Getting stuck with needles might not be your idea of a fun pastime, but this painless natural therapy has been scientifically proven to have a whole host of benefits, from relieving depression to helping ease chronic pain. Health & Wellbeing investigates.
An ancient form of medicine
Records of needles being used to treat pain and discomfort date back more than 2000 years, while many experts actually believe the Chinese developed this ancient art of healing up to 4000 years ago.
Either way, it's a centuries-old tradition that today is increasingly recognised around the world as a viable "alternative" to Western concepts of pain management, as well as an effective method of treating emotional problems, fertility and impotency issues, and aiding weight loss.
So how does it work?
The classical Chinese explanation is that the body is made up of a series of energy channels (meridians) that irrigate and nourish tissues. Any obstruction to these meridians causes the flow of energy (qi, pronounced "chee") to stop and physical or emotional problems to manifest themselves.
By needling specific acupuncture points, obstructions are removed and the regular flow resumes. By treating the body as a whole and seeing specific ailments as part of a bigger picture, acupuncture offers a very unique approach to healing.
What's the point?
Over the years, acupuncture has found its way into mainstream medicine thanks to extensive scientific studies, and is commonly prescribed for a range of physical and emotional illnesses, from treating allergies and alleviating migraines to addressing anxiety issues, stress and insomnia.
Doctors and health practitioners have discovered acupuncture stimulates the nervous system to release chemicals in the muscles, spinal chord and brain. These chemicals impact a person's experience of pain or can trigger the release of other chemicals and hormones, which influence the body's own internal regulating system. Acupuncture can therefore help organs to correct any imbalances in their function.
Colds and flu can be tackled by needling points associated with the lungs and stomach, which will break down phlegm and help the body get rid of excess mucus. Similarly, targeting muscle spasms can relieve tension and treat back pain. As for depression, acupuncture can release mood-lifting endorphins into the central nervous system, which help balance emotional instabilities.
And then there are the headline-grabbing stories: Mariah Carey claims acupuncture helped her get pregnant; while Jennifer Lopez is said to have lost 15 pounds by being needled. Acupuncture works on the outside too, and a number of clinics are treating people in search of younger looks with a facelift performed by needles, which promises to stimulate collagen production and lift sagging skin.
Niggling worries about needling?
If you want to find out more, ask your doctor to recommend a GP who practices acupuncture or visit a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner. Before making like a human pincushion, it's always wise to ask a few questions.
- What are the practitioner's qualifications (they should have completed a four to five-year degree);
- are they registered with a professional association; and
- do they have experience of the condition you are seeking treatment for?
The majority of needles used in Australia are pre-sterilised and designed to be used once and then disposed of, but it is always worth checking to clear your mind of any worries regarding contamination.
Even if you are scared of needles, the sensation is very different to that of an injection some people report a mild pricking when the needle goes in, while others say they feel slight discomfort when the acupuncturist "manipulates" the needles twisting or tapping the needle for a few seconds at a time.
Sessions generally last 15-30 minutes, and while you should feel some immediate results, give it at least three or four treatments. Remember, if you can find a drug-free, safe and natural way to look and feel better, it's worth sticking with.