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Updated on Jan 24, 2019. Posted on May 6, 2018

Here's Absolutely Everything You Need To Know About Acupuncture

And here's what it actually feels like when the needles go in.

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Many of us have heard of acupuncture, but not everyone has actually tried it.

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If you haven't actually heard of it, acupuncture is a type of traditional Chinese medicine that involves inserting sterile needles into various places on the body that are known as "acupuncture points” to stimulate self-healing. It's generally painless (more on that below), and is said to be effective for alleviating pain.

People get acupuncture for a ton of other reasons too, including stress, anxiety, fertility, digestive issues, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

To get a better sense of the practice, we interviewed three acupuncturists and asked them our most burning questions.

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We spoke with Ania Grimone, acupuncturist at Northwestern's Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, Leah Chischilly, acupuncturist at Modern Acupuncture, and Gregory Lane, acupuncturist and Director of Clinical Services for Pacific College of Oriental Medicine San Diego.

Here's everything we asked and found out:

1. How does acupuncture actually "work" in alleviating pain?

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Acupuncture works by inserting micro-fine needles into specific points along pathways on your body. These pathways are called "meridians" by acupuncturists. When the needles go in, they stimulate blood flow, cause vessels to dilate, and generally "get things moving," says Chischilly. "Everything (your oxygen and nutrients, among other essentials) you need is in your blood, so if there are any obstructions in your blood, you have a problem. Acupuncture helps fix that."

2. Wait, but how do you choose where to put needles in?

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So, first of all, all acupuncturists need a license to practice and need to pass other exams (like ones on biomedicine, Chinese herbology, acupuncture with point location) depending on which state they're practicing in. It's during this schooling that practitioners learn where the body is most reactive, and the relationship between acu-points and their associated organs, body tissues, and muscles. Suffice to say, every point an acupuncturist chooses to insert a needle is very deliberate and purposeful. Though obviously, using a licensed practitioner is important; they need to use sterile equipment and know how to insert needles in places without damaging the body.

3. And speaking of needles, does it hurt when they go in?

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Acupuncture is typically painless, though there might be slight pressure at the site of the needle insertion, says Lane. Others might also feel a little prick, and maybe a little numbness or tingling sensation in the area, but that's basically it. Most patients find the whole process so soothing they end up taking quick naps during their session. "The rest time is a big part of the process," says Chischilly.

4. In that case, can you walk me through what might happen at my first appointment?

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The first thing an acupuncturist might do is an assessment that can include listening to the sound of your voice and checking your skin, nails, tongue, and pulse. They'll also observe your "overall demeanor." Finally, they'll examine points on your body including the abdomen, back, arms, and legs. When they're done, they'll put all observations together with your health history to create a treatment plan. Think of it as an extra detailed physical!

5. What is acupuncture the most effective for?

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For the most part, people seek out acupuncture for pain relief. It’s not known exactly why it helps but it’s thought that it might release endorphins (which work kind of like pain killers), or bring blood to a certain area.

6. So, why don't people believe that acupuncture really works?

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While many people think that acupuncture is no more than a placebo, the practice has been studied. It's difficult to design double-blind placebo-based studies but researchers have compared real acupuncture to sham procedures and found that it does seem to work for some conditions.

Here's one study on the efficacy of acupuncture on chronic pain. And another on acupuncture for the prevention of migraines.

7. Damn, so now I'm kind of interested. What should I look for if I want to find a good acupuncturist?

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Be on the lookout for a few things:

1. They should be licensed in the state in which they are practicing. All states have acupuncture regulations and a list of state requirements that can be found at the National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine site.

2. They should be knowledgable in the area in which you're seeking help. So, if you need help with headaches, you should look for an acupuncturist who has specific experience in helping patients with that ailment.

3. If possible, you should ask them if they're willing to speak with your doctor. Obviously, some clinics are not set up to work that way and prioritize convenience and ease over maintaining personalized acupuncturist-patient relationships, but if it's an option to you, you should look for someone who's willing to share what they're doing. "If a doctor is not willing to share what they're working on with you, that may point to a lack of transparency," says Grimone. "you want your acupuncturist to be part of your health care team, so it's important that they're willing to communicate with your primary doctor."

Always consult with your doctor about your personal health and wellness. BuzzFeed posts are for informational purposes only and are no substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment, or professional medical advice.

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