Benefits of Acupuncture
When most people think of acupuncture, especially those of us that haven’t experienced it, the first thing that comes to mind may be along the lines of the character, Pinhead, from the horror film, Hellraiser. Acupuncture is a relatively painless procedure of fine needles inserted into the skin to treat health problems. Acupuncture has been around for at least 2,500 years, beginning in traditional Chinese medicine, and since the 1970’s gained more popularity throughout the rest of the world. According to the World Health Organization, acupuncture is used in 103 of the 129 countries that have reported data. In the United States, the number of people receiving acupuncture has increased by 50 percent between 2002 and 2012.
Acupuncture is most used for pain relief, such as back and neck pain, joint pain, sciatica, headaches and migraines, and fibromyalgia. Additionally, it can used to help treat a plethora of issues, including: depression, carpal tunnel, seasonal allergies, asthma, hot flashes associated with menopause, and more.
It has yet to be fully understood how acupuncture works. There’s evidence that it effects the nervous system and body tissues. It can also have nonspecific placebo effects. Studies that have used imaging methods on the brain have shown that acupuncture may affect nervous system function. It may also have direct effects on the tissues where the needles are inserted.
As for the results due to incidental aspects of the treatment, rather than the treatment itself, there could be several reasons why this could occur. The main reason for incidental results may be due to the patient believing in the treatment. Another reason for results may be because of the relationship between patient and practitioner. Interestingly, patients that have had positive experiences with acupuncture in the past, and were shown a video of that session while being asked to imagine the treatment again, experienced a significant pain-relieving effect.
Acupuncture is helpful for pain relief, especially in the back, neck, and knee. A study of over 6,000 participants showed that acupuncture helped reduce pain from all these conditions for up to a year. The only exception was neck pain, which didn’t have as long of results.
In addition to standard acupuncture, there is another form of acupuncture called auricular acupuncture, that involves stimulating specific areas of the ear. There have been promising results regarding the effects of auricular acupuncture for chronic back and cancer pain. Especially for cancer pain, auricular acupuncture has had better results than drug therapy alone.
When people think of acupuncture as a treatment, it’s usually for pain issues. It can also be used to help combat depression and anxiety. When using acupuncture to treat anxiety it can also help improve overall mood, emotional regulation, and boost overall feelings of wellbeing. The acupuncture needles help to restore energy flow that, when unable to flow freely, cause symptoms of stress and anxiety. In addition to anxiety, acupuncture can help those suffering from depression, especially treatment resistant depression. Acupuncture helps by stimulating areas of the body responsible to produce emotion-managing hormones, assisting in the release of mood-boosting endorphins that help with emotional regulation.
Sticking needles in your body may sound scary, but it’s actually safe with few complications reported. Any complications that do arise is from the use of nonsterile needles. The FDA regulates acupuncture needles as medical devices and require that they be sterile and labeled for single use only. However, acupuncture does need to be administered by a trained professional or more serious adverse effects could occur.
Even though acupuncture is a medical treatment, not all insurances cover it, and others only cover it based on the condition being treated. Medicare will only cover acupuncture if the treatment is for chronic lower-back pain. Medicaid coverage of acupuncture varies by state. The number of people with insurance coverage seeking out acupuncture treatment has gone up from 41 percent in 2010-2011 to 50 percent in 2018-2019.
If acupuncture is something you want to try, always talk to you doctor beforehand so they are aware of all complementary treatments you are using. Also, don’t use acupuncture as an excuse to postpone visits to a health care provider. Just like other treatments, acupuncture isn’t one size fits all. Explore your options and find what works best for you.