If you are finding it tough to combat health problems or get pain relief using traditional medications, or suffer from side effects after taking these medications, an alternative, safe and effective solution lies in acupuncture that triggers your body’s natural ability to heal. Using fine, disposable, sterile needles that are inserted into particular points on the body (called acupoints), acupuncture boosts immunity and blood circulation, relaxes the muscles, flushes out toxins and inflammation, stops the pain, frees nerve entrapment, calms the mind and improves your overall health.
How does acupuncture work
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qi (pronounced Chee) or energy flows throughout the body along specific pathways (meridians). Disruption of this flow of energy leads to illness, pain and impaired body functions. Acupuncture therapy uses an insertion of fine, sterile needles into the skin to stimulate acupoints, thus releasing the body’s blocked qi and stimulating function, which promotes the body’s self-healing process through several physiological systems.
Depending on which disease or condition you want acupuncture to treat, a trained and licensed acupuncturist will use multiple needles (that could be anywhere between 1 and 20) of varying length, which are inserted into acupuncture points (also called acupoints) to stimulate particular anatomic sites. Short needles are inserted into different points of the skin and the epidermal layers beneath. Longer needles, measuring 5 to 9 inches in length, are used to reach deeper muscles, tissue layers, and even under the scalp. The needles can stay stuck in your body anywhere from a few seconds to half an hour. Heat, pressure, cupping, electrical stimulation or topical herbal medicines may be applied to them to enhance the effects further.
How Does Acupuncture Relieve Pain
The acupoints aren’t always located in or near the area of pain. In fact, almost 95% of all acupoints are located in close proximity of nerve trunks (within 1cm). The nerve trunks are large branches of nerves spread across large areas of the body. By stimulating regions where the nerve branch is shallow, the nerve branch lying deep within the body at other sites too can be affected. That’s why you may find an acupuncturist stimulating points on your feet and hands to offer back pain relief.
Depending on your condition, the acupuncturist chooses the acupoints and then inserts the appropriate needles to cause micro-trauma. This trauma caused on the peripheral points sends signals that travel along the nerve branch directly through to the areas suffering from pain and stimulates the body to send pain relief to that affected branch. As a result, Enkephalins and Endorphins are released, which are your body’s natural painkillers. With a pain relief potential that’s almost 200 times more than that of morphine, Enkephalins and Endorphins reduce your perception of pain together with boosting your feelings of pain relief and overall mood.
Acupuncture treatments also release norepinephrine, which together with epinephrine, regulates your flight or fight response. With this response, your body releases blood containing nutrients, oxygen, and analgesics (pain relievers) into skeletal muscle. Thus, while a part of your body is working towards offering pain relief, this response reduces pain and helps your body to start repairing.
Research is still underway to study the physiological effects of acupuncture. Since acupuncture studies are small in number, it’s difficult to say the process will work for everyone. Still, a majority vouches for its effectiveness in offering pain relief and perhaps that’s what encourages others to seek this alternative treatment method.
Which diseases are commonly controlled by acupuncture?
From a migraine headache and nausea to musculoskeletal problems, depression, anxiety, infertility and insomnia, clinical studies have found that acupuncture offers effective treatment for several diseases.
Here are some conditions, diseases, and symptoms that can be treated by acupuncture as case-controlled clinical studies have found:
- Biliary colic
- Allergic Rhinitis
- Primary Dysmenorrhoea
- Depression (including depression following stroke and depressive neurosis)
- Acute Bacillary Dysentery
- Acute Epigastralgia (in chronic and acute gastritis, peptic ulcer, and gastro spasm)
- Facial pain (together with craniomandibular disorders)
- Primary Hypotension
- Knee pain
- Induction of labor
- Morning sickness
- Low back pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Postoperative pain
- Neck pain
- Pain in Dentistry (including temporomandibular dysfunction and dental pain)
- Renal colic
- Periarthritis of shoulder
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Tennis elbow
Some other diseases with limited but probable evidence supporting acupuncture’s therapeutic use are:
- Abdominal pain (caused by gastrointestinal spasm or acute gastroenteritis)
- Alcohol dependence and detoxification
- Bronchial asthma
- Bell’s palsy
- Cancer pain
- Cardiac neurosis
- Chronic Cholecystitis with acute exacerbation
- Competition stress syndrome
- Diabetes mellitus type 2
- Epidemic hemorrhagic fever
- Female infertility
- Eye pain triggered by subconjunctival injection
- Facial spasm
- Fibromyalgia and fasciitis
- Gastrokinetic disturbance
- Gouty arthritis
- Labor pain
- Erectile Dysfunction
- Lactation failure
- Cocaine, opium and heroin dependence
Advantages of Acupuncture
Acupuncture is a noninvasive, natural treatment that stimulates the body’s self-healing potential and offers relief from both physical and mental problems. With almost little or no side effect, it’s much better than undergoing surgery or sticking to a drug regimen with a long recovery time. Unlike conventional medications that treat symptoms, acupuncture finds and treats the root cause, thus offering complete, holistic healing and pain relief. Almost anyone can benefit from acupuncture regardless of his/her physical condition, with the possible exception of pregnant women, those having a skin condition or pacemaker, suffering from skin conditions or bleeding disorders, or taking blood thinners.
Disadvantages of Acupuncture
Acupuncture can cause irreversible nerve damage where needles are inserted too deep into the acupoints, thus damaging the underlying nerves. In Japan, a form of acupuncture involves breaking the inserted needles intentionally to leave fragments permanently embedded in the body. Such fragments can migrate to cause nerve damage. Acupuncture is prohibited in certain areas and conditions like external genitalia; breast or nipple tissue; ulcer, burns and eczema; points on major blood vessels; and back and side of the neck. An unskilled acupuncturist or an anxious patient may cause pain in the treated region. A little bit of soreness too can be observed in some post-treatment cases. When the needles are reused or aren’t sterilized, they could trigger infectious disease in patients. Bleeding and pain caused by hooked, blunt, or forgotten needles are another cause of worry.
About the author
Tianlong Du is an acupuncture and Neurology specialist at Beijing Acupuncture and Herbal Life based in Georgia with over 49 years of experience. Dr. Du has been practicing acupuncture and Chinese medicine in greater Atlanta for the past several years. He was a renowned neurologist in Beijing, China before he came to the US.