Acupuncture is a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) based on the use of combinations of acupuncture points which are found throughout the body. Most acupuncture points are arranged along pathways called meridians. Each point has a specific name and function.
Your acupuncturist will select a grouping of points for your treatment that will be beneficial for you, and these combinations may vary from treatment to treatment. Acupuncture needles are used to stimulate those points, in some cases electrical stimulation may be added. You may also receive cupping or gua sha in addition to needles, both are treatments that target muscles and connective tissue to improve circulation and relieve inflammation.
Acupuncture points treat very specific parts of the body
After your acupuncturist learns your health history and the details of the issue you are seeking treatment for, they must select a combination of complementary acupuncture points that are suitable for you. This grouping of specific points is chosen to treat not only the symptoms you experience, but also the root of the problem. You may also be shown certain acupoints that you can use at home with acupressure to extend your treatment. Acupuncture helps in the activation of your nervous system, causing different effects such as the stimulation of healing functions of your body.
For example, migraines have a wide variety of neurological symptoms and are commonly treated with acupuncture. Points that are commonly used in the treatment of migraines may be found all over the body. Treatment might include Gallbladder 20 (Fengchi) which is found on your neck, Pericardium 6 (Neiguan) which is found on your wrist, and Liver 3 (Taichong) which is found on your foot. Some of these points are chosen for specific symptoms, such as Pericardium 6 which is good for nausea and vomiting. Others are used to treat the root of the problem to decrease the severity and frequency of your migraines.
Other acupuncture treatments focus on aches and pains in specific areas of the body. The acupuncture points chosen for you often seem like they don't relate to your issue at all. For example, you may be coming in for neck pain, but your treatment involves needles down at your ankles. This is because of the meridian system of acupuncture, which ties different parts of your body together.
Meridians: tying everything together
If you think of your nervous system, you envision a network of nerves that originate in the brain and travel all through your body down to your fingertips and to the bottoms of your feet. These nerves carry signals from the brain to various parts of the body. Meridians are kind of like your nervous system. Energy moves through your body along certain pathways, the twelve Principle meridians, and the eight extraordinary channels. The twelve Principle meridians are:
- Lung meridian
- Heart meridian
- Pericardium meridian
- Large Intestine meridian
- Small Intestine meridian
- San Jiao meridian
- Spleen meridian
- Kidney meridian
- Liver meridian
- Stomach meridian
- Urinary Bladder meridian
- Gallbladder meridian
These meridians are all bi-laterial, they are found on each side of the body.
The eight extraordinary channels are:
- Ren Mai (the conception vessel)
- Du Mai (the governing vessel)
- Chong Mai
- Dai Mai
- Yin Wei Mai
- Yang Wei Mai
- Yin Qiao Mai
- Yang Qiao Mai
Meridians such as the Du Mai and the Ren Mai meridian are found along the midline and have their own specific acupuncture points. Others share points with the main meridians.
Some meridians are very specific in their use for treatment - the Chong Meridian is used frequently for gynecological issues. Others have acupuncture points ranging from the head to the feet, and are used in the treatment of a wide array of issues.
Your ears are surprisingly dense acupuncture point networks
Some parts of the body have a very high density of acupuncture points. A specialized form of acupuncture called auricular acupuncture focusing solely on the ear is an example of this. In this branch of acupuncture, the ear may be used exclusively in treatment, and contains over 100 acupoints. Points affecting all parts of the body can be found on the ear and all types of conditions can be treated because of this.
These ear points correspond with internal organs, systems, or body parts. Acupuncture points can stimulate body functions, affect the organs, and influence specific areas of the body. Auricular acupuncture can even be used for anesthesia purposes during medical procedures. One of the most commonly used points, Shenmen, is a very calming and relaxing point. It can be used for anxiety, stress, depression, sleep issues, as well as other issues. In many treatments it is combined with a variety of other points to create a balanced treatment.
Another common use of auricular acupuncture is within a protocol to help overcome drug and nicotine addictions and to detoxify the body. This program originated with The National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA). A combination of 5 auricular points are used, designated as Lung, Kidney, Liver, Shenmen, and Sympathetic. Our acupuncturist uses these points as part of smoking cessation treatments.
Common treatments with acupuncture
A wide variety of concerns can be treated with acupuncture. Acupuncture is a great way to contribute to your overall wellness.
Some common issues that are treated with acupuncture include:
- Stress and anxiety
- Immune system support
- Migraines and headaches
- Pain management - including lower back pain, neck and shoulder pain, arthritis and other chronic pain issues.
- Smoking cessation
- Digestive issues
- Asthma and allergies
- Women's health
Acupuncture treats a wide range of conditions - from neurological issues to pain relief. Often, additional forms of treatment may be used in addition to the needling of acupoints, such as cupping or gua sha. These treatments are excellent for improving blood flow to muscles or certain areas of the body.
One of the most common issues that people seek treatment for is stress and anxiety. With chronic stress, the nervous system may not be functioning optimally, instead experiencing constant activation of the sympathetic nerves. What this means is the fight-or-flight action of the nervous system is increased and with constant stress it is difficult for this system to return to normal levels. This leads to a number of different symptoms including, stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, high blood pressure, and more. Acupuncture can treat these symptoms to help relieve stress and anxiety and improve your quality of life, as well as calming your system overall to help counteract the fight-or-flight response. Acupuncture points are chosen specifically for each person, depending on their health history, but an example of some acupuncture points that might be used in a treatment like this could include Yintang, a point on the forehead, Pericardium 6 (Neiguan) on the wrist and Spleen 6 (Sanyinjiao) on the lower leg, all of which are very calming points.
Other commonly treated issues are those concerning women's health. Irregular or painful menstruation, infertility, peri-menopause and menopause, as well as treatment during pregnancy and labour, are all conditions that are suitable for treatment with acupuncture.
Acupuncture is often called an alternative medicine, but we prefer to call it complementary medicine - something that complements other treatments that you have been seeking within the healthcare system.
Acupuncture side effects
Acupuncture treatment generally has very few side effects which makes it an excellent addition to your wellness journey.
Generally, the most common side effect is bruising. On occasion, you may develop a bruise on the location of one of the acupuncture points that was used during your treatment. This is generally not serious, and will resolve in a couple of days.
Sometimes you may be a bit achy after an acupuncture treatment, especially if you are coming in for treatment of chronic or acute pain. You may want to apply a mild heat pack to the area for some pain relief.
If you have any concerns at all, please talk to your acupuncturist.
Acupuncture Point Faq
Your acupuncturist may show you specific points that you can apply acupressure to at home to extend your treatment or to relieve certain symptoms. You simply apply a light pressure to each acupuncture point for a minute or two, gently massaging the area. This can be done multiple times a day.
Patients often describe some points as feeling tingly or warm during treatment. Some people do not feel much sensation during treatment. Both situations are quite common, and the acupuncture is still working, even if you can’t feel it. Certain points are more sensitive than others and some people are more sensitive than others. If anything is uncomfortable during your treatment, please let your acupuncturist know so they can resolve the issue.
During pregnancy there are certain acupuncture points that should not be used as they may induce early labour. Your acupuncturist is trained to know which points are safe to use and they will ensure that your treatment is completely safe and effective.