Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about acupuncture

The benefits of acupuncture and how it can help you

Despite being used for thousands of years as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture treatment remains a source of mystery and controversy amongst the general population and medical community.

You may have never heard of the many wonders of acupuncture, or maybe you have questions about what it does and how it works. Whatever your questions or concerns may be, we’ve got the answers you’re looking for.

So, if you are curious about what acupuncture is, where it’s from, how it works, and what it’s known to treat, keep reading.

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine that has been used for over 3,000 years in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

The treatment involves inserting very fine needles in various parts of the body. These sterile needles are disposable, so they are only used once.

The points where the needles are inserted are determined based on the patient’s symptoms and medical history. These points are called acupuncture points, or more specifically, meridian points.

What does it do and how does it work?

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture is used as a technique to balance the flow of energy – also known as chi or qi – that is believed to flow through the pathways in your body.

By inserting acupuncture needles into specific points along these pathways, the goal is to re-balance your energy flow. The belief is that this will help boost the patient’s overall wellbeing and cure certain illnesses.

However, many Western practitioners believe that the reason acupuncture works is that placing the needles in acupuncture points stimulates the nerves, muscles, and connective tissue and boosts your body’s natural painkillers. As a result, this helps to treat and alleviate several different ailments and conditions.

Benefits of acupuncture

There are many known benefits of acupuncture. Here are some examples:

  • It can help eliminate the need for surgery or prescription drugs
  • It can help re-establish your body’s healthy equilibrium and functions
  • You receive personalized patient-centered care and treatment based on your unique symptoms
  • It can help alleviate pain, discomfort, and illnesses
  • It can help prevent many ailments from occurring in the first place
  • It can help ease stress and anxiety, leaving you feeling much more relaxed and centred

Conditions, diseases, and symptoms that acupuncture can treat

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and several research studies, acupuncture can help to either cure or relieve the following conditions:

  • Mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and insomnia
  • Neck, back, and knee pain
  • Headaches and migraines
  • High and low blood pressure
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Pregnancy-induced nausea
  • Sciatica
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Peptic ulcer
  • Tennis elbow
  • Dental pain

But that’s not it. WHO lists other conditions that can possibly be treated using acupuncture, but states there is not enough evidence to be 100% certain that it will work as a therapeutic treatment option for the following conditions:

  • Infertility
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Neuralgia
  • Post-operative convalescence
  • Alcohol, drug, and tobacco dependence
  • Spine pain
  • Stiff neck
  • Vascular dementia
  • Whooping cough
  • Tourette syndrome
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Hemorrhagic fever
  • Troubled skin

What to expect

Acupuncture uses hair-thin needles, and most people report feeling very minimal pain from the needles being inserted. However, you may feel slight pressure or minor ache or feel more energized or relaxed.

Depending on your acupuncturist’s recommendation, the needles may be heated or have a mild electric current applied to them.

How many treatments are needed?

The number of acupuncture treatments required is different for everyone and depends on your particular symptoms and what you are hoping to achieve.

Some people report feeling significant relief after just the first treatment.

For acute problems, usually eight to ten visits in total can do the trick, but again, this may defer depending on the individual and condition.

But for others with more complex or chronic conditions, one to two treatments every week for several months may be needed.

An individualized treatment plan and an estimation of the number of required treatments will be provided during your initial consultation.

How long has this treatment existed?

Acupuncture originated in ancient China over 3,000 years ago but has become increasingly recognized and adopted as a therapeutic treatment throughout Europe and North America in recent decades.

The philosophy behind it

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, a healthy human body is one that is properly balanced.

Pain and illness are seen as the result of an imbalance within the body’s system of energy, and it is believed that achieving this balance helps organs to function in harmony with one another and allows the energy within the body to flow properly.

Therefore, acupuncture works to address this imbalance that is causing pain and illness and restores harmony within the body.

Modern-day adaptations

Modern, Western acupuncture practice has changed significantly since it was first introduced in China thousands of years ago.

Today’s acupuncture treatments that are carried out in health care facilities are not based on the same principles established by ancient Chinese medicine.

Contemporary, western acupuncture maintains the Traditional Chinese Medicine approach, but has adjusted it slightly in accordance with modern scientific understanding and beliefs.

The acupuncture points are often determined in relation to the joints, muscles, nerves and ligaments, along with the patient’s diagnosis, symptoms, and medical history.

The treatment usually takes place after an official medical diagnosis has been made, and is often used in conjunction with other treatments such as:

  • Soft tissue therapy
  • Electrical stimulation
  • Joint mobilization or manipulation
  • Other rehabilitation therapies


In most Canadian provinces, acupuncture is regulated and can only be used by trained health care practitioners.

Standards for training are set by the regulatory bodies for each health profession, however, not all provinces have set standards.

In Ontario, acupuncture and TCM is regulated by the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario.

In order to become a registered TCM Practitioner and acupuncturist, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Complete a post-secondary program in TCM that is at least 4 years for a full Traditional Chinese Medicine program, and at least 3 years for traditional Chinese acupuncture
  • At least 45 weeks of clinical experience and 500 hours of direct patient contact
  • Successful completion of the TCM Jurisprudence Course and Safety Program and passing the Jurisprudence Course Test and the Safety Program test
  • Pass the Registration Examinations-Pan-Canadian Examinations

Considerations when choosing acupuncture

Despite the fact that acupuncture is often still considered a form of holistic, alternative medicine, it’s important to remember that it is still a regulated medical treatment. So, when contemplating undergoing acupuncture and searching for an acupuncturist, it’s important to consider the following factors:

  • Advice from your doctor regarding how acupuncture can help with your specific diagnosis
  • The credentials and experience of the acupuncture practitioner
  • Costs and insurance coverage
  • Training and licensing requirements for your particular province

It’s also important to remember that while acupuncture can be an effective treatment for many different ailments, it is not a cure-all for everything.

So, if you are thinking of trying acupuncture, talk to your doctor first to get their perspective. Your doctor knows your medical history and can look at your symptoms and overall health to help determine whether or not acupuncture can help you.

Shawn Willis, Registered Massage Therapist

Shawn has always been passionate about the function of the human body and how it moves. He completed his studies at Algonquin College in 2017, and obtained his massage therapy certification with the College of Massage Therapists of Ontario in 2019.

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