/ by Colleen Corcoran, LAc, and Connie Jennings, MD
Despite the fact that acupuncture is one of the oldest and most widely used medical practices in the world, many misconceptions still surround the technique.
In honor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Day, let's differentiate fact from fiction.
Myth: The needles for acupuncture are the same size as needles for shots and other medical procedures.
Fact: The average acupuncture needle is as thick as a human hair, ranging anywhere from .13mm to .25mm in diameter. They are single-use surgical grade stainless steel filiform needles that are sealed in a sterile pack before use.
People often confuse the tiny, solid filiform needles used for acupuncture with the hollow and thicker hypodermic needles used for other medical procedures, which usually range from .45mm to 1.1mm diameter.
The very fine needles or filaments are inserted into the skin at key points and in specific combinations. This has been shown to improve the physiological functioning of the body through several bio-chemical and nervous system responses.
Myth: Acupuncture needles aren't sanitary.
Fact: Qualified acupuncture providers are required to utilize Clean Needle Technique (CNT) and must pass this exam to demonstrate appropriate sterile and clean field techniques before becoming licensed or able to practice.
Patients' health and safety is of optimal concern in acupuncture, just like any medical procedure.
Myth: Any benefit from acupuncture is just the placebo effect.
Fact: Modern medical research is now able to map the neural reactions taking place with acupuncture via fMRI technology and sophisticated lab test advances, showing that inflammatory markers decrease and that the body's own endogenous opioid system works more effectively.
Even as the modern medical evidence-based world is better able to pin down why and how acupuncture works, the beauty of acupuncture persists timelessly in its simplicity to restore the body's innate balance. Pain, inflammation, digestive disorders and mental health issues are often our bodies' way of telling us something is out of balance. Acupuncture helps bring balance back and restore the patient's own circuit flow of health.
But don't just listen to us. Listen to our patients.
One of my favorite stories from a patient recently is this: While walking back to the treatment room from the lobby, the patient stopped in her tracks, looked at me and said, "You realize you're saving my life, don't you?" She went on to tell me that acupuncture was helping her stop smoking and lowering her blood pressure, in addition to alleviating the shoulder pain she came in with.
Another favorite patient success story was working with a young man who was suffering from chronic postherpetic pain, the neuralgia often suffered after shingles. His neuropathic pain had become so bad he had stopped working and was steadily becoming a recluse at an early age. Together, we were able to improve his quality of life and diminish his pain enough over time that he was able to return to teaching music and doing the regular things we all take for granted, like going out for dinner with friends. When I asked him how he was feeling at his last appointment, he said he was hopeful and forgot to even bring up his pain. There's no better outcome than that.