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Acupuncture is a branch of traditional Chinese medicine which originated around 3,000 years ago. It gradually made its way out of China and across Asia, eventually reaching the rest of the world in the last century. In recent years acupuncture has rapidly increased in popularity. More research is being carried out all the time, and we are now beginning to scientifically understand how this ancient system of medicine works and its far-reaching benefits. Acupuncture aims to both maintain health and treat disease. It is carried out by placing fine needles at specific points on the body called acupuncture points. These needles are as thin as a hair, sterile and disposed of after a single use. Once the needles are in place people experience a range of different sensations. These vary between a warm, tingling sensation and a light, dull ache. Most people find it an extremely relaxing experience.


Silver acupuncture needles on black wood

Acupuncture is a holistic therapy, meaning that it aims to treat the body as a whole rather than focusing on individual symptoms. It seeks to identify and treat the underlying cause of a disease. Imagine your body as a tree. When it gets sick, the first place that you see symptoms is usually the leaves. But you cannot fix it by treating the leaves alone. You also have to pay attention to the roots. Once you start treating the roots, the whole tree becomes better. This is the core philosophy behind acupuncture.

Acupuncture also places great importance on the connection between the body and the mind. One of the major ideas behind it is that any emotional disturbance can result in physical illness and vice versa. By balancing both the body and the mind, it aims to keep all of your body's systems working in harmony. It can be used as a preventative medicine, to stay healthy and prevent disease as well as treating a wide range of different conditions.


Acupuncture needle in a woman's hand

Acupuncture is completely natural and does not involve any drugs or medication. It works by stimulating the body to heal itself, using its own resources. It is still not fully scientifically understood exactly how acupuncture is so effective, but it is known to influence the body and the brain in a number of different ways. When the needles are inserted into the skin, the nervous system registers this as a micro-injury. This triggers the brain to release chemicals called endorphins. Although these are produced naturally by the body, they work in a similar way to opiate medication. They have the effect of relieving pain and produce a feeling of calm and well-being.

This micro-injury also acts as a diversion for the brain, distracting it from pain signals elsewhere in the body. Think about when you bang your elbow or stub your toe. Your automatic reaction is to rub it. Without knowing it, you are changing the way in which your nervous system processes the pain signal. Acupuncture works in a similar way. However, in an acupuncture treatment, multiple points are stimulated in different areas of the body at the same time. This means that different parts of the nervous system are affected and acupuncture works on a much deeper level.

Acupuncture points have also been found to be in areas with a high concentration of blood vessels. It improves the circulation, increasing the rate at which oxygen is supplied to the muscles and organs and speeding up the excretion of toxins. It reduces inflammation, regulates hormone levels and benefits the immune and digestive systems. It also relaxes the muscles, relieving stiffness and discomfort.


Close-up of hands giving a lower back massage

Acupuncture has been tried and tested over the course of many years and is known to be both safe and effective. It can be used by people of all ages including young children and pregnant women. Side effects are rare but can include feeling tired, dizzy or light-headed, or minor bruising. However, most people feel revitalized and rejuvenated following an acupuncture treatment. Some of the conditions commonly treated by acupuncture include:

  • Back pain

  • Knee pain

  • Neck and shoulder pain

  • Other chronic pain conditions

  • Anxiety and/or depression

  • Stress management

  • Headaches and migraines

  • Neurological disorders

  • Allergies

  • Gynecological conditions (endometriosis, fibroids, painful periods, yeast infection, UTI, etc.)

  • Male and female fertility support

  • Morning sickness

  • Insomnia

  • Arthritis

  • Sciatica

  • Addictions

  • Digestive issues

As well as relieving pain and improving many physical symptoms, acupuncture also benefits mental health. It regulates the levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin and improves the symptoms of depression and anxiety. It also affects the wavelengths at which the brain functions in a similar way to deep meditation. This helps to reduce stress and improve sleep. Stress in itself is a contributing factor to many illnesses and by relieving it, the body is given a chance to recover and to heal itself. Acupuncture provides this opportunity along with a whole host of other benefits for both the body and the mind.

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