where the hand meets the wrist) and then position it two finger-widths away from the crease toward the elbow. The point is between the two large tendons.
Does Acupuncture Hurt?
You may feel a slight sting, pinch, ache, or some pain as the acupuncture needle is being inserted. Some acupuncturists manipulate the acupuncture needle after it has been placed in the body, by twirling or rotating the needle, moving it up and down, or using a machine with a small electric pulse or current.
Some acupuncturists consider the resulting tingling, numbness, heavy sensation, or ache (known as “de qi”) desirable in achieving the therapeutic effect.
How Acupuncture Is Done
Before the initial appointment, you will be asked to complete health history. The acupuncturist begins the visit by asking you about your health concerns, diet, sleep, stress level, and other lifestyle habits. You may be asked about your emotions, appetite, food likes and dislikes, and response to changes in temperature and seasons.
Your acupuncturist may use additional techniques during your session including:
1.Moxibustion: Also known as “moxa,” moxibustion involves the use of heated sticks (made from dried herbs) held near the acupuncture needles to warm and stimulate the acupuncture points.
2.Cupping: Glass or silicone cups are applied to the skin so that there is a suction effect. In TCM theory, cupping is used to relieve the stagnation of qi and blood.
3.Herbs: Chinese herbs may be given in the form of teas, pills, and capsules.
4.Electroacupuncture: An electrical device is connected to two to four acupuncture needles, providing a weak electrical current that stimulates the acupuncture needles during the treatment.
5.Laser acupuncture: This method is said to stimulate acupuncture points without the use of needles.
6.Ear acupuncture: also known as auricular acupuncture, is sometimes used during the treatment for weight loss, smoking cessation, addictions and anxiety.
Side Effects and Safety
Acupressure should never be painful. If you experience any pain, tell your therapist immediately. After an acupressure session, some people may feel soreness or bruising at acupressure points. You may also feel temporarily lightheaded.
Pressure should be gentle over fragile or sensitive areas, such as the face. If you are pregnant, you should speak to your care provider before trying acupressure. Acupressure typically isn’t done on the abdomen or certain points on the leg or low back during pregnancy.
Acupressure shouldn’t be done over open wounds, bruises, varicose veins, or any area that is bruised or swollen. If you have a condition such as osteoporosis, recent fracture or injury, cancer, easy bruising, a bleeding disorder, heart disease, uncontrolled blood pressure, diabetes, or are using anticoagulant or anti-platelet medications such as warfarin, you should speak to your doctor before trying acupressure.
The goal of acupressure or acupuncture is to restore health and balance to the body’s channels of energy and to regulate opposing forces of yin (negative energy) and yang (positive energy). Some proponents claim acupressure/acupuncture not only treats the energy fields and body but also the mind, emotions, and spirit. Some even believe that therapists can transmit the vital energy (external qi) to another person.
Not all Western practitioners believe that this is possible or even that these meridians exist. Instead, they attribute any results to other factors, such as reduced muscle tension, improved circulation, or stimulation of endorphins, which are natural pain relievers.