”Thousands of years after acupuncture was invented, controversy remains over whether the Chinese traditional medicine technique works. While previous trials have shown mixed results, a new study shows that, at the very least, those needles really do cause something to happen in our bodies.
Scientists have long been skeptical about the value of acupuncture, though practitioners have questioned whether the acupuncture in many studies was done “correctly.” Other trials suggest that acupuncture does “work,” but only as a placebo. In a study published this week in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, researchers measured the biological effect of the procedure. They found that if you do acupuncture correctly, your body releases more nitric oxide at the points where the needles are inserted. The nitric oxide increases blood flow and triggers your body to release natural anesthetics, which can create either warming or cooling sensations. (The study was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health.)
The scientists inserted acupuncture needles into 25 people, ages 18 to 60 and both men and women. Then they tried two different methods. In one, they twisted the needles for two minutes every five minutes, for a total of 20 minutes. In the other, they applied electrical heat for 20 minutes.
Using a device that can measure the molecules in specific skin regions, researchers were able to detect the nitric oxide being released at these acupuncture sites for both methods.”
- What is acupuncture?
- How widely is acupuncture used in the United States?
- What does acupuncture feel like?
- Is acupuncture safe?
- Does acupuncture work?
- How might acupuncture work?
- How much will acupuncture cost?
- Will it be covered by my insurance?
- What should I expect during my first visit?
- What can Acupuncture treat?
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is one of the oldest, most commonly used medical procedures in the world. Originating in China more than 2,000 years ago, acupuncture began to become better known in the United States in 1971, when New York Times reporter James Reston wrote about how doctors in China used needles to ease his pain after surgery.
The term acupuncture describes a family of procedures involving stimulation of anatomical points on the body by a variety of techniques. American practices of acupuncture incorporate medical traditions from China, Japan, Korea, and other countries. The acupuncture technique that has been most studied scientifically involves penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation.
How widely is acupuncture used in the United States?
In the past two decades, acupuncture has grown in popularity in the United States. The report from a Consensus Development Conference on Acupuncture held at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1997 stated that acupuncture is being “widely” practiced–by thousands of physicians, dentists, acupuncturists, and other practitioners–for relief or prevention of pain and for various other health conditions. According to the 2002 National Health Interview Survey–the largest and most comprehensive survey of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) used by American adults to date–an estimated 8.2 million U.S. adults had ever used acupuncture, and an estimated 2.1 million U.S. adults had used acupuncture in the previous year.
What does acupuncture feel like?
Acupuncture needles are metallic, solid, and hair-thin. People experience acupuncture differently, but most feel no or minimal pain as the needles are inserted. Some people are energized by treatment, while others feel relaxed. Improper needle placement, movement of the patient, or a defect in the needle can cause soreness and pain during treatment. This is why it is important to seek treatment from a qualified acupuncture practitioner.
Is acupuncture safe?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved acupuncture needles for use by licensed practitioners in 1996. The FDA requires that sterile, nontoxic needles be used and that they be labeled for single use by qualified practitioners only. At the Oriental Health Care Center, we use only disposable, single-use needles.
Relatively few complications from the use of acupuncture have been reported to the FDA in light of the millions of people treated each year and the number of acupuncture needles used.
Does acupuncture work?
According to the NIH Consensus Statement on Acupuncture, there have been many studies on acupuncture’s potential usefulness, but results have been mixed because of complexities with study design and size, as well as difficulties with choosing and using placebos or sham acupuncture. However, promising results have emerged, showing efficacy of acupuncture, for example, in adult postoperative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting, as well as in postoperative dental pain. There are other situations–such as addiction, stroke rehabilitation, headache, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, low-back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and asthma–in which acupuncture may be useful as an adjunct treatment or an acceptable alternative or be included in a comprehensive management program. An NCCAM-funded study recently showed that acupuncture provides pain relief, improves function for people with osteoarthritis of the knee, and serves as an effective complement to standard care. Further research is likely to uncover additional areas where acupuncture interventions will be useful.
NIH has funded a variety of research projects on acupuncture. These grants have been funded by NCCAM, its predecessor, the Office of Alternative Medicine, and other NIH institutes and centers.
- Visit the NCCAM Web site, or call the NCCAM Clearinghouse for more information on scientific findings about acupuncture.
- Read the NIH Consensus Statement on Acupuncture, to learn what scientific experts have said about the use and effectiveness of acupuncture for a variety of conditions.
How might acupuncture work?
Acupuncture is one of the key components of the system of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). In the TCM system of medicine, the body is seen as a delicate balance of two opposing and inseparable forces: yin and yang. Yin represents the cold, slow, or passive principle, while yang represents the hot, excited, or active principle. Among the major assumptions in TCM are that health is achieved by maintaining the body in a “balanced state” and that disease is due to an internal imbalance of yin and yang. This imbalance leads to blockage in the flow of qi (vital energy) along pathways known as meridians. It is believed that there are 12 main meridians and 8 secondary meridians, and that there are more than 2,000 acupuncture points on the human body that connect with them.
Preclinical studies have documented acupuncture’s effects, but they have not been able to fully explain how acupuncture works within the framework of the Western system of medicine that is commonly practiced in the United States. It is proposed that acupuncture produces its effects through regulating the nervous system, thus aiding the activity of pain-killing biochemicals such as endorphins and immune system cells at specific sites in the body. In addition, studies have shown that acupuncture may alter brain chemistry by changing the release of neurotransmitters and neurohormones, thus affecting the parts of the central nervous system related to sensation and involuntary body functions, such as immune reactions and processes that regulate a person’s blood pressure, blood flow, and body temperature.
How much will acupuncture cost?
A practitioner will inform you about the estimated number of treatments needed and how much each will cost. Treatment may take place over a few days or for several weeks or more.
Will it be covered by my insurance?
Acupuncture is one of the CAM therapies that are more commonly covered by insurance. However, you should check with your insurer before you start treatment to see whether acupuncture will be covered for your condition and, if so, to what extent. Some insurance plans require preauthorization for acupuncture. The center does not handle insurance claims for acupuncture. You will have to contact your own insurance company for reimbursement.
What should I expect during my first visit?
During your first office visit, the practitioner may ask you at length about your health condition, lifestyle, and behavior. The practitioner will want to obtain a complete picture of your treatment needs and behaviors that may contribute to your condition. Inform the acupuncturist about all treatments or medications you are taking and all medical conditions you have.
What can acupuncture treat?
Here is a list of a few problems acupuncture and Chinese medicine have been effective at treating:
Emotional and Psychological Disorders
Eye, Ear, Nose, Throat Disorders
Gynecological Genitourinary Disorders
Musculoskeletal and Neurological Disorders
Information Provided by The National Institutes of Health