What Is Acupuncture?
An acupuncturist will insert needles into an individual's body with the intention of balancing their energy. This, it is claimed, can help boost wellbeing and may treat some ailments. Conditions it is used for include different kinds of pain, such as headaches, blood pressure issues, and whooping cough, among others.
How Does It Work?
Traditional Chinese medicine explains that health is the outcome of a harmonious balance of the complementary extremes of "yin" and "yang" of the life force referred to as "qi," pronounced "chi." Illness is claimed to be the outcome of an imbalance of the forces.
Qi is said to flow through meridians, or pathways, in the human body. These meridians and energy flows are accessible through 350 acupuncture points in the body.
Placing needles into these points with appropriate combinations is said to bring the energy flow back into proper balance.
There is no scientific evidence that the meridians of acupuncture points exist, and it is difficult to verify that they either do or do not, but many studies suggest that acupuncture works for some ailments.
Some experts have used neuroscience to explain acupuncture. Acupuncture points are seen as areas where nerves, muscles, and connective tissue can be stimulated. The stimulation increases blood circulation, while at the same time triggering the activity of the body's natural pain relievers.
It is difficult to set up investigations using proper scientific controls, due to the invasive nature of acupuncture. In a clinical study, a control group would need to undergo sham treatment, or a placebo, for results to be compared with those of genuine acupuncture.
Some studies have concluded that acupuncture provides similar benefits to a patient as a placebo, but others have suggested that there are some real benefits.
Research conducted in Germany has shown that acupuncture may help relieve tension headaches and migraines.
The NCCIH note that it has been proven to help in cases of:
- Low back pain
- Neck pain
- Knee pain
- Headache and migraine
They list more disorders that may benefit from acupuncture, but which require further scientific confirmation.
In 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed a number of disorders in which they say acupuncture has been shown effective.
- High and low blood pressure
- Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting
- Some gastric problems, including peptic ulcer
- Painful periods
- Allergic rhinitis
- Facial pain
- Morning sickness
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Tennis elbow
- Dental pain
- Lowering the risk of stroke
- Inducing labor
Other disorders for which the WHO claim that acupuncture may help but more evidence is required consist of:
- Postoperative convalescence
- Substance, tobacco and alcohol dependence
- Spine pain
- Stiff neck
- Vascular dementia
- Whooping cough, or pertussis
- Tourette syndrome
The WHO also suggests that it might help treat a variety of infections, including some urinary tract infections and epidemic hemorrhagic fever.
Acupuncture can be beneficial because:
- Done correctly, it is safe.
- There are very few side effects.
- It can be effectively combined with other treatments.
- It can manage some kinds of pain.
- It may help individuals for whom pain medications are not suitable.
What to Expect
According to traditional Chinese medical theory, acupuncture points are located on meridians, where vital energy runs. This energy is referred to as "qi" or "chi."
An acupuncturist will examine the patient and evaluate their condition, insert one or more thin, sterile needles, and also provide recommendations on self-care or other corresponding therapies, such as Chinese herbs.
The individual will be asked to lie down on their back, front, or one side, depending on where the needles are to be inserted. The acupuncturist should use single-use, disposable, sterile needles. As each needle is inserted, the patient might feel a very brief stinging or tingling sensation.
After the needle is inserted, there is sometimes a dull pain at the base of the needle that then subsides. Acupuncture is normally fairly painless.
In some cases the needles are heated or stimulated with electricity after insertion. The needles will stay in place for between 5 and 30 minutes. The amount of treatments required depend on the patient. A patient with a chronic condition may require one to two treatments a week over several months. An acute problem normally improves after 8 to 12 sessions.