Acupuncture is the use of small thin needles that are inserted into specific points in the body, called acupuncture points. It is becoming increasingly popular as a form of treatment – most people who have tried acupuncture before swear by it. However, many people are still apprehensive about trying it because there are a lot of myths, mysteries, and misconceptions about it. The truth is that acupuncture is found to be a very safe and effective form of treatment. Acupuncture can treat many different conditions from muscular pain, anxiety, and even digestive issues.
Here are six myths about acupuncture and the real truths behind them:
Myth 1: Acupuncture hurts!
Truth: For most people, acupuncture is not painful at all, and many do not feel the needles puncturing the skin. Acupuncture needles are very thin, only slightly thicker than a single human hair and around ten times thinner than a butterfly needle, which is used for taking blood. Since acupuncture uses needles, there may be a pricking sensation when it punctures the skin. This pricking sensation subsides quickly, and the needles will likely not hurt afterwards. Some people experience heaviness, itchiness, or throbbing sensations, which indicates that the needle has hit the acupuncture point correctly and is working. If any needles are uncomfortable, you can let your therapist know, and they can adjust it for you until you are comfortable.
Myth 2: Acupuncture is an ancient medicine and is not relevant in today’s medical field.
Truth: Acupuncture and Chinese medicine’s first uses trace back over 5000 years ago. The earliest evidence of acupuncture was in the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE). The theory behind acupuncture and Chinese medicine has evolved since then and the field of acupuncture is still growing. Integrative approaches to acupuncture are incorporating modern technology to study and better understand it, making the practice more mainstream. There is a mound of evidence that acupuncture is effective in treating a wide range of conditions, and many doctors recommend it as a form of treatment or as a complimentary form of care.
Myth 3: Acupuncture doesn’t work and it is just a placebo effect.
Truth: There have been thousands of clinical studies that prove that acupuncture works. For many types of pain, acupuncture has been found to work as well as or better than pain medication, even really strong ones. According to the World Health Organization, acupuncture has been proven through scientific studies to safely and effectively treat many diseases. Acupuncture works by activating the natural healing mechanisms in your body, balancing the chemicals and hormones in the body, and helping to regulate the flow of blood and energy (or Qi) in the body.
Myth 4: Acupuncture is only useful for treating pain.
Truth: It is true that acupuncture is effective at treating pain, such as lower back pain and neck pain. However, acupuncture has been proven to be an effective treatment for over 140 diseases, according to the World Health Organization. The list includes digestive disorders, neurological disorders, cardiovascular disorders, endocrine and hormonal disorders, mental disorders, male/female issues, and many more. Each treatment plan will vary based on the condition and the client, although many people experience some relief or beneficial results after a single treatment.
Myth 5: Acupuncture is not safe.
Truth: Acupuncture is very safe when performed by a qualified health practitioner. In Canada, the practice is strictly regulated by The Ministry of Health to ensure that all practitioners are trained rigorously in safety protocol. A Registered Acupuncturist has a minimum of 2 years of training in acupuncture. This training consists of not only Traditional Chinese Medicine theory but also training in the biomedical sciences, including anatomy, pharmacology, and physiology. During training, Acupuncturists are taught the varying depths of needling for every acupuncture point on the body. In more sensitive areas, Acupuncturists are trained on how to needle those points safely and effectively. Registered Acupuncturists must also pass national examinations to receive a license to practice.
Myth 6: Receiving acupuncture from a Registered Acupuncturist is the same as receiving acupuncture from other health care practitioners.
Truth: Getting an acupuncture treatment from a Registered Acupuncturist (with the R.Ac designation) can be very different than receiving it from other types of health care practitioners. R.Ac’s have studied at least 2 years of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory, acupuncture, and TCM treatment methods and protocols, while other health professionals may have only studied a few weekend courses. Some health care professionals study “medical acupuncture” or “dry needling”, which is actually very different than TCM acupuncture, and they are only allowed to treat musculoskeletal issues. However, acupuncture performed by an R.Ac can treat not only musculoskeletal issues but also a variety of health conditions.
Acupuncture is an ancient practice with thousands of years of clinical history. In modern-day health care, there is a place for acupuncture in an integrated health environment to improve general well-being and to prevent diseases. Acupuncture is an alternative therapy that offers people more options for effective treatment of many diseases in our overburdened healthcare system. Acupuncture is designed to restore balance within patients; similarly, it encourages balance in the modern health care system by offering more options to the public. Although there may be misconceptions about the practice, it is always advised to ask a Registered Acupuncturist how acupuncture can improve your health.
By Kenneth Choi, HB.Sc, M.Sc, R.Ac, R.TCMP and Jason Valdeavilla, HB.Sc, B.A