Saanichton Physical Therapy Blog

Acupuncture: The facts

Acupuncture: The facts

What Is Acupuncture?

 

Acupuncture is an age-old healing practice of traditional

Chinese medicine in which thin needles are placed at

specific points in the body. It’s primarily used to relieve

pain but also has been used to treat other conditions. More

than 3 million Americans use acupuncture, but it is even

more popular in other countries. In France, for example,

one in five people has tried acupuncture.

 

What Is Acupuncture?

 

Acupuncture is an age-old healing practice of traditional

Chinese medicine in which thin needles are placed at

specific points in the body. It’s primarily used to relieve

pain but also has been used to treat other conditions. More

than 3 million Americans use acupuncture, but it is even

more popular in other countries. In France, for example,

one in five people has tried acupuncture.

 

How Acupuncture Works

 

Acupuncture seeks to release the flow of the body’s vital

energy or “chi” by stimulating points along 14 energy

pathways. Scientists say the needles cause the body to

release endorphins — natural painkillers — and may boost

blood flow and change brain activity. Skeptics say

acupuncture works only because people believe it will, an

effect called the placebo effect.

 

Does Acupuncture Hurt?

 

Acupuncture needles are very thin, and most people feel no

pain or very little pain when they are inserted. They often

say they feel energized or relaxed after the treatment.

However, the needles can cause temporary soreness.

 

Low-Back Pain

If standard treatments don’t relieve your chronic low-back

pain, acupuncture may do the job, and two respected medical

groups suggest that people in this situation give it a try.

One large study found that both actual and “fake”

acupuncture worked better than conventional treatments for

back pain that had lasted more than three months. The

jury’s still out on acupuncture for short-term (acute) pain

in the low back.

 

Headaches

 

Acupuncture may help relieve migraines or tension

headaches. Two large studies found that people receiving

acupuncture had fewer days with tension headaches than

those receiving conventional care.

 

Fibromyalgia

 

Studies that test how well acupuncture works against the

pain of fibromyalgia have had mixed results. Some showed

that it provided temporary pain relief, but others did not.

A small study by the Mayo Clinic suggested that acupuncture

may reduce two other problems of fibromyalgia: fatigue and

anxiety. But overall, there’s not enough evidence yet to

prove that acupuncture works for fibromyalgia.

Arthritis Pain

Acupuncture can be a helpful addition to conventional

treatment for osteoarthritis, says the National Institute

of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. And

some of the most promising, early research has shown

acupuncture eased arthritis pain in the knee. However, more

research is needed to prove without a doubt that it’s

effective for osteoarthritis.

 

Carpal Tunnel

 

Acupuncture was tested and compared with steroid pills for

the hand and arm pain of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Researchers in Taiwan gave one group eight acupuncture

treatments, over about a month, and those patients reported

more relief, for a longer time, than the group taking

medicine. While studies like this have been promising, more

evidence is still needed to confirm that acupuncture is

effective for carpal tunnel syndrome.

Dental Pain

Acupuncture provides relief from the pain of tooth

extraction or dental surgery, but so does fake acupuncture,

some studies show. Still, dental pain is considered by many

to be one of the conditions that responds to acupuncture

 

Other Pain

 

People have tried acupuncture for neck pain, muscle pain,

tennis elbow, and menstrual cramps, hoping to avoid

medications and their side effects. The World Health

Organization lists 28 different conditions that are

sometimes treated with acupuncture. In the U.S., a review

by the National Institutes of Health called for robust

research to verify the promise that acupuncture holds for

many different conditions.

 

Nausea

 

Acupuncture at the pericardium (P6) acupuncture point on

the wrist can reduce the symptoms of nausea and vomiting,

even after cancer drug treatments or surgery. Studies

compared 10 different acupuncture methods — including

needles, electrical stimulation, and acupressure — to

drugs that block nausea or vomiting and found the

acupuncture treatments worked.

 

When to Consider Acupuncture

 

Because acupuncture rarely causes more than mild side

effects, it is a potential alternative to pain medications

or steroid treatments. It is also considered a

“complementary” medicine that can be used along with other

treatments. It is best to discuss the use of acupuncture

with your health care provider.

 

Who Shouldn’t Use Acupuncture

 

People with bleeding disorders or who take blood thinners

may have increased risk of bleeding. Electrical stimulation

of the needles can cause problems for people with

pacemakers or other electrical devices. Pregnant women

should talk with their health care provider before having

acupuncture. It’s important not to skip conventional

medical care or rely on acupuncture alone to treat diseases

or severe pain.