For individuals dealing with pain, inflammatory conditions, and stress issues, could adding acupuncture to a treatment plan help bring relief and healing?
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Acupuncture treatment is a traditional Chinese medicine based on circulating the body’s life energy, or qi, with the idea that a blockage or disturbance in the energy flow can cause health issues. Acupuncturists insert thin needles into specific points throughout the body to rebalance the body’s energy, stimulate healing, and promote relaxation. (Johns Hopkins Medicine. 2023) Researchers are not exactly sure how the treatment works; however, theories suggest that it can help release endorphins, as well as influence the autonomic nervous system.
How Does It Work?
Researchers have not been able to understand how acupuncture works fully, but some theories include:
- The needles stimulate the release of endorphins – the body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals.
- They can influence the autonomic nervous system, and specific needle placement impacts breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate. (Tony Y. Chon, Mark C. Lee. 2013)
Acupuncture has been useful for a variety of conditions, including (Tony Y. Chon, Mark C. Lee. 2013)
- Chronic pain
- Migraines and associated symptoms
- Sinus congestion or nasal stuffiness
- Insomnia and sleep-related difficulties
- Arthritis joint inflammation
- Infertility – difficulty getting pregnant
- Skin appearance (Younghee Yun et al., 2013)
The health benefits can vary depending on the individual. It may take several sessions before benefits are noticed. (Tony Y. Chon, Mark C. Lee. 2013) Research is still limited; however, there are some studies that found acupuncture to be helpful for certain conditions.
Low Back Pain
- A study on non-pharmacological options for lower back pain showed that acupuncture treatment relieved intense pain and promoted better back functioning.
- However, in terms of long-term benefits, it was not clear how helpful the treatment was. (Roger Chou, et al., 2017)
Research done over a six-month period showed that:
- Acupuncture was able to reduce the frequency of migraine symptoms by half in 41% of individuals compared to those not receiving acupuncture.
- Treatment was noted as being helpful as preventative migraine medications. (Klaus Linde, et al., 2016)
- According to research, having at least six acupuncture sessions may be helpful for individuals with frequent head pain or pressure/tension headaches.
- This study also noted that acupuncture, combined with pain medication, significantly reduced headache frequency compared to those only given medication. (Klaus Linde, et al., 2016)
- Multiple studies found that acupuncture treatment may be able to improve knee function short and long-term in individuals who have knee osteoarthritis.
- This condition causes the connective tissue in the knee to break down.
- The study also found that treatment was able to help with osteoarthritis and decrease knee pain but was only helpful for the short term. (Xianfeng Lin, et al., 2016)
- Another review looked at multiple studies that found that treatment delayed and reduced the use of pain medication in individuals who had knee replacement surgery. (Dario Tedesco, et al., 2017)
- Cosmetic or facial acupuncture is used to improve the appearance of the skin on the head, face, and neck.
- In a study, individuals had five acupuncture sessions in three weeks, and a little over half of the participants showed skin elasticity improvement. (Younghee Yun et al., 2013)
Before getting acupuncture treatment, the acupuncturist will ask the individual about their medical history and may perform a physical examination.
- Thin needles are placed in specific areas to address your concern or condition.
- The acupuncturist may gently twist the needles to emphasize stimulation.
- The needles are left in for 20 to 30 minutes, with the total session lasting anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. (Tony Y. Chon, Mark C. Lee. 2013)
The acupuncturist may use additional techniques that can include: (Tony Y. Chon, Mark C. Lee. 2013)
- This is the burning of dried herbs near the acupuncture needles to warm and stimulate the points and enhance healing.
- An electrical device is connected to the needles, providing a gentle electrical current that stimulates the muscles.
- Glass or silicone cups are placed on the area, creating a vacuum/suction effect, which helps stimulate blood circulation and rebalance the energy. (Johns Hopkins Medicine. 2023)
- After the treatment, some individuals may feel relaxed, while others may feel energized.
Is It Painful?
Individuals may feel a slight ache, sting, or pinch as the needle is inserted. Some acupuncturists adjust the needle after it has been inserted, which can cause additional pressure.
- Once the needle is properly placed, individuals may feel a tingling or heavy feeling, referred to as de qi. (National Institutes of Health. (N.D.)
- Let the acupuncturist know if there is discomfort or increased pain at any point during the session.
- Intense pain may mean the needle has not been inserted or placed correctly. (Johns Hopkins Medicine. 2023)
As with any treatment, side effects can present in individuals that include:
- Pain and bleeding from the needle insertion
- Bruising around the area, the needles were placed
- Allergic reaction
- Skin rash
- Dizziness (Malcolm W. C. Chan et al., 2017)
In order to reduce the risks, the treatment should always be done by a licensed trained healthcare provider using clean, disposable needles. It is recommended to consult with a primary care physician before getting acupuncture, as the treatment may not be right for individuals with certain health conditions.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2023) Acupuncture.
Chon, T. Y., & Lee, M. C. (2013). Acupuncture. Mayo Clinic proceedings, 88(10), 1141–1146. doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2013.06.009
Yun, Y., Kim, S., Kim, M., Kim, K., Park, J. S., & Choi, I. (2013). Effect of facial cosmetic acupuncture on facial elasticity: an open-label, single-arm pilot study. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2013, 424313. doi.org/10.1155/2013/424313
Chou, R., Deyo, R., Friedly, J., Skelly, A., Hashimoto, R., Weimer, M., Fu, R., Dana, T., Kraegel, P., Griffin, J., Grusing, S., & Brodt, E. D. (2017). Nonpharmacologic Therapies for Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review for an American College of Physicians Clinical Practice Guideline. Annals of internal medicine, 166(7), 493–505. doi.org/10.7326/M16-2459
Linde, K., Allais, G., Brinkhaus, B., Fei, Y., Mehring, M., Vertosick, E. A., Vickers, A., & White, A. R. (2016). Acupuncture for the prevention of episodic migraine. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 2016(6), CD001218. doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD001218.pub3
Linde, K., Allais, G., Brinkhaus, B., Fei, Y., Mehring, M., Shin, B. C., Vickers, A., & White, A. R. (2016). Acupuncture for the prevention of tension-type headache. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 4(4), CD007587. doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD007587.pub2
Lin, X., Huang, K., Zhu, G., Huang, Z., Qin, A., & Fan, S. (2016). The Effects of Acupuncture on Chronic Knee Pain Due to Osteoarthritis: A Meta-Analysis. The Journal of bone and joint surgery. American volume, 98(18), 1578–1585. doi.org/10.2106/JBJS.15.00620
Tedesco, D., Gori, D., Desai, K. R., Asch, S., Carroll, I. R., Curtin, C., McDonald, K. M., Fantini, M. P., & Hernandez-Boussard, T. (2017). Drug-Free Interventions to Reduce Pain or Opioid Consumption After Total Knee Arthroplasty: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA surgery, 152(10), e172872. doi.org/10.1001/jamasurg.2017.2872
National Institutes of Health. (N.D.) De qi sensation.
Chan, M. W. C., Wu, X. Y., Wu, J. C. Y., Wong, S. Y. S., & Chung, V. C. H. (2017). Safety of Acupuncture: Overview of Systematic Reviews. Scientific reports, 7(1), 3369. doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-03272-0
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