What Is Acupuncture?
An acupuncturist will place needles into an individual's body with the goal of balancing their energy. This, it is claimed, can help improve wellbeing and may treat some ailments. Conditions it is used for include various kinds of pain, such as headaches, blood pressure problems, 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 claimed to move via meridians, or pathways, in the human body. These meridians and energy flows are accessible via 350 acupuncture points in the body.
Inserting 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 various 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 flow, while at the same time triggering the activity of the body's natural painkillers.
It is tough to develop investigations using proper scientific controls, because of the intrusive nature of acupuncture. In a clinical study, a control group would need to receive sham treatment, or a placebo, for results to be compared with 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 performed 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 additional disorders that may benefit from acupuncture, but which need additional scientific confirmation.
In 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) noted a number of ailments in which they say acupuncture has been proven effective.
These consist of:
- High and low blood pressure
- Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting
- Some gastric conditions, including peptic ulcer
- Painful periods
- Allergic rhinitis
- Facial pain
- Morning sickness
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Tennis elbow
- Dental pain
- Reducing the risk of stroke
- Inducing labor
Other conditions for which the WHO claim that acupuncture might help but more evidence is needed 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 variety of infections, including some urinary tract infections and epidemic hemorrhagic fever.
Acupuncture can be beneficial in that:
- Performed correctly, it is safe
- There are very few side effects
- It can be effectively combined with other treatments
- It can control some kinds of pain
- It might help patients for whom pain medications are not well-suited
What to Expect
According to traditional Chinese medical theory, acupuncture points are located on meridians, through which vital energy runs. This energy is known as "qi" or "chi."
- An acupuncturist will analyze the patient and evaluate their condition, insert one or more thin, sterile needles, and 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 patient may feel a very brief stinging or tingling sensation.
- After the needle is inserted, there is occasionally a dull ache at the base of the needle that then subsides. Acupuncture is usually fairly painless.
- Sometimes 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 individual. A person 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.