Last Updated June 13th, 2021
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medical practice that is performed with the help of needles. Acupuncture is performed by trained practitioners who help stimulate energy by inserting thin needles to the affected part of the body. It may sound scary to hear that needles are inserted into the skin but actually, the procedure is pain-free and in fact, it is used to treat chronic pain.
This is highly beneficial for people suffering from chronic pain since they generally rely on pain-relieving medications to reduce the intensity of pain. It is a well-known fact that pain-relieving medications can cause various side effects. Acupuncture is being researched on various aspects to check if it can be useful to treat other medical conditions such as insomnia, depression, anxiety, hot flashes, etc.
What is the mechanism of action of acupuncture?
According to Chinese medical practice, acupuncture does not have a specific method of managing pain or managing a disease. It actually involves various aspects of management such as stimulating particular points to release stagnant energy. It also includes aiding better blood flow to the area to heal sore muscles and also helps in generating energy from the body that can enhance the functioning of several organs. The medical aspect of acupuncture is performed with the help of needles that are punctured into the skin without causing any major damage.
Acupuncture is performed by a professional practitioner who inserts about 15 to 20 needles at a time into a specific part of the body. This process is generally painless since the needles are extremely thin and you would hardly feel any pain when pricked. Acupressure is another form of acupuncture where no needles are used. During acupressure, a particular part of the body is massaged with hands in order to stimulate energy.
Acupoints are the acupuncture points where the needles are inserted to release energy. According to the practitioners who perform acupuncture, stimulating these points to help in releasing the stored energy called Qi. When the Qi energy is not appropriately balanced, it can lead to various health problems and hence the practitioners concentrate on certain points to release Qi.
According to the practitioners, there are hundreds of acupoints present over a particular part of the body and are divided into 14 channels. For example, there are more than acupoints present on the hands, legs, neck, back, and several organs. These acupoints are identified where nerves tend to enter the muscle or at the point where the muscles attach to the bone, etc. It is believed that targeting these acupoints, numerous health-related problems can be treated such as chronic back pain, pain, and spasms in the muscles, migraine headaches, neck pain, knee pain, depression, problems with digestion, etc.
Health benefits of acupuncture
Reduces migraine attacks
In the case of migraine headache, it is much worse where you experience a headache on one side of the head that may persist from several hours to even a day. It is also associated with other problems such as nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, etc.
A combination of all these problems can make experience with migraine quite terrifying. A research in 2009 at Munich University has found that acupuncture can be quite useful in treating migraines without the use of medications. There were around 11 studies that were conducted on more than 2000 patients and the above findings were found. It was concluded that acupuncture can help reduce the intensity as well as the occurrence in people suffering from migraine headache.
Reduces chronic pain
Many people around the world suffer from chronic pain that can be associated with various parts of the body such as the neck, back, knee, etc. A study in 2006 at Berlin University has reported that acupuncture was much more beneficial than other treatments, particularly for back pain. It was found that patients suffering from chronic back pain had experienced significant improvement in the pain levels when they received acupuncture treatments for eight weeks.
Another study in 2012 at United States where more than 15,000 patients with chronic were studied to find if acupuncture was useful found that acupuncture more than a placebo effect and can be referred by doctors as an alternative treatment mode.
Helps with insomnia
Insomnia is a health condition where a person is not able to fall asleep and maintain it for the adequate amount of time. Insomnia can cause various problems such as daytime sleeping, lethargy, change in behavior, etc. A study conducted at Beijing University in the year 2009 found that undergoing acupuncture can be highly beneficial in reducing insomnia. It is believed that acupuncture helps in reducing stress and improving the hormonal balance. Both of these factors play an important role in reducing insomnia and improving the sleep pattern. Unlike sleep medications used for insomnia, acupuncture does not cause any type of side effect and hence is considered to be a more suitable option to improve insomnia.
Helps recover from cancer treatments
Treatments for cancer such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy can be quite severe since it not only kills the cancerous cells but also kills the healthy cells as well in this process. This leads to lower immunity levels and reduced platelet count. Studies have revealed that acupuncture can help improve the immunity levels and improve the platelet count by channeling the energy through various medians which can improve the functioning and longevity of the organs. Acupuncture can help enhance the Qi and fasten the recovery of healthy cells which were affected due to cancer therapy.
Can improve cognition
People suffering from Parkinson’s disease experience problems with cognition which reduces the ability to live independently. This becomes a big problem since the overall lifestyle can be lowered and lead to failure to thrive. Studies have indicated that acupuncture can be a great help for people suffering from cognitive problems. As discussed earlier, acupuncture transfers energy through various channels and this can general neural response in the brain.
Thalamus and putamen are the two important parts of the brain that is affected when a person is affected by health conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. The Qi energy which is enhanced by performing acupuncture helps in rejuvenating these parts of the brain and promoting a better cognition. A study conducted in 2002 at the Maryland Neurology Department has found that more than 80% of patients who underwent acupuncture experienced better cognition after the treatment. This included reduction in tremor, better gait, improved handwriting, and reduced anxiety and depression.
Reduces stress and hormonal imbalance
Stress and hormone imbalance are interconnected with each other. Stress can cause hormonal imbalance and an increase in hormonal imbalance can increase your stress levels. As discussed earlier, undergoing acupuncture can help deal with various psychological problems such as anxiety and depression.
When anxiety and depression are limited, there is a gradual reduction in stress levels. This helps in regulating the hormone levels and a gradual improvement in the overall lifestyle. It is also suggested as a suitable therapy for postpartum health which can negate any depressions and stress associated with childbirth.
Helps with polycystic ovarian syndrome
A polycystic ovarian syndrome is a medical condition caused by hormonal disorder. This is a medical condition affecting the endocrine system. Women suffering from PCOS may experience problems related to the menstrual cycle. This is caused due to the excess production of androgen hormone. Studies have indicated that acupuncture can be helpful by gradually reducing the symptoms of PCOS by increasing the blood flow to the ovary. It was found that this can help reduce the cysts in the ovary by improving the insulin sensitivity and reducing the blood glucose levels.
How is acupuncture performed?
Acupuncture is performed in the following steps discussed below.
- Initially, the practitioner would inquire about the underlying health condition and any pain that is affecting the patient.
- Next, the patient’s tongue is examined followed by assessing the vital organs by palpating them. This gives an idea to the practitioner about any underlying imbalance in the organs.
- Next, depending on the underlying problem, the practitioner would insert sterile needles at various areas of the skin called the meridians.
- The practitioner would then check the pulse at different parts of the body in order to assess how the energy is being transferred. At some instances, the patient could experience redness on certain areas which indicate that the energy is has become stagnant and there is an imbalance in that part of the body.
- The needles are left in place for anywhere between 5 and 30 minutes depending on how well the energy is being transferred through various channels.
- Finally, the needles are removed and the patient can go home immediately and continue with day to day life. The practitioner would advise the patient to drink lots of water in order to aid with the detoxification process.
Does acupuncture cause any side effects?
Acupuncture is considered generally safe with minimal to no side effects associated with it. It is important to note that acupuncture should be performed only by a professional practitioner. The needles used during acupuncture should be sterile to avoid any complications.
In fact, the FDA has approved the use of these needles and has labeled them as medical devices. Side effects from acupuncture are reported only due to the use of non-sterile needles. It is also important to note that acupuncture can be used as a complementary mode of treatment which is associated with regular medical treatment.
Acupuncture can really make a difference for people suffering from chronic pain such as back pain, knee pain, arthritis pain, etc. Undergoing acupuncture can reduce the dependence of pain relievers which generally cause side effects. It can also improve the overall wellbeing and improve the lifestyle of people affected by chronic pain.
Although, many people claim that acupuncture is nothing different from other needle therapy. This may be or may not be true, but the efficacy of acupuncture does not lessen due to these claims. It has been tried by various people and there is evidence to back its claim. Acupuncture can reap rich dividends when it is performed in association with other medical therapy.
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