Acupuncture is based upon ancient Chinese theories about the flow of energy through channels that traverse the body from the top of the head to the tips of the toes. There are twelve main channels that each relate to a different organ of the body and over a thousand known acupuncture points. Inserting fine needles into certain points along these channels can help with more superficial problems along the pathway of the channel (like musculoskeletal issues) as well as systemic issues that relate to a particular organ and its systemic functions (like digestion). Often we will find clear correspondences between symptoms of disharmony in an organ system and pain or skin changes along that organ’s associated channel.
Basically, acupuncture works with your body’s energy to boost its ability to heal itself. For example, an injury or a habitual posture can interrupt the flow of energy through an area of the body and cause pain or stiffness. Acupuncture helps move that stuck energy, thereby reducing the pain and increasing blood circulation to the area, while redistributing the energy that was “stuck” to wherever the body needs it most. Other ailments, like nausea or acid reflux, are related to energy moving in the wrong direction, usually due to stress that puts too much pressure on the system and causes some degree of disorder in its workings. Emotional or psychological patterns can also be considered in this basic way, as stuck or disordered energy related to injury, habit, or stress.
Chinese medicine and diagnosis has got a lot more to it than what I described above–but you can see how far reaching even those simple ideas can be and get an idea of what can be treated. Pain and nausea are perhaps the most well known since that is where there have been the most scientific studies, but poor digestion, gas and bloating, GERD, constipation, painful periods, migraines, sinusitis, insomnia, anxiety, and depression are all issues that can be improved with acupuncture. (here is a list from the World Health Organization of Diseases, symptoms or conditions for which acupuncture has been proved-through controlled trials-to be an effective treatment)
The needles used are quite small and flexible–you could fit a whole bunch of them inside a hypodermic needle, so i hope you can imagine that it feels much less uncomfortable than having your blood taken or getting a shot! Sometimes you won’t feel it at all and other times you might feel a quick twinge that settles into a heavy sensation around the point. The number of needles will vary from person to person and treatment to treatment, but it will usually be between 4 and 10. The experience of a session is also quite variable, depending on what you are having treated and how sensitive you are. In general, though, most treatments encourage a state of relaxed alertness and brighten the vision. With pain, you will often notice improvement after one treatment.
As far as how often you might need to come–this varies from case to case. In general, more acute conditions will improve with fewer treatments spaced more close together and chronic conditions may need more—perhaps eight sessions—to get clear, enduring improvement.