Health Benefits of Acupuncture
Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture have been used for thousands of years to treat a wide range of physical and mental health conditions in the Far East.
In more recent years, acupuncture has become a popular form of therapy across the globe and has been accepted by healthcare bodies in the Western world as an effective treatment for pain relief.
Here we look at acupuncture, how it works and what affects it can have on the body.
What is Acupuncture and How Does it Work?
Acupuncture uses fine needles that are placed into the skin at certain points to provide therapeutic relief. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, these points are called meridians and they are thought to affect the flow of ‘qi’ around the body.
There are more than a thousand insertion points around the body according to Traditional Chinese Medicine and training to deliver acupuncture can take several years to master.
In the USA, the UK and elsewhere in Europe, the medical establishment sees the effect and working mechanism of acupuncture slightly differently. Placing needles in certain areas of the body is thought to stimulate the nerves, helping to ease pain, for example.
In the West, it is widely used in clinics to manage chronic conditions such as back pain, osteoarthritis and neck pain. Several studies point to the efficacy of acupuncture in these areas.
What Does Acupuncture Feel Like?
An acupuncture session usually takes between 20 minutes to an hour and follows a consultation with the therapist involving understanding the individual’s medical history and a physical examination.
The needles used are thin and long and these are inserted at various acupuncture points depending on the health problem being treated. These are specially sterilised, single-use needles and they can be inserted just under the skin or deeper into the muscles to achieve their effect.
Despite this invasive technique, those receiving acupuncture are likely to only feel a slight tingling and no real pain. While the process is considered safe, there may be some moderate pain after the treatment and some bleeding in a small number of cases.
How Does Acupuncture Affect the Body?
In the Western world, acupuncture is thought to stimulate the nerves and helps release hormones such as endorphins which deliver natural pain relief.
The Traditional Chinese Medicine philosophy is more wide-ranging with a greater number of health problems addressed. It focuses on the energy channels of the body and notions of ‘life force’ both of which are difficult to prove in research studies.
When it comes to pain relief, a course of acupuncture with several sessions generally works much better than a single application.
What Health Conditions Can Acupuncture Help With?
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) recommends acupuncture for a variety of treatments:
- Lower back pain: Several studies have found that using acupuncture in conjunction with other therapeutic approaches can help alleviate chronic back pain.
- Neck pain: A study in Germany involving 14,000 participants found that using acupuncture in addition to more traditional medical approaches produced greater neck pain relief among those who received it.
- Osteoarthritis and knee pain: A study in 2012 found that acupuncture helped relieve osteoarthritis and knee pain in subjects compared to simulated acupuncture or no acupuncture at all.
- Headaches: Several studies have shown that acupuncture may play a role in reducing the intensity and frequency of tension headaches and migraines.
Additional Benefits of Acupuncture
There are other conditions that acupuncture may well play a role in helping reduce symptoms but there is less clinical evidence for its clinical efficacy.
For example, a systematic review from clinical trials suggests that acupuncture could play a role in helping reduce the side effects of certain cancer treatments.
There are many claims for acupuncture online, including that it is a useful tool to help give up smoking, help with drug and alcohol addiction and improve levels of anxiety and depression.
Current NCCIH research is looking into the impact of acupuncture on reducing hot flashes during menopause, and whether it can reduce the discomfort caused by chemotherapy.
In summary, acupuncture remains a widely used therapeutic tool for pain relief in many parts of the world. The procedure is safe and can be effective in helping with chronic conditions such as lower back and neck pain.