You’ve tried everything for that nagging back pain or those unrelenting headaches: pills, creams, special diets, physical therapy, routine exercise, supplements and daily prayer, but nothing seems to be working. You feel frustrated and maybe a bit desperate. You’ve lost all faith in conventional medicine. What next? Well, have you tried acupuncture? This centuries-old practice uses heat, pressure or the penetration of thin metal needles to stimulate specific points of the body, called acupoints, to help relieve symptoms of a wide range of diseases and medical conditions. While scientific evidence of the efficacy of acupuncture tends to be hit or miss, the anecdotal evidence seems to keep pouring in. Here’s what you should know if you plan on trying it on yourself or your children.

How acupuncture works

In the United States, one acupuncture session can last anywhere from 10 to 60 minutes. A practitioner may use a variety of techniques, but the most common is needling. The needles are usually made of stainless steel and are thin and flexible, and range in size from 13mm to 130 mm, with shorter needles used around the eyes and face and longer needles used in more fleshy parts of the body. Sometimes, guide tubes are used to keep the needles in place. Acupuncture can be painful for some people, but skilled practitioners can often administer treatment with little or no pain.

The purpose of all of this poking and prodding is to remove blockages in qi, the body’s flow of energy. In traditional Chinese medicine, disease is believed to be caused by an imbalance of the yin and yang and the interaction between the human body and the environment. The insertion of the needles (or the application of heat or pressure) is believed to restore balance to the body by removing blockages to the flow of qi.

Physical ailments that can be treated with acupuncture

Acupuncture has been used to treat a wide range of physical health problems, including migraines, fibromyalgia, menstrual and menopausal symptoms, arthritis pain, post-operative pain and even cancer pain. This ancient practice has also been used to help fertility treatments. The span of treatments for expectant mothers occur before, during, and after pregnancy, and are used to help with in vitro fertilization, nausea and vomiting, and general pain. When used to treat pain in pregnant women, however, experts advise against the insertion of needles into the abdominal area.

Mental and emotional ailments that can be treated with acupuncture

Whether or not you’ve studied traditional Chinese medicine, we can probably all agree that stress takes a big toll on our health. For this reason, a variety of acupuncture treatments have been developed to treat stress-related problems like insomnia, tension, anxiety and memory issues. There are also treatments for schizophrenia, drug and alcohol dependence and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

If you are considering acupuncture treatment for your child’s ADHD, it is imperative to do your research first. Limited research suggests that acupuncture is safe for children when it is administered by well-trained practitioners that are using sterile needles. Be sure to confirm that a practitioner has been trained and has experience working with children before making an appointment. A study conducted in 2011 found that out of 1,422 pediatric patients, 168 incidences of bruising or bleeding occurred. The same study found that, on rare occasions, more serious problems occurred, such as cardiac rupture. As with any medical treatment, there is always some risk, so get to know the acupuncture practitioners in your area. Do some Googling, ask around and don’t hesitate to ask questions.

If conventional medicine isn’t working for you, acupuncture might just be an answer to your prayers. Before you know it, you could be on the road to healing.

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