Acupuncture therapy is a technique of ancient Chinese medicine meant to promote natural healing and prevent or stop suffering. This is accomplished by regulating the flow of qi, or life energy, in the body. Practitioners believe that meridians are channels of qi, pronounced "chee," that run through the body in predictable patterns. They can become obstructed, creating imbalances in biochemistry and problems with organ function. The goal of acupuncture is to unblock disturbances in the flow of qi, which allows the body to work optimally and heal itself.
A session of acupuncture therapy involves a trained practitioner placing very thin needles in a patient's skin at specific points along the meridians. In many cases, heat is also applied. The patient's symptoms and complaints determine which points are used in a session. After insertion of the needles, the patient lies still and relaxes for about half an hour before they're removed.
Perhaps the biggest concern that people have about trying acupuncture therapy is fear of pain. Because the needles are so small in diameter, this need not be an issue. Most people report feeling minimal pain, like a pinch, when they're inserted and nothing while they remain in place. There are also practitioners that use magnets or other techniques instead of needles.
Acupuncture therapy claims to be useful for treating a wide variety of conditions. These include physical as well as psychological or emotional issues. It can be used to encourage continued good health, relieve pain, prevent illness, or treat an existing illness. The World Health Organization has a list of conditions for which it recognizes the use of acupuncture therapy, including osteoarthritis, diarrhea, reproductive problems, asthma, neck pain, and facial tics, among others.
Many people in the United States are introduced to acupuncture when modern medicine can't give them the results they want. It's an increasingly common treatment for things such as cigarette smoking addiction and autism. It may also be used as way to try to avoid more invasive medical treatments.
The effectiveness of acupuncture has been debated heavily, but there is no consensus about whether it actually works or not. Practitioners claim that these methods have been used to successfully treat health conditions for centuries. Many of their patients say that they find relief with treatments.
Modern science remains skeptical, however. No scientific reason has been found to explain why acupuncture would work or to prove the physical existence of meridian points. Some studies have found acupuncture to be effective, but many Western doctors believe that it only works due to the placebo effect. Either way, research has not discovered any harmful or damaging effects of using acupuncture as long as the needles are sterile.