Acupuncture is an ancient therapy which involves using fine needles placed at specific points to maintain health and treat disease. With more and more people now looking for safer alternatives to drugs or surgery, acupuncture is increasing in popularity.

Here we take a look at how acupuncture works and just how safe it really is.

How Does Acupuncture Work?

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Despite being thousands of years old, scientists are only just beginning to understand exactly how acupuncture works. There is still a lot to discover, but we do know that acupuncture has an effect on the central nervous system, changing the way that the brain experiences pain. It triggers the release of chemicals called endorphins which work in a similar way to opioid painkillers. They not only relieve pain, but also promote a sense of physical and mental well-being.

Acupuncture also reduces inflammation, one of the leading causes of pain and many other serious medical conditions. It improves local circulation, meaning that the body is able to heal itself much more quickly than it normally would. It relaxes the muscles to reduce tension and calms the mind to relieve stress and anxiety.

In addition, acupuncture appears to have a positive influence over many of the body's essential systems including digestion, immunity and reproduction.

Because acupuncture works gently with your body, not adding anything or taking anything away, it is generally considered very safe and can be used by people of all ages including pregnant women, children and the elderly.

Like all therapies, acupuncture does carry a small risk of adverse effects. These include light-headedness, fainting and minor bleeding or bruising at the needle site. However, these reactions are rare and compared with the risks of drugs or surgery, far less serious.


Acupuncture vs. Drugs

Drugs can be extremely useful, in some cases even life-saving. The problem is that drugs are regularly prescribed to treat the symptoms of a disease without doing anything to address the underlying cause. This means that although the drugs may work well while you are taking them, as soon as you stop, your symptoms can quickly return.

In addition to this, many drugs carry a high risk of side effects. These can range from mildly irritating to very serious, in some cases leading to death. One example is the opioid epidemic which has swept across the western world in recent years. These drugs are an effective painkiller, but over time your body builds up a tolerance to them and you need to take more and more to get the same relief. This can lead to addiction and in some cases, overdose. Even if you keep your dose of opioids in check, you are still likely to experience side effects such as nausea, vomiting and constipation.

Other drugs are less dangerous, but may still cause unpleasant side effects. In many cases, more drugs are prescribed to treat these side effects, until you eventually have enough pills to open your own pharmacy!

Not only can acupuncture reduce the need for many drugs, but it can also help you to deal with the side effects of those that you simply need to take. It is also safe for use during pregnancy, a time when you have to be really careful to limit your use of pharmaceuticals.

If you are taking prescribed medication, it is important that you do not stop suddenly, and you should speak with your physician before deciding to replace any drugs with acupuncture. They will be able to guide you in cutting down or stopping your medication safely.


Acupuncture vs. Surgery

Sometimes, surgery is necessary to save your life. However, surgeries such as knee or back surgeries are not always essential and some could be even be avoided by using therapies such as acupuncture.

Surgery carries many risks including the danger of being put under anesthetic, bruising, swelling, scarring, injury and infection. Following surgery, many people also suffer from pain, nausea and delayed healing.

Acupuncture is minimally invasive and carries a far lower risk of infection than surgery. All registered acupuncture practitioners in the USA use sterile, single use, disposable needles which significantly reduces the risk of cross-contamination. There is also less swelling and bruising after an acupuncture treatment, and little risk of permanent scarring.

If you do need life-saving surgery, acupuncture can also be used before and after the procedure to help speed up the healing process and reduce the risk of side effects. It reduces post-operative pain and minimizes the need for drugs such as opioids.


The Bottom Line

Acupuncture has been tried and tested over the course of many centuries, with millions of treatments being carried out every year. When performed by a qualified practitioner it is extremely safe, and can be used to treat a wide range of different symptoms.

However, if you have a chronic health condition, it is important that you talk to your physician before deciding to substitute drugs or surgery for acupuncture. That way you can be sure that you are getting all of the benefits of acupuncture without putting your health at risk.

With your physician's guidance, you may be able to cut down or stop your medication, or avoid the need for surgery with acupuncture. However, it is vital that you do this responsibly and safely to avoid further problems in the future.

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