Nowadays, acupuncture is widely accepted in the West as a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine. TCM has been continually developing since it originated in China over 2,500 years ago. It is an alternative medicine system that came from ancient times. To offer relief for various diseases, pain, and distress, TCM proponents employ holistic methods such as acupuncture, herbal medicines, tai chi, qi gong, massage therapy, and other mind and body practices.
The increasing implementation of acupuncture and other Traditional Chinese Medicine practices has been noticeable in the U.S. and other parts of the Western world during the past number of decades. In 2007, a survey conducted by the National Institute of Health found that an estimated 3.1 million people in the United States had tried acupuncture. The survey indicated that visits to acupuncturists had grown to three times the amount in 2007 than in 1997.
What Is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is an all-inclusive healthcare system that began as a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Trained specialists trigger certain zones on the human body by piercing thin needles into the skin. Most people are curious about the level of pain associated with acupuncture. Surprisingly, needles are used but the process remains largely painless. One of the main reasons acupuncture is so widely appreciated is that it can reduce persistent body pain without medications that could have unwanted results.
A majority of the research done on the subject of acupuncture has examined if it is a harmless method of mitigating pain. Nevertheless, it is anticipated that in coming years, scientists will continue to explore whether this could be of assistance with other ailments as well – such as fearfulness, dejection, inflammation, sweat flushes, results from chemotherapy, and sleeplessness.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
Acupuncture incorporates various techniques which are employed to handle illnesses as well as discomfort, and it is not a single, definitive methodology. Acupuncture utilizes different methods, commonly needles, to activate particular locations on the body in order to provide treatment. Most of the current clinical and scientific research concerning acupuncture has focused on the use of slender, firm metal needles piercing the skin gently.
A qualified acupuncturist typically performs the practice, inserting needles very slightly into the skin at certain parts of the body. Typically around 10 to 20 slender needles are utilized simultaneously. The needles are small enough to fit in the regular syringes that are utilized for drawing blood, which makes the process largely painless for the majority of people.
Acupuncture may also be done with needles that have low-voltage electrical current running through them or even without any needles. Acupressure is often viewed as an alternative to acupuncture in which specific areas of the body are stimulated with massage-type techniques in lieu of needles in order to activate energy in the body.
Acupuncture points, otherwise known as “acupoints,” are distinct places on the body that are the principal focus of acupuncture sessions. Traditional Chinese Medicine portrays acupuncture as a way of equalizing the stream of energy or vital force, and this energy can be accessed by activating certain channels on the body.
TCM practitioners hold that there is an energy stream, generally referred to as “qi” or “chi,” which moves through certain pathways in the body called “meridians.” It is believed that chi is what distinguishes between the well and those who are ill. If the chi is not in equilibrium, it can bring about ill health, physical discomfort, difficulty sleeping, and exhaustion.
- There are 14 major energy-channel meridians on the body, with hundreds of points located along each meridian where acupuncture needles are inserted.
- These include some 360 different points on the hands, arms, feet, head, back, and over the major organs. The belief is that by inserting needles lightly into certain points on the body, the chi flow can be tapped into and the patient’s energy can be rebalanced.
- Acupuncture points tend to be located where nerves enter a muscle, at the midpoint of a muscle, or at a point where the muscle joins with bone.
Some of the major acupuncture meridians include:
- Lung Meridian
- Large Intestine Meridian
- Stomach Meridian
- Spleen Meridian
- Heart Meridian
- Small Intestine Meridian
- Urinary Bladder Meridian
- Kidney Meridian
- Liver Meridian
Currently, acupuncture is used to treat conditions like:
- muscle spasms and pain
- chronic back problems and pain
- headaches, including reducing the frequency and intensity of migraines
- neck pain
- knee pain
- digestive problems
- mood, depression
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asserts that:
Initial studies have indicated that acupuncture could be an effective method to reduce symptoms of postoperative and chemotherapy-induced sickness and pain after dental procedures in adults. In addition to being beneficial as a supplementary treatment in relation to addiction, stroke rehabilitation, headache, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and asthma, acupuncture can also be employed.
What to Expect
An acupuncture session works something like this:
- First, the acupuncturist will speak with the patient about their pain and health-related goals.
- Then they will usually look at the patient’s tongue and press on their vital organs to see if there is anything noticeable contributing to an imbalance.
- The acupuncturist will then use sterile, disposable small needles and will place them along specific “meridians” on the body.
- The acupuncturist will check for “pulses” on the body by gently placing their fingers or hands on the patient’s body to feel how the patient’s energy is flowing. Redness can also occur around a needle site, and this is thought to be a sign that energy is not balanced in that area.
- The needles will usually stay in for a short period of time while the patient’s energy is reworking and balancing itself.
- After the needles are removed, the patient can go about their day and is usually advised to drink plenty of water in an effort to help the detoxifying process.
Risks and Side Effects
The National Institute of Health has deemed that acupuncture is generally safe when conducted by an experienced and qualified practitioner using sterile needles. Nonetheless, it is critical to select a practitioner and facility who employ caution in ensuring clean needles are used, since incorrectly done acupuncture and/or unclean needles can be highly dangerous.
The FDA supervises acupuncture needles deemed as medical devices and requires them to be sanitized and fit for only one-time use by certified specialists. There have not been many issues concerning the needles so far and therefore the possibility of danger is assumed to be small. It is important to note that potential dangers still exist; there have been reports of severe consequences when dirty needles have been utilized.
No clear definition has been set yet as to how many acupuncture treatments are necessary before one can observe results. Acupuncture is often suggested as an additional form of treatment – to be used in combination with other techniques for managing pain like physical therapy, exercise, and eating an anti-inflammatory diet.
Possible Health Benefits of Acupuncture Therapy
1. Relieve Chronic Pain
Acupuncture has been seen to relieve symptoms of the kind of low back pain and knee pain that come from wear and tear osteoarthritis (OA).
A meta-analysis published in May 2017 in the journal called Pain examined close to 18,000 people who were suffering from persistent pain (including lower back, neck and shoulder pain, osteoarthritis in the knee, and headaches or migraines). The study uncovered that the positive results of acupuncture treatment in diminishing discomfort stayed active over the course of a year. It remains to be seen whether patients experience continued progress after a year without any extra acupuncture treatment.
Further studies may be conducted to determine the usefulness of acupuncture, and traditional medicine is beginning to accept it as a reasonable complement to the management of chronic pain.
An acupuncture professional introduces a needle that goes through the fascia, a form of highly sensitive connective tissue that envelops all muscles and organs, in accordance with Rosanne Sheinberg, MD, a medical acupuncture practitioner and the executive of integrative medicine for anesthesiology and critical care medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
According to Dr. Sheinberg, it is comparable to having a tickle sensation underneath the nose. Your body is aware of what is going on and responds with providing blood, lymph, and other beneficial substances to the affected area to help it heal, she describes.
2. Tame Allergic Asthma
Acupuncture may be advantageous as a supplementary therapy for allergy-caused asthma, which the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology identifies as the type of asthma set off by pollutants such as pollen, dust particles, food, and mildew.
Furthermore, research from 2019 found in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine demonstrated that blending acupuncture with the usual treatments for asthma produced a sharply noticeable decrease in asthma symptomatology. The outcome also led to a diminishment of interleukin-6 (IL-6), a cytokine that is released when illness or hurt happens.
Studies have found that an increase in the IL-6 concentration in the body can lead to long-term inflammation. Research conducted by Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine indicates that acupuncture could be beneficial for those living with asthma. The study proposed that by lowering pro-inflammatory proteins, such as IL-6, it may be possible to decrease the amount of inflammation associated with asthma.
3. Control Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are common side effects of chemotherapy. Medications utilized to decrease queasiness and regurgitating are now and then inadequate, and expanding the measurements trying to improve their adequacy may cause other possible symptoms, for example, migraines, tipsiness, and stoppage, as per an investigation distributed in January 2020 in Medicine.
Acupuncture may be able to assist in reducing and avoiding queasiness during pregnancy. In an Australian randomized, controlled trial, 593 pregnant women in the early stages of gestation (under 14 weeks) who exhibited indications of nausea or vomiting were divided into four sections. In this study, four groups were examined; the first group was given the typical acupuncture treatment, the second was only treated with acupuncture at the Pericardium 6 acupoint which is thought to reduce nausea symptoms, the third group was given a sham acupuncture procedure with needles placed away from the standard acupuncture points and the last group was given no acupuncture. Each group of subjects in the experiment was given a single treatment on a weekly basis over the course of four weeks. The females that took part in the standard acupuncture program reported less nausea over the course of the research and generally reported improved well-being than the participants in the separate groups.
It is unclear precisely how acupuncture works, but there is evidence to suggest it has an impact on the nerves, neurotransmitters, and gastrointestinal function that can help reduce nausea and vomiting, per the Medicine study.
4. Improve Sleep
Acupuncture could be beneficial for those who are having trouble sleeping or who experience difficulty falling or staying asleep.
In a randomized and controlled experiment, individuals with insomnia who got acupuncture three times weekly over a four-week period saw notable advances in their sleep quality and stress levels in comparison to the group which received false acupuncture (the control group, in which the needles did not penetrate the epidermis and only the plastic tubes came in contact with the skin).
An examination of 30 randomized, controlled studies revealed comparable conclusions: in general, acupuncture was more successful in bettering sleep quality and daytime functioning than sham acupuncture.
Sheinberg suggested that acupuncture might be a viable solution for insomnia since it can soothe the sympathetic nervous system, which activates the fight-or-flight response and thus readies the body for sleep. She states that many individuals have a heightened response to stress. They could be anxious due to their recent news of cancer or hospital treatment, or they may have regular stressors that they have to take care of.
It can be difficult to relax and fall asleep when your body’s sympathetic nervous system is highly activated. By stimulating certain points on the body with acupuncture, it is believed that this could lead to a release of chemicals in the body – such as serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid – that help relax the body and bring about a better quality of sleep, as suggested by research from Sleep Medicine.
The Bottom Line: Is Acupuncture Worth Potentially Trying to Address Your Health Concerns?
When administered by a qualified specialist, acupuncture is usually regarded as safe and may be a helpful treatment for a variety of medical problems. It is essential to consider one’s own health status and potential risks before trying out any form of conventional medicine, complementary treatments, or alternative therapies. A medical professional should always be consulted prior to beginning treatment.
Make sure to confirm your therapist’s qualifications before going to counseling. A subset of medical doctors and osteopathic doctors offer acupuncture services, and their backgrounds in both traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and medical acupuncture vary. You can talk to them about the qualifications and background to decide if they meet your criteria, instead of going to a standard acupuncturist or Chinese medicine specialist.