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acupuncture and pain

Alternative Names 
needling, traditional Chinese Medication

Acupuncture literally means needle piercing. It is the practice of inserting very fine needles into the skin to stimulate specific points. This stimulation balances the movement of energy in the body.

Who is a candidate for the procedure? 
When it is practiced by a qualified practitioner, acupuncture is safe for everyone. Young children often respond very well. It can even be used on pregnant women to stimulate labour and reduce labour pain. However, unnecessary procedures should be avoided during pregnancy.

The most common use of acupuncture is to treat muscle and joint pain. The technique is often applied for arthritis, back pain, sports injuries, and other similar problems.

How is the procedure performed? 
Every acupuncture treatment begins with four types of examinations. These are:
  • asking. The acupuncturist first asks an individual about his or her general health.
  • looking. The practitioner will then note the person's appearance, posture, skin colouration, and tongue.
  • listening. Next, he or she will listen to the individual's breathing patterns, speech, and tone of voice.
  • smelling and touching. The last and most important of the examination involves touching the person's skin and taking an accurate pulse.
To receive a treatment, the person lies down on a table. He or she needs to remove enough clothing for the acupuncturist to reach the key points on the body. Very fine, sterile, stainless steel needles are inserted into the skin at the relevant points. Because the needles are so thin, they do not cause any bleeding. Other techniques can also be used as part of the acupuncture treatment. These include:
  • small electric current to stimulate specific points
  • small pen-like tools to produce an infrared low power laser beam
  • burning of herbs to warm and stimulate energy
  • ultrasound, sound waves and light waves
What happens right after the procedure? 
A person may feel a pinprick sensation followed by a tingling or numbness when the needles are inserted. The amount of sensation will depend on the point being treated and the depth to which the needle is inserted. Needles can be inserted and removed in seconds. They can also be left in place for up to a half hour. The length of treatment depends on the type of illness that is involved. The person may have immediate pain relief. Other benefits usually take a couple of days to appear.

What happens later at home? 
Some people feel no different after treatment. Others report feeling sleepy or a little "spaced out." It is important for the individual to pay attention to her or her reactions and allow time for the treatment to take effect.

What are the potential complications after the procedure? 
The following complications may occur after acupuncture:
  • Bleeding is very rare because the needles are very fine.
  • It is common for a person to feel a little worse before feeling better. This is because acupuncture brings physical, mental, and emotional issues to the surface.
Any indication of infection at the sites where the needles were inserted should be reported to the practitioner. Signs of infection include:
  • redness
  • swelling
  • heat
  • tenderness
Author: Dr. Karen Wolfe, MBBS, MA
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 16/10/2004
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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