What is Acupuncture?

Both Eastern and Western medical practitioners use acupuncture as a treatment to prevent and cure various diseases. The practice involves inserting  very fine needles into the acupuncture points or points on the meridians of the body. From the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine, this practice is thought to rebalance the energy (chi) that flows through the 365 acupuncture points. According to western medical practitioners, the needles stimulate muscles, tissues and nerves to support the body in its natural healing.

Why is Acupuncture History so Controversial?

Many people believe acupuncture is an “ancient” system of medicine that originated in China well before 100 B.C. when the first document that unquestionably described acupuncture was published. Instruments that could have been used for acupuncture were found as early as 6000 B.C. There were texts describing acupuncture points in 198 B.C. Despite the brief time in which acupuncture was outlawed in China from 1929 to 1949, it has been a constant staple of the country's basic healthcare.

In China, the concepts behind acupuncture were passed down and re-developed over many centuries. Some theories—like those outlined in the oldest medical textbook," Huang Di Nei Jing" ("Yellow Emperor's Internal Classic")—are still used today. In the 1950s, acupuncture became exponentially more popular and numerous research institutes opened in China.

It wasn’t until the first half of the 19th century that acupuncture became very popular in the U.S. and England. It has spread to other Asian countries at various times starting with Japan and Korea and later to Europe where France became an early adopter.

What Are The Benefits of Acupuncture For Chronic Pain?

Acupuncture has been proven to alleviate all types of chronic pain—from headaches, migraines, neck pain and menstrual cramps, to lower back pain and chronic pain associated with osteoarthritis. It can even help with dental pain, gastrointestinal symptoms and respiratory illness. Those who suffer from symptoms due to chemotherapy and labor have also benefited from acupuncture.

While there is limited but probable evidence that acupuncture can provide relief for many other diseases—from acne to STDS—there are case-controlled, limited studies that prove it is useful for the treatment of all the disorders mentioned above. Of course, anecdotal evidence abounds, much relating to back pain.

Acupuncture for Back Pain

With eight out of 10 people reporting lower back pain at some point in life, it is no surprise that the number one reason people see an acupuncturist is for back pain. Fortunately, there are several acupuncture points believed to be of unique benefit for the muscles and nerves in the back, including points at the back of the knee, foot, hip, hand, stomach and lower back.

With an estimated 3 million Americans per year receiving acupuncture, studies confirm that it is generally useful at least 50 percent of the time for chronic pain, according to results published in “Archives of Internal Medicine.”

Acupuncture for Emotional Pain

More recently, research suggests that acupuncture is also beneficial for emotional pain. It is thought to promote overall well-being and relieve symptoms of anxiety, depression and insomnia. One study on short-term acupuncture use in the military concluded that acupuncture “is an effective treatment adjunct for PTSD….” The implications of this are promising for both military personnel as well as civilian populations who have also experienced trauma.

Is Acupuncture Safe?

Many squirm at the thought of needles and wonder if acupuncture could do more harm than good. As long as the needles are sterile, and the acupuncturist is performing the treatment correctly, acupuncture is safe. To reduce the risk of side effects, which include bruising and bleeding at the site of needle insertion as well as soreness, those seeking treatment should see certified acupuncturists who practice with single-use, disposable needles. Potential patients should make sure that they are good candidates for acupuncture. Those who are pregnant, wear pacemakers or have bleeding disorders could experience complications. Infection could occur if needles aren’t sterile.