Does acupuncture work or is it all hype?

Acupuncture is a medical treatment used for several purposes, including pain relief. It involves the insertion of many small needles just under your skin in precise areas.

Often considered an alternative form of medicine in the United States and other western countries, its history is quite different in Eastern cultures. It has been popular in Asia for thousands of years as a primary type of medical treatment. It is particularly common in China.

If you have heard the hype about acupuncture, then you may be wondering if it really works. If so, then are the potential results worth the effort and the possible pain? The start of the hype about acupuncture in the United States began in 1971 when an article about it ran in the New York Times. It was written by a reporter who had acupuncture treatment in China for back pain. Since then, the popularity of acupuncture has been steadily growing in the United States. Yet, there is still some debate over its effectiveness. Below is information about the reasons for the acupuncture hype and how it works.

What Makes Acupuncture Work

There are several theories about what makes acupuncture work. Some skeptics believe any positive result you get from an acupuncture treatment is the result of a placebo effect. However, data from multiple studies show acupuncture can have real benefits. The primary debate is over the cause of those benefits.

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The traditional Chinese reasoning behind the use of acupuncture claims it can bring your body back into balance when an imbalance of some kind occurs. In China, your life force is known as “qi,” which is pronounced “chi.” Any type of ailment is a sign of an imbalance in your qi, according to Chinese acupuncture practitioners. By inserting needles into specific acupuncture points, traditional acupuncture practitioners believe they can alter the flow of your energy, restoring the balance to affected areas and eliminating or temporarily alleviating ailments.

Scientists have several other theories about what makes acupuncture work. One of the most common beliefs in the medical community is acupuncture needles inserted at key points on your body stimulate muscles and nerves. At the same time, the minuscule amount of damaged caused to your cells by the needles causes the activation of healing responses within your body. Blood flow to the impacted areas also increases. Additionally, naturally produced painkillers like endorphins release. That is why you may receive positive results from acupuncture when seeking treatment for a wide variety of medical conditions.

Conditions That Can Be Treated With Acupuncture

There are many reasons you may choose to undergo acupuncture treatments. One of the best reasons is to alleviate pain. However, the types of pain best treated by acupuncture are in debate. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), studies confirm acupuncture may help to alleviate the following types of pain:

  • Lower back pain
  • Pain from knee conditions, including osteoarthritis
  • Neck pain
  • Pain associated with headaches

In addition to treating pain, some studies have shown acupuncture can effectively reduce mental stress. In fact, an NIH report states that symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be reduced with acupuncture treatments. However, if you suffer from PTSD, then you must consult your doctor to formulate a safe and effective treatment plan. If you are currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer, then studies indicate acupuncture may help you as well. It reduces nausea after such treatments, according to the NCCAM. The Mayo clinic reports acupuncture may also help you if you suffer from:

  • Menstrual cramp pain.
  • Labor
  • Certain respiratory
  • Dental

Why Acupuncture is Appealing

There are several reasons you may find acupuncture appealing. For one, acupuncture can have multiple simultaneous uses, such as alleviating pain and stress. Acupuncture is also a relatively convenient and painless procedure. You may think having many needles inserted into your skin sounds painful but acupuncture needles are quite small. According to the American Institute of Alternative Medicine (AIAM), they cause only a feeling of pressure when inserted properly because they are so tiny.

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Acupuncture also may appeal to you because it typically causes very few side effects. Therefore, it usually does not interfere with more traditional medical regimens, such as taking medications. You might be slightly sore for a short time after treatment or experience a small amount of bleeding from the needle entry points. However, you can resume normal activities almost immediately after the procedure is over. It may be beneficial to try acupuncture to augment other treatments for whatever medical condition you are trying to alleviate. However, you must also understand multiple acupuncture treatments may be required before results are noticed.

The Risks Associated With Acupuncture

When you think of needle use, the first thing that comes to mind may be the risk for disease transference. However, certified acupuncturists in the United States must only use single-use disposable needles by law. Therefore, the risk of disease or infection is minimal, provided you choose a certified acupuncturist.

However, there are many practitioners of acupuncture who do not have proper licenses or certifications. Such practitioners have no formal training, which means they may not provide you with effective treatment. The treatment they provide may also be medically unsafe. Therefore, you must research any acupuncturist you are considering visiting carefully before booking an appointment. You will need to find a health care provider who is accredited. To do so, take the following steps:

  • Research the reputation of the acupuncture practitioner by reading reviews or asking people you know who have had treatment at the location.
  • Ask to see proof of credentials, which may include certification from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
  • Interview the acupuncture practitioner to make sure he or she seems knowledgeable and determine if you are comfortable having him or her treat you.

To minimize your risk factors from acupuncture treatments, you must also make sure you are a good candidate for acupuncture. For example, some studies indicate acupuncture may cause early labor if you are pregnant. You may also suffer from extra acupuncture complications if you have a pacemaker or any type of bleeding disorder. Therefore, you must discuss your risk factors with your acupuncturist prior to scheduling a treatment.

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