What Is Acupuncture?
An acupuncturist will insert needles into an individual's body with the aim of balancing their energy.
This, it is claimed, can help boost wellbeing and might 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 result of a harmonious balance of the complementary extremes of "yin" and "yang" of the life force known as "qi," pronounced "chi." Illness is claimed to be the consequence of an imbalance of the forces.
Qi is claimed to flow via 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 correct balance.
There is no scientific evidence that the meridians of acupuncture points exist, and it is hard to verify that they either do or do not, but various studies suggest that acupuncture works for some disorders.
Some experts have used neuroscience to explain acupuncture. Acupuncture points are viewed as places 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 develop investigations using proper scientific controls, because of the invasive nature of acupuncture. In a clinical study, a control group would have to undergo sham treatment, or a placebo, for results to be compared to those of legitimate acupuncture.
Some studies have concluded that acupuncture offers similar benefits to a patient as a placebo, but others have suggested that there are some real benefits.
Research carried out in Germany has shown that acupuncture might 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 additional conditions that may benefit from acupuncture, but which need additional scientific confirmation.
In 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed a number of conditions in which they claim 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 conditions for which the WHO claim that acupuncture may help but more evidence is required include:
- postoperative convalescence
- substance, tobacco and alcohol dependence
- spine pain
- stiff neck
- vascular dementia
- whooping cough, or pertussis
- Tourette syndrome
The WHO also says that it may help treat a number of infections, including some urinary tract infections and epidemic hemorrhagic fever.
Acupuncture can be beneficial because:
- Performed correctly, it is safe.
- There are very few side effects.
- It can be effectively incorporated with other treatments.
- It can manage some types of pain.
- It may help patients for whom pain medications are not suitable.
What to Expect
According to traditional Chinese medical theory, acupuncture points are located on meridians, through which vital energy runs. This energy is referred to as "qi" or "chi.".
An acupuncturist will examine the patient and assess their condition, insert one or more thin, sterile needles, and also offer 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 placed. The acupuncturist should use single-use, disposable, sterile needles. As each needle is inserted, the individual might experience 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 usually fairly painless. In some cases the needles are heated or stimulated with electricity after insertion. The needles will remain in place for between 5 and 30 minutes.
The amount of treatments required depend on the individual. A patient with a chronic condition might need one to two treatments a week over several months. An acute problem usually improves after 8 to 12 sessions.