Acupuncture is an ancient practice that hails from China. This traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practice bases itself on the belief that a disturbance in the flow of the body’s energy can result in health issues. Practitioners of TCM use holistic techniques including acupuncture along with tai chi, qi gong, herbal medicines, massage therapy, and others to treat a variety of illnesses and symptoms resulting in pain and stress.
What Is Acupuncture?
The practice of acupuncture involves the insertion of hair-thin needles at specific acupoints throughout the body to restore the flow of energy. This balancing stimulates healing and helps one relax. It has been proven to benefit the body in ways that boost productivity. The practice of acupuncture and other TCM techniques has garnered significant popularity in the West.
Acupuncture can provide relief from chronic pain, arthritis, anxiety, insomnia, depression, migraine, nausea, postoperative pain, and obesity. Research also shows that acupuncture also helps patients with asthma, drug addiction, epilepsy, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, schizophrenia, tennis elbow, etc.
While the science behind how acupuncture works is relatively unexplored, some believe that acupuncture works by stimulating the release of endorphins, i.e., the natural pain-relieving chemicals released by the body. Other theories suggest that acupuncture influences the autonomic nervous system and releases chemicals. These chemicals, in turn, regulate blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and help relax the brain.
There are certain variants of acupuncture that use light electrical stimulation that sometimes flow through the needles and sometimes without. Another commonly used technique is acupressure, which is often referred to as acupuncture without the needles. Acupressure is a targeted massage technique that stimulates energy in the body by pressing on specific points. Auricular acupuncture or ear acupuncture is useful for weight loss, smoking cessation, anxiety, and addiction.
Benefits of Acupuncture
Acupuncture harbors an array of benefits that target specific organs of the body. From minor concerns such as headaches and nausea to battling chronic pains, here are the top ten benefits of acupuncture.
1. Alleviates Stress
Acupuncture is a tried and tested cure for stress. Regardless of whether this stress is stemming from work-related issues or personal ones, acupuncture helps calm your nerves. Studies suggest that acupuncture lowers stress level hormones and reduces anxiety. These, in turn, help elevate one’s mood, thereby inducing overall feelings of happiness. The effect of acupuncture on disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, anxiety neurosis, and perioperative anxiety is nothing short of remarkable.
Additionally, acupuncture is often employed in conjunction with medication to treat these disorders. The results bear testament to its benefits as studies show that people who used the two modes of treatment together showed much better progress. Moreover, an important issue to address that is concerned with medication are its side effects. Anti-anxiety drugs can take quite a toll on one’s health as they can be intense. From depression to mood swings to nausea and indigestion, anti-anxiety medication is not one to be taken lightly. Acupuncture harbors no such side effects and is thus an excellent alternative for those battling the side effects of medications.
Related article: 13 Ways Stress Affects Your Health (P.S. 10 Tips to Manage Stress)
2. Fight Headaches
Acupuncture has been a popular pick for tackling headaches and migraines; for both pain relief and reduction in frequency. Research reveals that patients who employ the use of acupuncture have a more pronounced reduction in pain as compared to those who are merely using medication. Unlike medication, acupuncture also harbors reduced side-effects. Thus acupuncture is ideal for those looking for a drug-free route to handle the issue.
The results of a 2009 study carried out in Munich confirmed the benefits of acupuncture deducing that it can help chronic tension-type headaches. The test subjects’ responses to acupuncture were recorded and compared with the results without being subjected to any treatment and sham, i.e., placebo acupuncture. These control groups experienced no changes in symptoms. However, upon receiving acupuncture treatment, the study subjects exhibited a marked decrease in headache occurrence and symptoms such as pain, nausea, etc.
3. Fights Chronic Back Pain
One of the most common uses of acupuncture is in fighting chronic pain. Neck and back pain is a common occurrence amongst the masses. A research study revealed that acupuncture could reduce the incidence of pain by 15%. It is the most effective for dealing with chronic back pain that results from physical and mental stress, poor posture, old injuries, poor sleeping habits, muscle soreness, pregnancy, and more.
Related article: 10 Common Things That Cause Back Pain & How to Correct Them
4. Combats Symptoms of Arthritis
Arthritis is a common illness that affects millions across the globe. As we age, our bodies age with us. Arthritis encompasses the progressive weakening of bones coupled with joint pain that can often only be relieved by medication. However, acupuncture is an excellent alternative to drugs for alleviating joint pain. The traditional acupuncture belief system states that there are 14 meridians, i.e., energy channels in the body. These meridians correspond to different key nerve endings in the body that act as impulse receptors from our knees, back, muscles, joints, etc.
The meridians facilitate the flow of natural body energy, often referred to as qi. Inserting needles onto the meridians enables the corresponding nerve endings to communicate with the brain. The feeling of aching thereby induces the release of endorphins. Endorphins are released to combat stress, block pain receptors, and boost energy. Combined with nerve receptors, they alleviate arthritis-induced pain that can be debilitating and physically limiting.
Knee pain is a common outcome of arthritis. Research demonstrates that acupuncture helps treat knee pain resulting from osteoarthritis and surgery. An Oxford Journals published study revealed that patients treated with acupuncture for chronic knee pain revealed both short and long term benefits in comparison to the control groups. A review published in JAMA Surgery evaluated pain management following total knee arthroplasty. The deduction stated that acupuncture delayed the use of opioid medication for pain relief.
5. Aids In Better Sleep
Insomnia is managed using a variety of treatment methods. Medication is most commonly prescribed to deal with the matter; however, its side effects can be overwhelming for some. Regular acupuncture decreases the effect of insomnia, thereby making it an effective mode of treatment for those looking for drug-free treatment options. Additionally, acupuncture has been studied to induce the release of nocturnal melatonin. Nocturnal melatonin is a chemical that helps induce sleep. A 2009 Chinese research study deduced that acupuncture is an excellent accessory treatment aid to herbal and conventional medication for insomnia.
6. Improves Chemotherapy Recovery
Chemotherapy is a standard mode of treatment for cancer patients. Although effective, the effects of chemotherapy can be quite debilitating. From nausea and vomiting to hair loss, the side-effects of chemotherapy vary on a broad spectrum. Studies have deduced that acupuncture is an effective tool to help boost immunity and enhance recovery following chemotherapy. Results from another 2011 survey revealed an improved platelet count and reduced damage following radiation and chemotherapy in those who employed acupuncture. Patients also report less pain and reduced adverse side effects such as nausea and vomiting, after the use of acupuncture.
7. Helps Digestion
Acupuncture therapy helps indigestion, according to various studies. A Brazilian study studied the effect of acupuncture on indigestion and heartburn in pregnant women. The study sample was compared to a group that only took medication when needed and sought no acupuncture treatment. A useful tool against nausea and vomiting, there is a particular pressure point near the wrist on the underside of the forearm. When stimulated, this pressure point reduces the sensation of nausea that thus induces vomiting. Post-operative nausea and vomiting is a common finding. Therefore, acupuncture is an excellent anti-emetic drug which is of common use in preventing vomiting in recovering patients.
8. Aids Cognitive Functioning
Age-related cognitive decline is a normal occurrence. Studies show that acupuncture can help reduce the effect of age-related cognitive decline and its symptoms. Acupuncture helps generate neural responses in some regions of the brain, including the thalamus and putamen. These are the same areas that show the damaging effects of Parkinson’s disease. A 2002 study studied the effect of acupuncture on 20 Parkinson’s patients after treating them with acupuncture for 16 sessions. The results concluded that 85% of the patients reported improved symptoms. These include pain, sleep, tremor, writing, walking, as well as mental health-related issues such as depression and anxiety.
9. Alleviates PCOS Symptoms
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a common endocrine disorder in women of reproductive age. Acupuncture is said to aid PCOS by increasing blood flow to the ovaries, which reduces ovarian volume but increases the number of ovarian cysts. It helps control hyperglycemia by improving insulin sensitivity and decreasing blood glucose as well as insulin levels. Acupuncture also helps reduce the body’s cortisol levels and assists in weight loss and anorexia.
10. Helps Pregnancy
Doctors are recommending acupuncture as a treatment modality for pregnant women to help reduce stress, alleviate anxiety, balance hormone levels, and ease the pain of labor and pregnancy. Most importantly, it is a drug-free option that helps reduce strain on the body. The baby’s development can be put at serious risk if subjected to many medications making acupuncture ideal for pregnancy. Additionally, acupuncture helps mood swings, depression, and other mental and physical symptoms that a mother may be experiencing post-partum.
Side Effects of Acupuncture
Acupuncture poses no severe side effect; there is a small risk of pain and bleeding following insertion, skin rashes, bruising, nausea, dizziness, fainting, infections, and allergic reactions. However, it is crucial that the procedure is performed by a licensed professional, and the needles used are sterile and disposable to reduce the risk of these adverse effects.
Some techniques often used during acupuncture include:
1) Cupping therapy: Use of glass cups for suction to relieve stagnation of blood and qi.
2) Herbal therapy: Use of various oriental herbs, teas, pills, and capsules.
3) Moxibustion: Use of heated sticks made from dried herbs near the acupuncture points to warm and stimulate them.
4) Laser acupuncture: Use of lasers to stimulate the acupuncture points to omit the need for needles.
5) Electro-acupuncture: Use of an electrical device that connects a couple or more acupuncture needles and provides a weak electrical current that stimulates the needles.
While there are many techniques, any one of these may be used depending on the individual health requirements.
Acupuncture: Does It Hurt?
While acupuncture is not a painful procedure, needle insertion may cause you to feel a slight sting or pinch. After that, the needle is manipulated by rotating, twirling, moving up and down or with a machine with a negligible electric pulse. If, however, you experience discomfort, pain, or numbness during the treatment, notify your acupuncturist.
Acupoints are present where nerves and muscles meet, where muscles and bones meet, or even at the midpoint of a muscle. They are specific and focused treatment points located in the body that channel energy. Acupuncturists call this flow of energy “qi”. And an imbalance in the qi can result in illness, sleep problems, pain, fatigue, and other health issues.
There are 14 prominent energy channel meridians on the body. Each meridian locates hundreds of points to place the needles. Once the needles are inserted, one’s energy flow or qi can be tapped or rebalanced.
So, is acupuncture a viable therapy option? Yes, it is; especially for patients with chronic pain. Acupuncture works best as an adjunct to other treatment modalities. Acupuncture is a promising solution for those with chronic pain, which often become desensitized to pain medication. Not only is pain medication damaging to the body because it induces inflammation, but it also harbors many side effects following prolonged use.
There is an array of problems that acupuncture can fix. Despite the limited resources available on its viability, there is no harm in giving it a try. As long as a certified and licensed practitioner is treating you, there is nothing much to worry about. Witness the magic for yourself.