Relieving your pain with acupuncture
‘In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is linked to the belief that disease is caused by disruptions to the flow of energy, or qi, in the body.’1 It is a complementary medical practice that involves the stimulation of certain points on the body. This procedure is done most often using a needle that is penetrated into the skin in order to alleviate pain or to help treat some health conditions.
Traditional Chinese acupuncture entails the insertion of very fine needles into the skin a specific points called acupoints. This many relieve pain by releasing endorphins which are the body’s natural pain killing chemicals. In this tradition, the acupuncturist may turn the needles slightly to apply heat or electrical simulation which can enhance the effects.
Acupuncture treatments are usually carried out in hospitals and other health care facilities. They are also not based on the same principles that they were in ancient China and in ancient Eastern texts.
Dr. Ting Bao, an integrative medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York, says that western scientists have been trying to study the mechanism of acupuncture. This is what scientists have come up with:
- One hypothesis is that acupuncture works through neurohormonal pathways. Basically, you put the needle through specific points in the body and this stimulates the nerve. The nerve then sends signals to the brain, and the brain releases neural hormones such as beta-Endorphins. By doing that, the patient may feel euphoric, or happy, and this increases the pain threshold and they tend to feel less pain.
- Another hypothesis is that acupuncture works by reducing pro-inflammatory markers, or proteins, in the body. Some animal and human studies suggest that by doing acupuncture, you can significantly decrease these pro-inflammatory markers — including TNF and IL-1β — which decreases inflammation and reduces pain.
Is There Research into the Effects of Acupuncture?
One of the largest studies to date on acupuncture and chronic pain done was in October 2012. In this study, a meta-analysis of 29 well conducted studies involving almost 18,000 patients, found that acupuncture is effective for treating chronic pain and therefore is a reasonable referral option. 2
Safety of Acupuncture
Acupuncture appears generally quite safe and the complication rate quite low. Needles that are used are single-use and sealed in needled packages.
If you decide to try acupuncture, seek out an experienced acupuncturist. Licensing requirements vary from state to state. In states with no licensing requirements, your best bet is to find an acupuncturist with certification from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
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