In recent years acupuncture has enjoyed a tremendous surge in popularity and acceptance. Just the other day, my mother called to tell me "Oprah's talking about acupuncture on her show today!" Despite Oprah's coverage, the questions I hear over and over again about acupuncture tell me that what I do for a living is still not well-understood by everyone. When I was asked to write an article for a local newspaper about acupuncture, I decided that busting common myths about acupuncture would be a good place to start.
Myth #1: Acupuncture needles hurt!
Compared with the needles used to take blood or deliver medicine, acupuncture needles are many times thinner, solid rather than hollow, flexible rather than rigid and rounded at the tip. An acupuncture needle is inserted quickly through the skin's surface until you feel tingling, warmth or pressure in the area of the needle. After a few minutes, these sensations fade away and you are left feeling sleepy and deeply relaxed.
Myth #2: Acupuncture only works if you believe in it.
While keeping a positive attitude will probably help you get well, how and why acupuncture works is not so simple. According to the National Institutes for Health (NIH), studies have shown that acupuncture seems to affect the body's immune reactions, blood pressure regulation, blood flow and temperature, and may aid the activity of endorphins (the body's own painkilling chemicals) and immune cells "at specific sites in the body". While most clinical studies on acupuncture do note that even "sham acupuncture" (in which an needle is not inserted or not inserted into a non-acupuncture point) seems to have a small therapeutic effect on the body, study participants who receive "real" acupuncture treatment consistently do better than those in the control group or those receiving conventional treatment.
Myth #3: Acupuncture is only good for treating pain.
It is true that pain responds very well to acupuncture. Low back pain, sciatica, neck pain, shoulder pain, tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia, headaches and other kinds of pain may all be treated successfully with acupuncture. But because the aim of acupuncture is to bring balance and harmony to the whole person, it can also be an excellent treatment for insomnia, fatigue, digestive problems, menopause, menstrual disorders, infertility, MS, Lupus, and a supportive treatment for patients with cancer, Hepatitis or HIV.
Myth #4: Acupuncturists aren't licensed medical professionals.
This may have been true 35 years ago when acupuncture first became available in the U.S., but today acupuncture is a licensed, regulated profession. A Google search of "acupuncture in hospitals" reveals acupuncturists on staff at a number of hospitals across the country. To be licensed in most states, acupuncturists must complete a 3 to 4-year graduate program in acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and pass a series of national certification exams. Like other professionals, to maintain our licensure, we must add to our knowledge with continuing education, maintain national board certification and adhere to a strict code of medical ethics.
Myth #5: My insurance won't cover acupuncture, so I can't afford to try it.
Don't be so sure about that! Where I practice, there has been a sudden increase in coverage for acupuncture treatment and there is currently a bill in congress (HR646) that would allow acupuncture to be covered by Medicare. Many acupuncturists offer discounts for seniors, students or for multiple treatments purchased at once. Community Acupuncture, a traditional style of acupuncture treatment that allows patients to receive simple treatments alongside other patients (fully clothed, of course) at a very low cost, $ 15-$ 40 per visit.
Christina Wolf is a Licensed Acupuncturist in Peterborough, New Hampshire who specializes in providing individualized treatment programs for pain, infertility and women's health issues. To learn more about acupuncture or her practice, visit her website at http://www.nhacupuncture.com.