Acupuncture is a holistic health technique that stems from Traditional Chinese Medicine practices in which trained practitioners stimulate specific points on the body by inserting thin needles into the skin. Today acupuncture is one of the most popular practices of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in the West. TCM is a complimentary health approach that first originated in ancient China more than 2,500 years ago and has been evolving ever since.
To treat a wide variety of diseases, pain and stress-related symptoms, practitioners of TCM use holistic techniques that include acupuncture, herbal medicines, tai chi, qi gong, massage therapy, and various “mind and body practices.”
The first question most people ask me is, “Does acupuncture hurt?”
Surprisingly, although needles are used in acupuncture, treatments are relatively pain-free. In fact, one of the most popular uses of acupuncture is to reduce chronic pain throughout the body in a natural way, without the need for medications that can cause unwanted side effects.
What Is Acupuncture Able to Treat?
Currently, acupuncture is used to treat conditions like:
• muscle spasms and pain
• chronic back problems and pain
• headaches, including reducing the frequency and intensity of migraines
• neck pain
• knee pain
• digestive problems
• mood, depression
Is Acupuncture Safe?
Acupuncture to be generally considered safe when performed by an experienced, well-trained practitioner using sterile needles. However, it’s important to always go to a practitioner that is well-trained in acupuncture as well as to a facility that is very careful about using clean needles — improperly performed acupuncture and/or contaminated needles can pose a big risk.
1. Helps Reduce Headaches and Migraines
In 2009, after researchers from the Center for Complementary Medicine at the University of Munich reviewed over 11 studies involving 2,137 acupuncture patients, they concluded that acupuncture “could be a valuable non-pharmacological tool in patients with frequent chronic tension-type headaches.”
The review looked at multiple clinical trials comparing the effects of acupuncture sessions to “sham” (placebo-type of acupuncture) sessions and to receiving no treatment at all for the relief of migraine headache pain. In particular, both the group that had needles randomly placed and the group that had strategically placed needles experienced a reduction in headache symptoms. The control group did not experience any change.
However, in the followup survey, the group that had the real acupuncture treatment continued to have both a decrease in the number of headache days and headache pain intensity.
2. Improves Chronic Pain, Including for the Back, Neck, Knee or Arthritis Pain
Acupuncture was proven to be more effective for improving chronic back pain than no acupuncture treatment in a 2006 study done by the University Medical Center of Berlin. In patients with chronic low back pain, there was a significant difference in pain reported between groups of patients receiving acupuncture over eight weeks versus those not receiving any treatment.
Even more impressive is a 2012 study done by Memorial Sloan-Kettering Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics aimed to determine the effect of acupuncture for four chronic pain conditions: back and neck pain, arthritis, chronic headache and shoulder pain.
The researchers reviewed clinical trials involving over 17,000 patients, and the results showed that patients receiving acupuncture had less pain than patients in the placebo control group for back and neck muscle aches and pain, osteoarthritis, and chronic headaches. The conclusion was that acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic pain and is “more than just a placebo effect, therefore it’s a reasonable referral option for doctors.”
3. Helps Treat Insomnia
Beijing University of Chinese Medicine conducted a large meta-analyses in 2009 that showed a beneficial effect of acupuncture on reducing insomnia symptoms, compared with no treatment. The analysis found that in patients who were taking medications or herbal treatments to help with sleep, adding acupuncture therapy showed better effects than taking the medications or herbs alone.
Another benefit was that unlike many sleep medications, the acupuncture sessions had no adverse side effects at all.
4. Improves Cancer and Chemotherapy Recovery
According to the National Cancer Institute, several studies show that acupuncture can help boost immunity and speed up recovery following cancer treatments. One randomized trial, for example, found that acupuncture treatment enhanced immunity, platelet count and prevented a decrease in healthy cells after radiation therapy or chemotherapy when compared to receiving no acupuncture.
Researchers reported that the patients in both acupuncture treatment groups also experienced less pain from treatments, improvements in quality of life and a decrease in various negative side effects of chemotherapy, such as nausea.
5. Helps to Prevent Cognitive Decline
Some early research has showing new information about the effectiveness of acupuncture on Parkinson’s. Studies show that can relieve age-related cognitive decline symptoms as it generates a neural response in areas of the brain — such as the putamen and the thalamus — that are particularly affected by Parkinson’s disease.
In a 2002 study done by the Department of Neurology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, after 20 Parkinson’s patients were treated with acupuncture for 16 sessions, 85 percent of patients reported subjective improvements of individual symptoms, including tremor, walking, handwriting, slowness, pain, sleep, depression and anxiety. There were no adverse effects.