Acupuncture is widely used as a complementary treatment for many types of pain and many disorders. Acupuncture is commonly used to relieve back pain in the United States and Canada.
What does an acupuncture treatment consist of?
Extremely fine needles are inserted into specific points in the body. The needles are left in place for a short time - from a few minutes to half an hour. Because the needles are so fine that, if properly inserted by a professional, they cannot be felt once inserted. During the insertion of the needles, there may be a little pain or no pain at all.
It is important that a licensed acupuncture practitioner perform acupuncture. The needles used are disposable (the needles are regulated by the FDA for single use only), and the skin should be swabbed with disinfectant at the site of insertion. Infection may occur if there is inadequate sterilization of the needles. When done properly, acupuncture is virtually free of side effects.
How does acupuncture work?
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice based on the belief that life energy (qi - pronounced "chee") flows through the body along pathways called meridians. Different meridians correspond to different body parts. If the flow of energy (qi) is interrupted, health problems can result. Acupuncture is used to restore the flow of energy (qi) to restore health.
Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how acupuncture works. One theory is that acupuncture stimulates the production of endorphins (body's own pain killers) or other chemicals that affect the nervous system but the actual mechanism in which acupuncture works to relieve pain in unknown. To those who have experienced pain relief from acupuncture, they only care that it works, not why it works - and, a growing number of physicians are referring patients for acupuncture treatment.
Is there any proof that Acupuncture relieves pain?
Controlled studies have had varied responses (possibly because they have been too small), but most studies have produced positive results - the majority of people obtaining pain relief. Research has shown acupuncture to be especially useful in relieving nausea from chemotherapy and surgery. Acupuncture may relieve many types of pain and conditions, including low back pain, sciatica, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches, and more.
One of the largest and longest study ever showed that an extended course of acupuncture reduced pain by 40% in those with knee osteoarthritis. The results were not immediate - after 8 weeks there was an improvement in functioning only; after 14 weeks there was an improvement in pain. This study was funded by NCCAM (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine) and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, both divisions of National Institutes of Health.
Like any treatment, acupuncture does not produce the same result in all people, even when they have the same condition. As it often seems to provide partial but not total pain relief, acupuncture is often used as a part of a pain management plan.
If you are experiencing back pain and have not had adequate pain relief from conventional treatment (or wish to cut back on pain medication) and are considering acupuncture ask your doctor to recommend a licensed acupuncture practitioner.