When you hear the word acupuncture, what's the first thought that comes to mind?
If the answer was "needles," you're not alone. Anecdotally speaking, it's pretty common for people to associate the traditional Chinese treatment with the supposedly scary, pointy, painful instrument used to perform the practice. In fact, I was one of them.
But needle-phobic or not, the fact is that more and more modern-day research has been linking this ancient practice to some serious health benefits. Proponents of acupuncture say it can relieve symptoms from a variety of conditions, including headaches, lower back pain, osteoarthritis and insomnia.
And the practice is continuing to gain momentum in the world of mainstream medicine, particularly as a secondary treatment to conventional medicine. According to Good Housekeeping,"Recent research from Germany has been positive, showing that adding acupuncture to standard medical treatment helps people with a wide variety of ailments." From menstrual cramps and runny noses to migraine headaches and asthma, acupuncture better healed the patients who were treated with regular care and acupuncture more so than those treated with regular care alone.
The exact mechanism behind the healing power of acupuncture isn't quite understood, though researchers have put forth several theories, including the idea that endorphins, the so-called "feel good" hormones are at work, that acupuncture works on the body's stress response system, or that some complicated placebo effect is at work, The Atlantic reported last year (for more theories on how acupuncture may work, click over to their story).
"We know it works, we just don't know why," Dr. Leena Mathew, an attending physician in Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center told the publication. "It's very hard to translate into Western language."
So while the jury is still out as to exactly how acupuncture works, I was intrigued. And when I had the opportunity to try a session with with Christina Moores, M.S., L.Ac., a licensed acupuncturist in Long Island, I decided to go for it.
Moores and I started the session by discussing my medical past and family history, and decided together to try acupuncture on the front of my body. As for those dreaded needles? The truth is that, for the most part, they didn't hurt. A few times I felt some tenderness, which Moore said was either the contraction of muscles or a nerve being hit. It took about eight minutes to put all the needles in, and then I sat under a heat lamp for about 20 minutes -- at one point, it was so relaxing that I even fell asleep.
While this was just my first appointment, I left feeling rested, comfortable and definitely wanting to try it again.
Interested in giving it a go yourself? After my first experience, I spoke to Moores and HuffPost's wellness editor, Dr. Patricia Fitzgerald, for their advice on what you need to know for your first acupuncture appointment. Tried it already? Share what you wish you had known ahead of time in the comments below.