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Involving the insertion of very thin needles through the skin at strategic points on the body, acupuncture is a key component of traditional Chinese medicine, although it is generally considered an alternative treatment in Western medicine.

In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is a technique for balancing the flow of energy or life force, known as chi (qi), which is believed to flow through meridians (pathways) in the body. The insertion of needles into specific points along these meridians serves to rebalance the patient's energy flow.

Western practitioners of acupuncture generally view acupuncture points as places where nerves, muscles, and connective tissue can be stimulated.

Although acupuncture is considered by some to be based on pseudoscience, it has become increasingly common in the West. There is no definitive research as to how acupuncture works, although it has been theorized that it might stimulate the release of endorphins, a natural pain-relieving chemical, or that it might influence the autonomic nervous system, impacting breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate. The health benefits of acupuncture may vary, and practitioners say that might take several sessions before a patient notices any benefits. Research into the health benefits of acupuncture is limited, however.

There is some evidence that the beneficial effects of acupuncture could be due to a placebo effect, as it seems to work best in people who expect it to work.

Acupuncture has been used in the treatment of a variety of conditions, including addiction, anxiety, arthritis, depression, fibromyalgia, headaches, infertility, insomnia, labor pain, long-term pain, menstrual cramps, migraines, nausea, neck pain, osteoarthritis, sinus congestion, stress, and tennis elbow.

Acupuncturists generally have a unique style, and many will blend Eastern and Western approaches to medicine. Sessions may take up to an hour, although they may be much shorter than that. Typically, a patient will be scheduled for one or two treatments a week for two to four weeks, depending on the severity and condition being treated.

The acupuncture points chosen will not necessarily be near the area of the pain. As the needles are very thin, the discomfort caused by the insertion is usually minimal, and many patients don't even feel the insertion. However, a mild aching may occur when the needle reaches the correct depth. One treatment may use from five to twenty needles. Once inserted, the acupuncturist might gently move or twirl the needles, or apply heat or mild electrical pulses to them. Needles are usually removed after ten or fifteen minutes, and the removal shouldn't cause any discomfort.

Although the benefits of acupuncture are debatable, and the mode of action is uncertain, the risks of acupuncture are low as long as the practitioner is competent and uses sterile needles. As single-use, disposable needles are standard practice, the risk of infection is low. Possible side effects include soreness and minor bleeding or bruising at the site of needle insertion.

In the United States, most states require non-physician acupuncturists to pass an examination conducted by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.





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