Acupuncture, as I practice it in Montclair, NJ, is a physical treatment on the same spectrum as therapeutic massage, physical therapy, and chiropractic. Although often the main tool is a very thin sterile needle, an acupuncturist also employs cupping (like Michael Phelps in the Olympics), or warming techniques such as moxibustion (warming an herb on the acupuncture point), and mild electric stimulation similar to TENS used my physical therapists.
The feeling and process of acupuncture is very relaxing. Most patients get extremely relaxed and some fall asleep. It’s common for a patient to be a little anxious for the first treatment because it is new and needles are involved. The needles are inserted with a little plastic tube that gives a stimulus that distracts from any unpleasantness. After the first treatment any nervousness is usually replaced by looking forward to symptom relief and the stress-relieving relaxation of the treatments. In other words, many patients look forward to the treatments and use them help stress as well as pain.
Acupuncture is part of the broader field of traditional East Asian medicine with historical roots in China, Korea, and Japan, as well as other parts of Asia. Some practitioners also treat with very sophisticated herbal formulas. TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) herbalism is very complex. It is not like taking some over the counter Echinacea and Vitamin C for a cold. Various factors such as constitution, warmth or coldness of symptoms and emotional factors go into putting together a formula consisting of one but often 8 or even 16 different herbs. I will refer some of my acupuncture patients to herbalists.
An acupuncturist also might suggest traditional exercises related to Tai Chi or Qi Gong or meditation according to Five Element ideas. Nutritional recommendations according to traditional ideas are also part of the overall treatment.
So acupuncture is really about much more than "acus" (the Greek word for needles)"puncturing". It’s a kind of physical treatment that ends up helping not only physical symptoms but also stess-related feelings.