Scientists Seek Clues for Acupuncture's Success
Learn how acupuncture might help when Western medicine doesn't have an answer.
It's a mystery and a miracle: An acupuncture needle inserted in the pinkie
toe changes a breech baby's position in the womb. How is this possible?
Ever since the 1970s, when this ancient Chinese tradition debuted in the
U.S., Western researchers have sought to understand the phenomenon of
But the American public hasn't waited for the scientific answers. Growing
numbers have sought out acupuncturists for chronic health problems -- when
conventional medicine either hasn't worked nor has answers. According to the
2002 National Health Interview Survey, an estimated 8.2 million American adults
have used acupuncture -- an impressive number considering only an estimated 2.1
million American adults had used acupuncture in the year before.
Acupuncture is used as an adjunct treatment or an acceptable alternative to
treat an ever-growing list of disorders: addiction, stroke, headache, menstrual
cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, low back pain, carpal
tunnel syndrome, asthma, infertility, pregnancy problems, dental pain, and side
effects from cancer treatment.
"The applications for acupuncture are endless ... people use it for sports
injuries, for their emotional well-being, for everything," Peter Wayne,
PhD, director of research at the New England School of Acupuncture, tells
Recent advances in technology have helped unlock the biological mysteries of
this 2,000-year-old medical practice. Researchers are closer to understanding
how an acupuncture needle can subtly adjust the body's tissues, nerves, and
hormones. The NIH and World Health Organization have both given formal approval
of certain uses of acupuncture.
It helps to have an exploring, open mindset when considering acupuncture.
"But even people who are not very open-minded and try it, find they feel
good during the treatments," David S. Kiefer, MD, of the University of
Arizona in Tucson, told WebMD in a previous interview. "Sometimes they are
What Acupuncture Can Do for You
Pain Relief: With the safety of pain relievers being
questioned and one (Vioxx) being pulled from the market in recent months, a new
study gives arthritis sufferers more reason to try acupuncture. One advantage
of this type of treatment, says the NIH, is that the rates of side effects are
substantially lower than that of many drugs or other accepted medical
procedures used for the same conditions.
In what was hailed as "the largest, longest, and most rigorous study of
acupuncture" ever conducted, acupuncture was found to reduce pain and
improve function and movement among patients with osteoarthritis of the knee
when used with other treatments.
That study paves the way for more and better research of acupuncture, Wayne
tells WebMD. "This was a landmark study not only in its finding for
osteoarthritis. It shows that if we put resources into a carefully designed
trial, we're likely to see something definitive ... we may be able to say with
more certainty that other [applications of acupuncture] are effective."