Many people’s idea of acupuncture come from images in tv and movies of people lying on a table looking like porcupines with needles stuck all over their body. To many people’s surprise, it is actually a natural pain-relieving therapy that dates back several millennia.
Where eastern medicine meets the west, the past 20 years in the U.S. have resulted in a variety of applications, research and study that proves the growing use of acupuncture is a safe and natural alternative to medicine in the treatment of pain and other ailments.
What is Acupuncture?
This ancient Chinese practice of medicine dates back over 2,500 years and is a staple treatment for many ailments including pain. Acupuncture maintains that the body’s natural, vital energy flow, qi (pronounced “chee”), can be manipulated and enhanced with the use of very thin, metallic needles inserted into the body.
Meridians, or the 20 pathways that conduct qi, run all throughout the body, and acupuncture needles can be inserted at over 2,000 points on the body to connect with them. Promoting a proper or normal flow of qi is the goal of acupuncture and is believed to result in good health and pain relief.
How Is Acupuncture Practiced
Depending on your reason for seeking treatment, a licensed and trained acupuncturist will work with anywhere from 1 to 20 thin metallic needles ranging in lengths. Acupuncture needles are close to 20 times thinner than your average hypodermic needle which a doctor might use for injections.
Unlike needles you might see when you get a shot, for example, the needles used here in therapy are solid and come to a fine point resulting in little to no pain when inserted. Short needles are inserted into various points of the skin and shallow epidermal layers beneath, while longer needles (5 to 9 inches) can be inserted into deeper tissue layers, muscle, and even under the scalp.
Practice varies by practitioner and patient needs, however, needles can remain stuck in the body for a handful of seconds up to 30 minutes. Needles may also be turned and manipulated by the practitioner, or even have heat and electrical charges applied to them. Some acupuncturists also employ the use of herbal compounds when they insert needles.
In addition to needle insertion and acupressure through massage, it may also include “cupping,” made famous most recently by Michael Phelps at the 2016 Olympics (however, it is just as ancient as needle therapy). Cupping involves heating special cups (made of glass, silicone, bamboo or earthenware) and applying them to the skin. The result? A targeted circle of suction is created promoting blood flow close to the surface of the skin.
How Does Acupuncture Relieve Pain
The most interesting part of acupuncture is how it in fact helps relieve pain. Long dismissed as an unreputed pseudoscience by the scientific and medical communities, growing research and studies have proven the pain relieving effects of this therapy. While the evidentiary proof behind the understanding of qi and meridians wanes, the body’s physiological response to this therapy is very real.
Experiencing chronic low back pain or back pain when coughing? How about shoulder and neck pain? The body has a miraculous way of self-healing and acupuncture taps into this natural process. It is believed to stimulate the body’s central nervous system, promoting a release of chemicals and hormones including opioid peptides and endorphins.
Opioids reduce a patient’s perception of pain, creating an analgesic effect, acting much like opiate drugs a person might take to treat pain. Directly related is the production of endorphins conducted by the electromagnetic signals acupuncture sends. Endorphins play the role of neurotransmitter, activating the body’s opiate receptors and boosting overall mood and feelings of pain relief.
Note the Reminders
It isn’t for everyone! In fact, if you are pregnant, have a pacemaker, have certain skin conditions, are at risk for infection or even take certain medications, acupuncture can be too risky a treatment. Talk with your doctor before seeking acupuncture therapy, and ask them for a referral to a practitioner they trust.
If your acupuncturist believes you may have a condition or illness not previously diagnosed, talk with your licensed medical doctor about the possibility and to get a full diagnosis prior to seeking further treatment. And know that a large percentage of states in the U.S. require acupuncturists to have a license, so make sure to check the credentials of the acupuncturist you choose for treatment.
Where to Start
At the beginning of 2017, a somewhat surprising recommendation was issued by the American College of Physicians in regards to low back pain specifically. The gist of it? Ditch the pills and opt for alternative treatments to relieve low back pain – treatments including exercise, yoga, and you guessed it, acupuncture. More widely received as a viable approach to effective alternative medicine, acupuncture is becoming a popular choice among Americans with over 3 million reporting they opted to receive acupuncture treatment for their pain or ailment.
If your doctor does not have a referral to an acupuncturist for you, ask a friend who has sought treatment for pain or a condition similar to yours, or look online for local practices and reviews. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine provides a database of certified acupuncturists for you to search through, or you can call 904-598-1005. As it is typically an on-going therapy requiring multiple visits, it is also worth asking your health insurance provider if there is any coverage of acupuncture or ability to be reimbursed for a certain number of visits.
The interesting result of some acupuncture efficacy studies has shown that even when “sham” (or fake) acupuncture was practiced on a patient for pain, the placebo effect of it in the brain resulted in positive pain relief. The results of 29 comprehensive studies involving 18,000 patients were published in the Archives of internal Medicine in 2012 – they revealed that on average acupuncture relieved pain in people by about 50% – that’s huge!
Author :- Joe Fleming
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