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Acupuncture is known as an integrative type of medicine. This means it is safely and routinely used alongside medications, surgeries, physical therapy, and any other medicinal modality you have chosen. As an added bonus, it’s usually covered by most insurance plans and is available as a mainstream source of anxiety reduction, pain relief, and preventative care.
Basically, acupuncture is the use of incredibly fine needles to stimulate areas in the body where either tight muscles are encouraged to melt into relaxation, or nerves can send a message to the brain to create a specific chemical response in the body- like anti-inflammatory, digestive ease, or sleep induction.
With frequent and regular repetition, this can heal injuries, decrease pain levels and general inflammation, and it can slowly reset sleep and digestive cycles, encourage a stronger immune system and benefit individual organ health. Over time, the body learns how to do this for itself and the benefits ripple out into a faster healing response for future injuries and ailments, and generally better health. It’s like a child learning the alphabet, slowly forming words, and then writing a book.
There are thousands of points on the body, each one with its own effects, and the effects it has when combined with another point.
Most of the acupuncture points are organized in anatomical lines known as channels or meridians. These lines run adjacent to blood vessels, large nerves, or fascial lines. Fascia is the stuff that wraps the muscles up and joins them all together and it is highly sensitive at “trigger points” on the body, which are very useful acupuncture points. These lines run head to toe, with a few exceptions, and are named after the organ that they ultimately connect to in the end.
One example of a trigger or acupuncture point is the area you always squeeze when your shoulders get tight after a long day. Squeezing this point can be very tender, but it feels good because it triggers the muscle to relax, which an acupuncture needle can do very quickly. This point is Gallbladder-21, named because it is the 21st point on the line that eventually connects to the gallbladder.
Many teachers have gathered lists of ways to combine various points into protocols to reap the loudest, fastest effect. Often when you have an injury, a practitioner will choose a protocol that leaves the aggravated site alone and actually uses effective points elsewhere on the body to treat the injury. The philosophy here is “don’t poke an angry bear.” If your ankle is swollen, puffy and sprained, then your practitioner won't stick a needle in it because that would make it hurt more. Instead, he or she would choose points on the opposite limb, ear, and hand. This has a lot to do with how the points are connected and how the brain works. This technique is especially useful with things like nerve pain (neuropathy) in the hands and feet that can make the slightest sensation unbearable.
When you visit an acupuncturist, they will set you up with a treatment plan. The frequency of your visits will depend on your complaint, pain level, general health, whether your practitioner is also recommending supplements or movement therapies, and their experience with the protocol they intend to use. Every visit will look somewhat similar until the effects cumulate and you start seeing results, at which point your practitioner will tell you to begin spacing sessions out more. If you are in high pain they will start you at 3-4 sessions per week, when your pain goes down they might have you come in 1-2 times a week until the injury is resolved.
So, there it is. Set up a session and experience it for yourself. And remember, whatever benefits you see in the first visit will be amplified down the line - pun intended!