While it is not traditionally a part of western medicine, nowadays your doctor is quite likely to send you for this treatment if you are suffering from back or neck pain either persistantly or due to accident or injury.
If you are going to have this therapy you may want to know a little about how it works. The general belief is that the body has 20 energy flow patterns called meridians or pathways. Through these pathways it is thought that the life force or vital energy flows, this is known as the qi (it is pronounced chee) and is considered to be essential to maintain good health. There are over 2,000 points on our bodies that connect with these pathways and it is at these points which the hair-thin needles are inserted, this is done in varying specific combinations depending on the treatment required. These actions are believed to either correct the flow of qi or to reinforce it.
Even though it cannot be proven that this works as a type of pain relief, it is thought that as a result the central nervous system is stimulated. Most patients say that they get a pins and needles sensation on the insertion of the needles and indeed into the duration of the treatment, which usually lasts about 15 to 30 minutes. Some people report that they feel energised or even very relaxed so it appears as if the effect can be is somewhat different depending on the individual.
The acupuncturist will use up to 20 metallic needles during a treatment session and the depth they are inserted is dependent upon the area, deeper muscular or fatty areas need more penetration and the scalp for example would be just below the surface. The practitioner may turn the needles one way or another depending on what they are trying to achieve, in my personal experience they were turned on insertion, then again about half way through the treatment. At no point is the treatment painful, there is a mere sensation of the needles going in and they do not feel sharp at all, this is because unlike needles used for injections, an acupuncture needle's tip come to a smooth point without sharp edges. They are also very thin, about 20 times thinner than a hypodermic needle. In my experience the most troublesome part of the treatment is lying in the same position without moving for up to 30 minutes, especially if you suffer from back pain or similar.
Although there are many medical experts who believe acupuncture is an effective way to treat certain conditions such as back pain, there is no true consensus. Some adhere to the theories of qi and meridians whilst others attribute acupunctures benefits to the biological changes that are brought about in the body as a result of treatment. Needless to say there will always be the sceptics who deny that acupuncture has any effect at all, but in my opinion if you are suffering from ongoing back pain it is certainly worth trying.