Acupuncture is a holistic health technique derived from the practices of traditional Chinese medicine, in which therapists stimulate specific points in the body by inserting thin needles into the skin.
Today, acupuncture is one of the most popular practices of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in the West, which is a type of therapy that originated in ancient China more than 2,500 years ago and has evolved ever since.
What is acupuncture?
Contrary to popular Western belief, acupuncture is not just a therapy in which fine needles are inserted into specific places in the body to relieve pain. Acupuncture is a complete medical protocol focused on correcting energy imbalances in the body.
The explanation for the effectiveness of acupuncture is that it modifies the flow of energy (known as qi or chi) throughout the body, but there is no scientific consensus that this is actually its mechanism of action. Research published in 2010 in the journal Nature Neuroscience showed that the effects of acupuncture puncture include increased activity of adenosine, an amino acid that is activated in the skin after injury to relieve pain.
This may explain in part why pain relief is often experienced as one of the benefits of acupuncture. In fact, extensive research in the West has focused on this analgesic effect, rather than on acupuncture’s traditional role of balancing energy to address a wide range of disorders. Apparently, this mechanism may be truly responsible for its overall health benefits.
Benefits of Acupuncture
Although there is still some concern about the functional use of acupuncture to treat certain conditions, there is a great deal of research confirming certain health benefits.
Because the goal of acupuncture is to promote and restore the balance of energy flowing throughout the body, the benefits of acupuncture can extend to a wide variety of conditions, from emotional disorders (anxiety, depression), through chronic pain, to digestive problems (nausea, vomiting, irritable bowel syndrome).
Reduces chronic pain
This is perhaps the most common use of acupuncture in the human body, and that is why it has been the subject of most research to prove its validity.
Some studies have shown that acupuncture reduces pain by up to 15% when used to relieve different types of pain, although it focuses primarily on back pain as a result of physical stress, old injuries that were never completely healed, muscle tightness, pregnancy, or other sources.
Knee pain is another common condition that causes people to try acupuncture, and although studies have occasionally contradicted each other, most have positive results that make acupuncture an effective way to reduce knee pain from surgery or the pain associated with osteoarthritis and aging.
It is also used successfully to relieve pain in the following cases:
- Menstrual pain.
- Neck pain and contractures.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome.
Several studies have been conducted on the effects of acupuncture on anxiety. As in many of the other uses of this technique, the exact mechanism is not fully known, but clinical trials show a positive correlation between anxiety reduction and acupuncture. In addition, some studies suggest that when acupuncture is added to a drug treatment for stress and anxiety, the dose needed to relieve symptoms is usually lower.
Studies have shown that acupuncture can reduce the frequency of insomnia in many people. It appears that acupuncture increases the secretion of nocturnal melatonin, which is a chemical that helps and induces sleep. Some studies show that in less than five weeks, regular acupuncture significantly decreases the presence and effects of insomnia. So, if you can’t sleep and don’t want to suffer the potentially complicated side effects of sleep medications, talk to an acupuncturist!
Another of the most popular applications of acupuncture in recent years has been the relief of migraines and headaches, both in terms of pain relief and in reducing frequency.
Although the exact mechanism for preventing these conditions through acupuncture around the face, neck and scalp is not known exactly, research results have somehow justified dozens of generations of this method of treatment. There is also a much lower possibility of side effects in acupuncture than in drugs to treat migraine.
On the other hand, neck pain has actually been one of the most proven conditions for which acupuncture is effective. In a review in 2011, there was almost unanimous support that acupuncture is a reliable way and without side effects to relieve chronic neck pain, very often the pain is accompanied by general muscle pain and constant headaches.
Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is a very debilitating disease that affects tens of millions of people worldwide. Unfortunately, the benefits of modern medicine are often insufficient to solve it in the long term, which means that you must constantly (at least once a day) take potent medications to relieve joint pain. Acupuncture offers a different option for reducing the painful and debilitating effects of arthritis.
In the traditional belief system of acupuncture, there are 14 meridians or energy channels in the body that allow the flow of qi, or the body’s natural energy. These meridians often correspond to key nerve endings that act as receptors for impulses from parts of the body such as the knees, back, joints, temples, facial muscles, and so on.
By inserting needles into these meridians, our nerve endings communicate with our brain, telling you that our muscles feel sore or “full. This will cause the release of endorphins, which are normally released during stress to increase energy and block pain receptors.
These endorphins, combined with the normal neurotransmitters that affect nerve impulses, can stop the pain associated with the arthritis that physically limits so many people.
Prevents nausea and vomiting
Acupuncture has also proven to be a very effective tool against nausea and vomiting. There is an acupuncture pressure point at the bottom of the forearm near the wrist, which when stimulated, is thought to reduce the sensation of nausea that can induce vomiting.
After surgery, when a patient is recovering from the effects of anesthesia, they very often experience postoperative nausea and vomiting. A study published in 2009 argued that acupuncture was as effective as the antiemetic drugs commonly given to recovering patients.
And again, the side effects of antiemetic drugs can change our body chemistry, something most people using acupuncture try to avoid.
Chemotherapy is often used as a treatment for cancer patients, and can be a very effective way to save lives. However, the side effects of chemotherapy are quite serious and include hair loss, nausea and vomiting, among others. Another study published in 2011 showed that acupuncture was effective in preventing nausea and vomiting on the day of chemotherapy treatment.