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We've come a long way since 1971. That was the year when New York Times reporter James Reston, accompanying Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on a trip to China, described how Chinese doctors used acupuncture to ease his pain after an emergency appendectomy.
Once thought of as esoteric and somewhat mysterious, acupuncture has become increasingly accepted in the United States. The majority of visits to acupuncturists are for pain and musculoskeletal problems, with back pain leading the list. And the research indicates that acupuncture is effective for musculoskeletal conditions -- in a recent meta-analysis of 33 studies, acupuncture proved effective for chronic low back pain.
If you decide to pursue acupuncture, what can you expect?
An acupuncture visit usually begins with an extensive interview, with questions about your specific symptoms as well as your lifestyle in general. The acupuncturist usually will examine your tongue and take your pulse as well.
The hair-thin, stainless steel acupuncture needles vary in length. The FDA requires that sterile, nontoxic needles be used and that qualified practitioners label them for single use. The acupuncturist should swab the treatment sites with alcohol or another disinfectant before the needles are inserted. On average, from 3-15 needles will be used during an acupuncture session. As the acupuncture needles are inserted, you might feel pressure, a slight pinch, or even a tingling sensation -- or nothing at all.
Once the needles are in place, you usually will be asked to remain still. During that time, some people feel pleasantly relaxed; others report experiencing sensations at different sites in the body. Because the acupuncture needles are so fine, they often leave no trace; if they do leave a mark, it may look as though your skin was lightly touched with a red ink pen. Side effects from the needling treatment are uncommon, although contact dermatitis (a skin reaction to the stainless steel needles) has been reported.
Acupuncturists also treat pain by combining needling with massage or heat therapy. Like the needles themselves, these therapies also stimulate the acupuncture points in the body. Physician acupuncturists also may combine the needle treatments with standard medical therapy.
Reprinted from the John Hopkins Health Alerts website
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