Does acupuncture work?

January 16, 2019

One of the traditional practices of Chinese medication is acupuncture. It is used for some conditions such as blood pressure problems, headaches, and coughs. The process is done by inserting some proper combination of needles in the appropriate points. Thus, the correct combinations and points will bring the body’s energy flow back into the proper balance.

According to the traditional Chinese medication, health is the result of a perfect balance between the “yin” and “yang” of the life force known as qi (pronounce as /chi/). Meaning to say, illness or disease is the consequence of the imbalance of the forces.

Qi is believed to flow through the pathways called meridians in the human body. These pathways and energy flows are accessible through the 350 acupuncture points in the body.

Traditionally, if a person is ill (generally believed to have lost the balance in his or her energy), an acupuncturist will aim to bring back the balance of his or her energy. The practitioner of the technique will stimulate specific points on the body by inserting thin needles to various depths through the skin. Then, it is claimed to cure some illnesses as well as boost well-being.

Modern Use of Acupuncture

There was a research carried out in Germany that shows that acupuncture may help relieve headaches, tensions, and migraines. It appears that acupuncture is a reasonable option for people with chronic pain. The World Health Organization (WHO) even listed a number of conditions in 2003, which they say acupuncture has been proven effective. It includes:

  1. Tennis elbow
  2. Blood pressure problems
  3. Morning sickness
  4. Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting
  5. Painful periods
  6. Dysentery
  7. Reducing the risk of stroke
  8. Allergic rhinitis
  9. Facial pain
  10. Low back pain, neck pain, and osteoarthritis or knee pain
  11. Rheumatoid arthritis
  12. Dental pain
  13. Some gastric conditions, including peptic ulcer
  14. Sciatica
  15. Sprains
  16. Inducing labor

WHO also made a list of conditions that acupuncture may help but has to be back up with more evidence. These are:

  1. Spine pain
  2. Stiff neck
  3. Neuralgia
  4. Fibromyalgia
  5. Vascular dementia
  6. Coughs or pertussis
  7. Substance, tobacco and alcohol dependence
  8. Tourette syndrome
  9. Post-operative convalescence

Acupuncture is also suggested by the World Health Organization to help treat a number of infections including some epidemic hemorrhagic fever and urinary tract infections.

Acupuncture Based on Science

Clinical practices are not inconsistent in recommending acupuncture. Hypothesis such as expectation and belief, which are unrelated to acupuncture needling, may play a role in the effective results of acupuncture on pain.

Science cannot determine how acupuncture works, so it remains controversial in the Western medical world. It has no scientific proof, even the evidence of the existence of acupuncture points or meridians.

Many researchers suggest that it can help relieve pain. In fact, it is used for a wide range of complaints. However, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) said that there is a limited evidence of its effectiveness in other areas aside from pain.

Some still believe in its historical properties which includes balancing the vital energies. Meanwhile, others believe that it is connected with neurological science and try to explain it in this nature. The experts, who claim that acupuncture has a connection with neuroscience, said that the acupuncture points are seen as places where muscles, nerves, and connective tissue can be stimulated–the mentioned stimulation increases the flow of blood, while at the same time it triggers the natural painkillers of the body.

Setting up an investigation regarding the method is difficult, especially using proper scientific controls, because of its invasive nature. Some studies have concluded then that acupuncture offers similar benefits to a patient as a placebo, but others have insisted that there are real benefits out of it.

Benefits of Acupuncture

Acupuncture is believed to be beneficial and safe if it is performed correctly. Some practitioners suggest that it can be more effective if combined with other treatments. It can manage some types of pain and may also help patients for whom pain medications are not suitable.

Negative Acupuncture Result

Improper delivery and non-sterile needles may result in some complications such as punctured collapsed lungs, organs, infections, and injury to the central nervous system.

How is Acupuncture Done?

Acupuncture is relatively painless.

First, an acupuncturist will examine the patient and assist his or her condition. Then, the patient will be asked to lie down on his or her back, front, or one side, depending on where the needles are needed to be inserted. He or she will be then inserted a needle or two (should be thin and sterile). According to an article, the acupuncturist should use single-use (or disposable) needles. As each needle is inserted, the patient may feel a very brief tingling or stinging sensation, but once it is inserted, the dull ache at the base of the needle will subside. Sometimes, the inserted needles are heated or stimulated with electricity.

The inserted needles will stay in place for about 5 to 30 minutes before it will be removed.

Once the needle/s is/are removed, the acupuncturist will offer advice on self-care or other complementary therapies, such as herbs.

The number of sessions will depend on the need of an individual. A patient with a chronic condition may need a week or two sessions over several months. In contrast, an acute problem normally improves after eight to twelve sessions.

If you are considering to try this alternative treatment, most states require a diploma from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) for licensing. You can also easily find a licensed acupuncturist in their website.

The Risk of Acupuncture

All therapies have benefits as well as risks. Listed below are some of the possible risks.

  1. Acupuncture is dangerous if a patient has a bleeding disorder or if he or she takes blood thinners.
  2. Needle insertion may cause bleeding, bruising, and soreness.
  3. The used of unsterilized needles may infect the patient.
  4. In rare cases, a needle may break and damage some internal organs.
  5. Also, in rare cases, a needle inserted deeply into the chest or upper back may result in collapsed lung/s.