The Benefits of Acupuncture
For centuries, acupuncture has been used as a healing tool for a variety of conditions and ailments. Originally used for pain management, acupuncture is now used for other benefits, including stress management. The traditional Chinese medicine practice is derived from the concept that health issues are a result of a disruption in the body’s flow of “qi”– circulating life energy.
What is acupuncture?
Qi, pronounced “chi,” is said to flow along invisible energy channels in the body called meridians, which are associated with different organ systems. On these meridians, there are acupuncture points. More than 2,000 points can be found along these meridians and by applying tiny needles, pressure, or heat to them, it activates the body’s self-healing mechanism and releases the qi. In turn, a person can experience therapeutic benefits, relaxation, and pain relief.
Acupuncture involves an acupuncturist examining and assessing a patient and their condition before treatment. The patient then lies down on their back, front or side as thin needles are inserted into the skin and stay in the skin for 5-30 minutes. The number of sessions needed depends on the patient. People with chronic conditions may need to have a treatment session every week for several months, while people with acute problems may only need 8-12 sessions.
How does acupuncture work?
Western medicine hasn’t quite figured out exactly how acupuncture works. There isn’t any scientific evidence that meridians or acupuncture points exist, but some research shows that acupuncture is helpful in treating certain conditions, such as post-operative and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. There’s evidence of effective pain relief for other more chronic conditions as well, such as back and neck pain, knee pain, headaches, osteoarthritis, and shoulder pain. Some theories exist as to how exactly acupuncture works in benefiting health and alleviating pain. These theories are listed below.
• Acupuncture points are places where nerves, muscles, and connective tissue can be stimulated. Stimulation increases blood flow and releases endorphins, the body’s pain-relieving chemicals.
• Acupuncture activates peripheral nerves to shut the “gate” on pain signals that travel through the spinal cord. This interruption of pain signals is known as the “gate control theory.”
• Acupuncture can be beneficial due to patient’s beliefs about the benefits expected from the practice. This placebo response helps the brain take control and can be effective for some people.
• Acupuncture helps influence the autonomic system and the release of chemicals that regulate blood flow and blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and calm the brain.
• Acupuncture reduces pro-inflammatory markers in the body, helping reduce inflammation and pain.
Benefits of Acupuncture
Acupuncture has numerous benefits that affect multiple systems in the body. Among other benefits, acupuncture can:
• Reduce stress by lowering stress hormones and helping to regulate mood
• Reduce nausea and vomiting associated with cancer treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery
• Help treat menstrual cramps
• Help with fertility treatment by promoting blood flow to the uterus, increasing effectiveness of fertility treatment drugs, and relieving stress and anxiety associated with fertility treatment
• Reduce back and joint pain, as well as neck tension
• Help fight off pathogens by boosting the immune system
• Regulate the digestive system, providing relief from digestive conditions
• Enhance mental clarity
• Improve energy
• Improve sleep
• Reduce allergy symptoms
• Reduce migraine and headache symptoms
• Reduce cigarette craving
The World Health Organization created a list in 2003 of conditions in which acupuncture has been proven effective. These conditions include but are not limited to:
• Facial pain
• Rheumatoid arthritis
• Tennis elbow
• Dental pain
• Inducing labor
• Reducing risk of stroke
• Managing high and low blood pressure
• Some gastric conditions
• Morning sickness (even fertility)
There are other more functional benefits of acupuncture that make it a viable treatment option for many people. Acupuncture is a safe treatment when performed correctly. It has very few side effects and can be effectively combined with other treatments. Acupuncture also may help patients who find pain medications unsuitable.
If you have more questions about acupuncture, you can check out our guide of answered questions for first time seekers.
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