If the thought of sticking needles into your face in the name of good health sounds pretty strange, stay with us. The traditional Chinese medicine practice of acupuncture has some science-backed benefits and plenty of people (athletes and mere mortals alike) swear by it for treating a range of ailments.
We spoke to Doctor Greg Dunn of Australian Acupuncture Clinics to find out everything you need to know about acupuncture.
What is acupuncture and how does it work?
Used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is based on the concept of Qi (pronounced chee), which is the energy that connects all the cells in the human body.
Our bodies are filled with meridians (channels) which are a collection of acupuncture points that provide the sites for transporting bloody, fluids and Qi.
According to Dunn, the aim of acupuncture is to create physical, emotional and mental harmony, by balancing Qi in different meridians of the body. This is done by gently inserting small (disposable) needles into specific parts of the body, to increase or reduce Qi flowing in that channel.
What is it used to treat?
From indigestion to fertility, acupuncture can be used to treat a wide range of health concerns thanks to its ability to regulate the body’s healing systems. Acupuncture is officially recommended to treat over 100 conditions, according to the World Health Organisation.
“For example, there is a point on the stomach meridian which is used to help our immune system, energy and digestion, so we needle this point in patients that require help in those areas," Dunn told Women's Health.
Are there any risks involved?
Dunn says there are some risks associated with acupuncture, as with almost all other natural medicine.
“Acupuncture is invasive as the needles puncture the skin,” he says. However, acupuncturists are trained at length to ensure safe and sterile needling techniques.
There can be minor side effects, such as redness and bruising, but these are uncommon.
When will results start to appear?
"Usually you’ll feel very relaxed and calm immediately after your treatment, and notice results within 3-4 sessions," Dunn says.
More sessions can be required for stronger or chronic health concerns.
What to expect from your first session?
If needles freak you out, don’t despair. “Many people are scared of the needles because they believe it will hurt…this is not the case, the most you should feel is a tiny pinch”.
After the first few sessions, you might notice improved sleep, and more energy as a result.
“Overall you may also feel more calm and grounded as you go about your daily routine,” Dunn says.
How can you choose the right acupuncturist?
To ensure you’re seeing a real acupuncturist, Dunn says you’ll need to check they are a registered acupuncturist with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).
Beware if someone is advertising muscle, skin or ‘dry’ needling, as this is definitely not acupuncture.
Dunn recommends visiting a registered acupuncturist who has a qualification in Chinese medicine or acupuncture, to ensure the best and safest experience.