What is acupuncture and how could it help you?

An increasing number of Americans looking for alternatives to conventional medicine and/or pharmaceuticals are turning to this ancient Chinese practice. A 2009 study by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which is part of the National Institute of Health, found that 3.1 million adults and 150,000 children used acupuncture in 2007 while seeking relief from ailments such as back pain, insomnia, and headaches.

Even the United States military has embraced the use of acupuncture, primarily for treating pain, but also for treating symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress.

Acupuncture is the most widely used component of Chinese medicine, a practice dating back 2,500 years. The simple insertion of thin (hair-fine), sterile, and disposable needles into specific areas of the body is as effective today as it was in ancient China.

When performed by a licensed professional, few, if any, side effects have been reported. In fact, the only predictable “side effect” is a deep state of relaxation. This, coupled with acupuncture’ proven efficacy, has contributed to an increased acceptance and popularity in the United States since the 1970s.

Acupuncture treats holistically. A diagnosis is made based not only the primary complaint, but also on the overall condition of the patient. The headache of a 25-year-old man, for example, will most likely be treated differently from that of a 57-year-old woman.

In the process, it is not unusual to find that seemingly unrelated symptoms, such as digestive problems or anxiety, can improve, if not resolve completely. As a holistic medicine, acupuncture does not distinguish between emotional and physical ailments.

Acupuncture is also used increasingly to complement Western medical therapies. It has been shown to work well alongside conventional medicine in patient recovery from trauma and surgery; acupuncture helps the body better integrate other treatments from, for example, a chiropractor or physical therapist. Acupuncture and herbal medicine also effectively treat the side effects of pharmaceuticals and chemotherapy.

Among the commonly treated ailments in an acupuncturist’s office are low back pain, joint pain, headaches, insomnia, anxiety, depression, fibromyalgia, digestive disorders, allergies, substance abuse withdrawal, and stress. Once introduced to the benefits to acupuncture, many patients return for seasonal tune-ups or maintenance.

Acupuncture supports wellness. It boosts the immune system and releases endorphins, which are natural “feel-good” chemicals. A patient who feels better is more likely to initiate and stick to the healthy lifestyle choices that person have been meaning to make. Making lifestyle changes and adopting a healthier mindset can avoid costs of pharmaceuticals and doctor visits.

Commonly seen in Asia, community acupuncture offers acupuncture in a group setting. Community acupuncture is a growing trend in the United States. This style of treatment provides acupuncture to many patients simultaneously, thus lowering the cost of treatment.

Private sessions are another option for patients seeking individualized attention. During these appointments, herbal consultations, nutritional therapy, and other aspects of Chinese medicine may also be addressed and discussed.

E. Marie Arnberg, L.Ac. operates DownEast Community Acupuncture, a community clinic on Verona Island. She can be reached at (207) 479-2944 or www.downeastca.com.

Lea Elliott, L.Ac. operates Maine Coast Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine in Ellsworth. She can be reached at (207) 812-8747 or www.leaelliottlac.com.