First appearing in China over 2,500 years ago, acupuncture is one of the most long-serving types of traditional Chinese medicine. The alternative, natural medicine has been used through the ages for stroke rehabilitation and to treat menstrual cramps, headaches, lower-back pain and a variety of different joint conditions. Slowly, acupuncture is becoming increasingly popular in the West – for example, a study conducted in 2007 found that over 20 million Americans had tried acupuncture, and that figure is only increasing around the world.
In this article, we question what acupuncture is, how it works, and the ancient medicines all round benefits.
Despite common belief, acupuncture is not exclusively the method of inserting needles into various areas of the body; rather, it is a complete medical practice, and one of the techniques used in treatment is needle insertion. The desired function of acupuncture is to rebalance the body’s natural flow of energy, sometimes referred to as chi. Despite other methods being widely available, it is needle insertion that has been widely adopted in the Western World, today. As well as boasting many physical benefits, acupuncture also has the ability to reduce stress and anxiety and, consequently, improve mental health.
As reported by traditional Chinese medicine, you can only be at optimum health when your body’s energy, or chi, is balanced. When chi is balanced, it is believed that energy is flowing evenly through pathways or meridians in the body; however, experiencing bouts of illness or stress can cause your body to become imbalanced, in which case, the need to rebalance your chi is necessary to regain full health. The body is thought to have 350 acupuncture points; by carefully inserting delicate needles into the body, your acupuncturist has the ability to manipulate your stream of chi, helping to rebalance your overall energy flow.
While rebalancing chi is the ultimate goal of acupuncture in classical Chinese medicine, in different parts of the world, acupuncture is more commonly believed to be based on neuroscientific theories. In the Western World, acupuncturists often see the treatment as a process of stimulating nerves and muscles in the body, with the aim to increase blood flow, and generate the release of adenosine to alleviate chronic pain.
Although needles are commonly used in the treatment, acupuncture is generally not painful as the needles used tend to pierce the skin with minimal effort, sometimes creating a tingling sensation, but typically, nothing more. Usually, acupuncture sessions tend to last around half an hour; however, to gain the best results from the treatment, it can be advised to partake in up to 12 sessions, rather than just the one.
A variety of conditions can benefit from the use of acupuncture. The treatment is often used to help chronic back-pain, osteoarthritis, muscle pain and spasms, migraines and joint pain. In addition to its physical benefits, research proposes that acupuncture can improve stress, anxiety, and depression. Acupuncturist, Hugh McPherson, discussed the benefits of acupuncture in an interview with Scientific America: “Strong evidence exists that acupuncture is effective for chronic pain conditions. For depression, we have evidence that acupuncture is a useful adjunct to conventional care. In one recent trial patients on antidepressants who received acupuncture did significantly better than those who just took medication. Patients who received counselling in addition to their medication received a similar benefit to the acupuncture group.” But not everybody agrees: “Most studies examining the effectiveness of acupuncture are not rigorous. Those that are more rigorous fail to show that acupuncture is more than a placebo in managing depression,” notes Edzard Ernst, former Professor of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter.
As with all alternative medicines, acupuncture has had well-documented success and failures, and there is no way of knowing whether the treatment will work for you personally until you give it a try.
Over the years, various studies have been carried out that examine the benefits of acupuncture. Below, we discuss how the ancient Chinese treatment can improve your overall physical health and happiness.
in 2009, an analysis of over 11 different studies concluded that acupuncture could play a part in the reduction of chronic headaches and migraines. When comparing genuine and placebo acupuncture treatments in various clinical trials, results prove that patients receiving the genuine acupuncture sessions experienced fewer and less intense headaches.
An analysis conducted in 2012, by the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centres Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, found that acupuncture has the ability to help subside chronic pain, typically including the relief of joint pain, including arthritis in addition to muscle aches and back pain.
In 2009, a study completed by the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine reported that acupuncture sessions could improve sleep, apparently proving to be more effective than taking over the counter medication.
The result of numerous studies carried out by the National Cancer Institute shows that acupuncture has the potential to speed up recovery after cancer treatments. In addition to this, the Institute found that regular acupuncture can help to better the patient’s immunity, as well as increase platelet count, too. Adverse effects of chemotherapy, such as nausea, were shown to be experienced to a lesser degree by patients undertaking acupuncture alongside their regular treatments.
As shown in clinical trials, acupuncture can help to reduce the symptoms of anxiety. Like most alternative medicine used to treat one’s mental health, a minimal amount of scientific evidence is present to show that acupuncture decreases anxiety; however, natural medicine is much better for the body than most over-the-counter treatments, so it’s worth giving it a go.
Whether you’re suffering from daily headaches, or feeling a little low in terms of mental health, maybe acupuncture could be the alleviation you’ve been searching for. Although the treatment is still a topic of controversy, research today shows that acupuncture does, in fact, have various benefits for both mental and physical health. For the relief of chronic pain, try pairing professional acupuncture sessions with some simple yoga postures, designed to stretch and rejuvenate the affected area. Results may vary from person to person, but purchasing a comfy yoga mat and taking time to stretch out any aching muscles is certainly worth a go.