What is acupuncture? How does it work? Does it hurt? These are some of the questions increasingly put forward by people who want to make use of this traditional Chinese practice of healing the body.
Acupuncture is an effective form of medical treatment that has evolved into a complete holistic health-care system. Practitioners of acupuncture and Chinese have used this non-invasive treatment method to help millions of people become and stay well. Acupuncture promotes natural healing. It can enhance recuperative power and immunity, support physical and emotional health and improve overall function and well-being. It is a safe, painless and effective way to treat a wide variety of medical problems.
Current theories on the mechanism of acupuncture:
- Neurotransmitter and Autonomic Theory: Acupuncture stimulates the secretion of endorphins and enkephalins. Those are the body’s natural painkiller and stress fighters. It also helps stimulate the body’s nervous system teaching it to relax and not stay in overdrive
- Blood Chemistry Theory: Acupuncture affects the blood concentrations of triglycerides, cholesterol and phospholipids. Acupuncture can both raise and diminish lower blood components thereby regulating the body towards balance.
- Gate Control Theory: Acupuncture asserts its stimulus to overload the nerve impulse and reduces the pain signal in a gentle and effective way. Similar to listening to one voice in a crowded room with many people talking. Acupuncture helps teach the brain to turn off types of pain that are not useful.
Scientifically, when it comes to acupuncture, it is hard to see the point. It is the practice of pricking skin or tissue with fine needles; it’s usually used for pain relief although its claimed to have a plethora of other benefits. The first definitive description of acupuncture is from China over 2000 years ago and at the time it was believed that illness was caused when life force, known as Qi, couldn’t properly flow through the body. Or when the two forms of Qi, Yin and Yang, were out of balance. Prodding certain points would clear the blockages and restore the flow of qi, causing the illness to subside.
If this sounds silly to you, remember that around the same time in the Western World had a similar theory about the imbalance of “humors,” and doctors used to think people were sick because they had just too much of this blood stuff and it needed to come out. But while bloodletting went out of style around the same time as child labor, acupuncture has been making a comeback since the 1950s as a tool for pain relief. It is also used to treat other medical complications like depression, irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, smoking addiction, stroke rehabilitation, chronic asthma, epilepsy, insomnia, morning sickness glaucoma, high/low blood pressure and even colorblindness. This is one exhaustive list of medical complications that can be treated with this procedure. Yet, if you find yourself suffering any of these ailments, as an imperative it is important to consult a medical professional first before resorting to acupuncture.
Whether or not acupuncture works is controversial, and part of the problem is inherently difficult to study scientifically. Some factors like the soothing nature of the acupuncture room are easy to control for. However, the act of putting the needle itself causes headaches for researchers. If the researchers know if the treatment is a placebo, it can affect their results. So, scientists have developed a sort of stealth needle to overcome this problem. Its concealed in a sheath, and either goes in all the way or only pokes the surface. The goal is for the patient to believe the needle is in, and the researchers won’t know one way or the other. But even wit this sham needles and with a plethora of research, there is still considerable debate among medical scientists. A 2003 World Health Organization review of multiple acupuncture studies showed oodles of positive results (See Ref.). This review, however, omitted trials were sham acupuncture and the real thing had similar effects. In addition, a majority of the studies were published in Asian Journals, and as Andrew Vickers of the Research Council for Complementary Medicine pointed out in a different review of acupuncture studies, “all trials originating in China, Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan were positive.” By comparison 53% of reviewed trials in the USA favored the treatment. Most recent reviews have debunked acupuncture. A 2006 Meta-Analysis published by the Journal of Internal Medicine found that the results of acupuncture treatment couldn’t be differentiated from the placebo. Another 2010 Meta Analysis in the Journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain concluded that there was little evidence supporting the acupuncture therapy as an effective form of pain relief. However, in 2012 a revolutionary study published by the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center authored by Andrew Vickers again gave out a statement in favor of this procedure, finding it had an effect greater than placebo but conceded it was relatively modest. However, more research findings are still being carried out to come up with a substantial verdict relating to the effectiveness of acupuncture. There have been more than 3,000 trials and a final result still awaits. It will be about tie when medical scientists will unanimously concede over one single judgement. Even if acupuncture does not have a positive effect, at worst it is usually harmless. The same, however, can not be said for homeopathy
On the contrary side, it is important to shed light on the side effects of Acupuncture as to contrast the way, it has festered complications as opposed to solving them. People who had frequent rounds of this therapy reported feeling of unpleasantness along with other side effects. Although, none of them will appear to be life-threatening, the long duration of the effects reduces normal working routine to minimal. It is pertinent to seek a professional advice, if the resultant side effects seem to intensify with time or causing serious disturbances within the body.
Following are some of the side effects reported:
- Fatigue: A short term result of acupuncture is the sudden burst of energy that refreshes the body, however, it is often accompanied by a sense of fatigue that engulfs the person. There is a constant feeling of tiredness that may signify need for a good rest,
- Soreness: Though not categorized as a serious side effect of the therapy, people often report soreness in the areas where needles have been inserted. The acupuncture points may also turn red because of inflammation. Usually the symptom goes away within a 24-hour time period.
- Mood Disturbance: Studies have found that acupuncture is responsible for releasing endorphins and secreting serotonin that essentially are responsible for making the person feel relaxed. In the post procedural stage, when the serotonin level starts to drop gradually, the mood might get disrupted as a result causing severe mood swings.
In addition, people suffering from bleeding disoreders are not prescribed acupuncture treatment to avoid any major complications. Unsterilized needles on the other hand should never be used as it significantly increases the chances of causing a serious infection.