Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that is used to treat various conditions. It involves placing needles lightly into the surface of the skin in specific places called acupuncture points. The needles are often thin enough to not cause discomfort or major injuries to the patient. Though acupuncture is mainly used for pain relief, there have been reports that claim that it can help with mental and emotional conditions as well.
In this blog, we will take a deeper look on what acupuncture is. Our focus will be on the acupuncture’s history and methodology. We will also look at its efficacy on pain-related conditions.
If you’re considering getting the procedure, please consult your GP first. There are a number of bulk billed doctors in Australia offering acupuncture as a form of complementary medicine.
What is acupuncture?
- Western and Eastern perspectives
Through the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), acupuncture aims to regulate the flow of qi through the meridians (pathways) in our bodies.
According to Chinese philosophy, qi is a life-giving force that consists of yin (light) and yang (dark) phases. It is said that the balance of these phases influences our mental and physical health. The acupuncture points are said to be specific areas along the meridian that have an significant impact on the balance of our qi. By stimulating these points, we can regulate our qi and thus improve our health.
From the western point of view, acupuncture points are considered to be specific parts of the nervous system. Health professionals say that acupuncture aims to stimulate certain nerves in your body to improve your immune system, blood pressure levels, blood circulation and more.
Health centres that offer acupuncture treatments often view it as complementary medicine as opposed to alternative medicine. This means acupuncture is not standard medicine that is established based on successful scientific studies.
Plenty of acupuncture practitioners combine both western and eastern techniques. Some of these techniques involve the use of:
The method that is used might be different depending on which part of the body needs treatment. According to the Mayo Clinic, other factors that your practitioner might consider includes your pulse, the condition of your tongue and your complexion (i.e. blood circulation to the face).
Since acupuncture is not limited to a specific age group, it’s possible for children to have the procedure as well. In such a case, practitioners might forego needles and use alternative methods like acupressure and suction cups.
A standard procedure requires the use of thin sterile needles. Often, acupuncture needles are made of stainless steel to prevent rusting. They are also disposed of after one use to avoid contamination. These precautionary steps are taken to prevent patients from getting infections.
These needles are quickly inserted into the skin via a plastic guiding tube. It’s important that this step is done with speed as it is often the most painful part of the procedure. That being said, most patients will likely feel little to no discomfort at this stage. Different size needles are used for different parts of the body. Generally speaking, thinner needles are used on the parts of our bodies with delicate tissue.
Additionally, the needles are inserted at varying depths. For example, the needles on your face might not go as deep as the ones that will be on your back.
Twenty is the average number of needles used in a standard acupuncture treatment.
Once the needles have penetrated the skin, the practitioner will then manipulate it by spinning and flicking the needles. This will give you a dull, tugging ache on your skin. Depending on the method that you opted for, the practitioner might use electroacupuncture (the use of electric currents) or moxibustion (the use of heat) techniques for stimulation.
After this, the needles are left on your skin for around 20 minutes. During this time, you are encouraged to relax and let it take effect. There often is no pain when the needles are removed.
With acupuncture, it’s common to go in for multiple treatments.
Now that you know the gist of the procedure, here are a few conditions that acupuncture may be able to help you with.
- Lower back pain
There have been multiple reports that acupuncture has a favorable effect on lower back pain. A report in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that patients experienced decreased pain levels and increased mobility immediately after the treatment. That being said, the long-term effects of acupuncture on lower back pain is often negligible.
In Australia, Medicare offers acupuncture coverage for those with chronic lower back pain. For more information, click here.
A review in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews suggests that acupuncture treatment might be able to reduce migraine episodes. However, they also found that placebo acupuncture treatments showed similar results.
Because of this, it can be argued that the results that came out of acupuncture might largely be a placebo effect. In fact, the Mayo Clinic claims that there’s evidence that acupuncture works best in people who ‘expect it to work’.
Those suffering from osteoarthritis also reported immediate relief after an acupuncture treatment. Needling the muscles and tissues near the affected area is said to have reduced pain and sensitivity.
Additionally, a review from the Journal of JAMA Surgery claimed that acupuncture delayed the use of opioid medication in some patients.
Other conditions that are reportedly responsive to acupuncture include:
– Menstrual and other pelvic pain
– Post-operative pain
– Depression, PTSD, Anxiety, Insomnia
– Allergies or eczema
Hopefully, this gave you an idea of whether or not acupuncture is for you. Though it doesn’t offer the same level of efficacy as modern medicine, it seems to have established itself as a common form of complementary medicine. If you’re interested, please consult with your GP.