ACUPUNCTURE Overview Information
Acupuncture is an ancient method of treatment that began in China as a part of traditional Chinese medicine.
Acupuncture is used for pain, including low back pain, labor pain, jaw pain due to temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), nerve pain (neuropathy), and shoulder pain; as well as pain due to cancer, migraine headache, and osteoarthritis.
Acupuncture is also used for depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping (insomnia), schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), vomiting associated with cancer treatment, stroke, bed-wetting, poor control of urination (incontinence), dry mouth, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and many other conditions.
Some people also use acupuncture to break addictions including smoking and cocaine-dependence.
How does it work?
Acupuncture is a treatment method used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Acupuncture treatment involves inserting fine needles into specific parts or points on the body along pathways called “meridians.” The purpose is to stimulate points that correspond to specific organs, emotions, or sensory feelings. For example, acupuncture around the ear, feet, and hands targets the pain of labor.
In traditional Chinese medicine, it is thought that disease is caused by an imbalanced or blocked flow of energy or “qi.” Therefore, acupuncture is thought to stimulate energy flow, unblock energy, and rebalance energy, which results in healing.
Most acupuncture points are located near nerves. Researchers suggest that inserting an acupuncture needle at these points may block pain signals.
Some experts also think that acupuncture might release natural chemicals called endorphins or opioids, which naturally reduce pain.
For depression and other mental conditions, acupuncture is thought to stimulate chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) that allow nerve cells to communicate. Some researchers believe that acupuncture might increase the production and release of serotonin and norepinephrine, two neurotransmitters that play a big role in depression.
Possibly Effective for:
- Nausea and vomiting caused by cancer treatment that uses chemicals (chemotherapy). Anti-nausea medications seem to prevent vomiting right after chemotherapy more effectively when acupuncture is also used. But acupuncture doesn’t seem to help immediate or delayed nausea.
- Labor pain. Pregnant women receiving acupuncture during labor seem to need less help for pain.
- Osteoarthritis. There is evidence that acupuncture significantly reduces pain in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee.
- Back pain.
- Bed-wetting. There is some evidence that acupuncture might help bed-wetting in children.
- Cancer-related pain. Developing research shows that acupuncture can reduce pain in cancer patients.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Early research suggests that acupuncture can improve shortness of breath and walking without shortness of breath in people with this lung condition.
- Cocaine dependence. Developing research shows that ear acupuncture doesn’t seem to reduce cocaine use in cocaine addicts.
- Depression. There is some evidence that acupuncture can reduce symptoms of depression in people with mild-to-moderate depression. Some research even concludes acupuncture works about as well as medications for depression. But these results have been criticized because of the small number of people involved in the study and because of other study design problems.
- Schizophrenia. Some research shows that acupuncture used along with usual medications for schizophrenia might improve some symptoms. But the small number of people involved in the research limits the reliability of these findings.
- Shoulder pain. Some studies show that acupuncture can significantly reduce shoulder pain in spinal cord injury patients who use wheelchairs. But patients who received “sham treatment,” treatment known not to be effective, also reported less pain. This response may be due to “the placebo effect,” the tendency of some people to feel better because they want to believe the treatment they received worked. The similarity of improvements between the two groups—patients receiving acupuncture and patients receiving sham treatment—suggests that acupuncture might not be responsible for reducing pain.
- Smoking cessation. Developing research suggests that acupuncture does not significantly improve long-term stop-smoking rates.
- Stroke. There is some evidence that acupuncture following the type of stroke that is caused by a blood clot in the brain (ischemic stroke) is associated with a somewhat reduced risk of death, disability, and institutional care after 3 months. It’s less clear how well acupuncture works in stroke rehabilitation. This is the process stroke patients undergo to try to regain some of the abilities they lost because of the stroke. Bigger studies involving more people are needed to measure the effectiveness of acupuncture on stroke rehabilitation.
- Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ). Some research suggests that acupuncture can significantly reduce pain and other symptoms of TMJ; but some experts question these results because the research didn’t rule out “the placebo effect.” Sometimes people feel better because they have received some kind of treatment. The treatment itself might be ineffective but people feel better because they believe it worked. This reaction is known as “the placebo effect.”
- Bipolar disorder.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome.
- Dry mouth.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
- Migraine headache.
- Nerve pain.
- Poor bladder control (incontinence).
- Trouble sleeping (insomnia).
- Other conditions.
ACUPUNCTURE Side Effects & Safety
Acupuncture is safe when used appropriately. Side effects are generally rare, but can include dizziness, nausea and vomiting, pain, fainting, and infection of the needle insertion points.