Health benefits of acupuncture

Jessica Lewis
July 13, 2016

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a 3.000-year-old alternative healing therapy. In this therapy, specialists in acupuncture have to stimulate specific energetic points on the body. They stimulate the points by inserting thin or thick and large needles through the skin.

The effects of this practice can be enhanced by heat, pressure, electrical stimulation. There are known other acupoint stimulation techniques such as heat therapy, cupping, manual massage, and the use of tropical herbal treatments. This practice is commonly used in the traditional Chinese medicine. The US National Institutes of Health documented and made public in 1997 the safety and the effects that acupuncture has in improving different health issues.

Acupuncture has its roots in ancient Chinese philosophy that believe the universe to be created and sustained by two opposing forces: yin (feminine) and yang (masculine). It is important that these two forces be balanced for the body to be healthy. The “qi” energy is always flowing through specific channels in the body called meridians. This energy has to flow consistently for the two forces to stay in balance. If this energy gets blocked at some levels, the body might experience pain, illness or lack of function.

Acupuncture restores the normal flow of “qi” energy in the body naturally. It seems like acupuncture had excellent results in improving the function of the endocrine, nervous, immune, cardiovascular, and digestive system. By stimulating different points on the body, acupuncture improves sleep, digestive function, eases the pain and enhances the well-being of the patient.

In 2010, Nature Neuroscience published a research demonstrating that the needles used for an acupuncture session influence the activity of an amino acid (called adenosine). Adenosine is responsible in reducing the pain after an injury. This is how science explains why one of the benefits of the acupuncture is pain relief.

Acupuncture Usage

Many studies showed that acupuncture could help people to ease different pains they have. These sometimes chronic pains are located in body parts such as the neck, the low back, and the knee or they are pains caused by osteoarthritis. Acupuncture is known for the excellent effects it has in reducing the frequency of headaches and preventing severe migraines.

The studies made about acupuncture are only at the beginning, and there are still things to be explored and examined to understand fully how acupuncture affects the brain and human body. An interesting fact is that people who believe in the benefits of acupuncture have more chances to feel improvements in their body after this therapy than those who do not believe in the effects of acupuncture.

Acupuncture Sessions

Your acupuncturist will ask you questions about your health. Most of the practitioners are examining the tongue’s color, coating, shape; they will feel your pulse, and they might proceed to other physical examinations depending on each case.

After this review, the acupuncturist can recommend you the right treatment for your particular health condition. You will lay on a special treatment table while the acupuncturist will start stimulating different points on your body using needles. The practitioner will always be gentle when placing the fine needles on your body so; you will experience little to no discomfort at all. You have to relax and allow the needles to balance your energy between five and twenty minutes, and no longer than sixty minutes. After the treatment, you will feel much more relaxed and at peace.

The needles can be inserted to a depth in the skin that varies. It depends on the treatment and the method of the practitioner. It is recommended that the needles to be placed not too thick, this way the acupuncturist don’t risk puncturing the vital organs. After the treatment, the acupuncturist will talk to you and give you some advice for you to follow until next time you come for a new session. Most of the acupuncturists recommend as well Chinese herbal supplements which support the organism and help it to regain energetic balance.

How many acupuncture treatments are necessary to improve the health?

Depending on each case and on the person’s organism, the frequency and the number of treatments differ. If you are dealing with chronic health issues, you might need one or two treatments a week for several months in a row. For less severe health problems, you might need eight to ten visits. At your first visit, your acupuncturist will explain you in detail about the specific treatment you need. For most patients, practitioners recommend monthly acupuncture visits to prevent stress, to boost the immune system and to improve energy.

Acupuncture Safety

If you are wondering about the safety of acupuncture, you should be relieved to find out that acupuncture is safe. When you decide to begin some acupuncture sessions, it is important to find a well-trained practitioner who has experience and who is using always sterile needles. If it is performed improperly, acupuncture can cause side effects and can even make the health conditions worse.

Side Effects of Acupuncture

A practitioner who doesn’t use sterile needles can cause severe health damages to his patients. If the practitioner is not entirely familiar with the energetic points on the body, he can also cause unbalances in the organism of the patient. When used improperly, acupuncture can cause adverse effects such as collapsed lungs, infections, punctured organs and severe injuries to the central nervous system.

People suffering from bleeding disorders and those who are taking blood thinners should avoid this therapy or consult their doctor before starting acupuncture. It is important that the acupuncturist swabs alcohol over the area before inserting the needle. The most shared and mild side effects of acupuncture are bruising of the skin and bleeding, soreness or pain.

New studies are examining if acupuncture can reduce the frequency of hot flashes in premenopausal women and if it can ease the pain and control the vomiting and nausea that usually accompanies chemotherapy.1

Health conditions treated by acupuncture

The studies made in this field show the benefits of acupuncture in treating heath conditions such as nausea, emotional disorders (anxiety, depression), irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia, migraine headache, infertility, Parkinson’s disease and musculoskeletal problems (neck pain and back pain).

Sinusitis and asthma can be treated with acupuncture. Studies showed that acupuncture reduced fatigue and helped people with addictions.

Different studies on various groups of individuals shown that acupuncture is an effective treatment for the following diseases or conditions:

  • Dysmenorrhoea
  • Hypertension
  • Biliary colic
  • Headache
  • Stroke
  • Hypotension
  • Hypertension
  • Depression
  • Dysentery
  • Leukopenia
  • Knee pain
  • Facial pain
  • Low back pain
  • Induction of labor
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Morning sickness
  • Neck pain
  • Malposition of fetus
  • Sprain
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Postoperative pain
  • Teeth pain
  • Tennis elbow
  • Renal colic
  • Sciatica
  • Periarthritis of shoulder

For the following diseases and conditions we have fewer studies to sustain the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating these specific health problems:

  • Earache
  • Bronchial asthma
  • Cardiac neurosis
  • Epidemic hemorrhagic fever
  • Diabetes ( non-insulin-dependent)
  • Spine pain, acute
  • Cholelithiasis
  • Eye pain
  • Cholecystitis
  • Acne vulgaris
  • Alcohol dependence and detoxification
  • Cancer pain
  • Pain in thrombo-angiitis obliterans
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Radicular and pseudoradical pain syndrome
  • Bell’s palsy
  • Craniocerebral injury
  • Competition stresses syndrome
  • Epistaxis
  • Arthritis
  • Raynaud syndrome
  • Female infertility
  • Stiff neck
  • Schizophrenia
  • Tobacco dependence
  • Temporomandibular joint dysfunction
  • Sialism, drug-induced
  • Female urethral syndrome
  • Retention of urine, traumatic
  • Fibromyalgia and fasciitis
  • Tourette syndrome
  • Sore throat
  • Ulcerative colitis, chronic
  • Opium, cocaine and heroin dependence
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Vascular dementia
  • Lactation, deficiency
  • Male sexual dysfunction
  • Neurodermatitis
  • Obesity
  • Labour pain
  • Whooping cough
  • Tietze syndrome
  • Urolithiasis
  • Postoperative convalescence
  • Premenstrual syndrome
  • Prostatitis
  • Pruritus
  • Hypo-ovarian
  • Insomnia
  • Facial spasm
  • Herpes zoster
  • Hyperlipaemia
  • Reflex sympathetic dystrophy
  • Post-extubation in children
  • Pain due to endoscopic examination
  • Lower urinary tract infection

How do I choose an experienced practitioner?

If you are thinking about seeing an acupuncturist, you should pay a visit to your doctor. Acupuncture becomes more and more popular. There are high chances that your doctor has a list with qualified acupuncturist in your area. He can offer recommendations for you because he is familiar with your health history and any health conditions you might have. You should go with your doctor referral because it might be required for insurance coverage. Of course, you have the option to search an acupuncturist on the Internet, if your doctor doesn’t know any experienced practitioners.

How much does it cost to get acupuncture?

You have to know that, according to National Institutes of Health, some health insurance cover the acupuncture sessions. If your health insurance doesn’t cover the acupuncture sessions, a medical visit might cost between $75 and $95, while a routine visit costs between $50 and $70. It is common in acupuncture clinics to get a discount when you prepay for multiple visits. It is the case of the MetaMorph clinic from Long Island (New York). A typical visit costs $80, but they are giving a 25% discount when the patients pay ten sessions in advance. The final price is around $600.

Many acupuncturists will recommend you some Chinese herbal supplements such as Ginseng and Gui pi wan are the most common ones. These supplements help the acupuncture session, and they treat health conditions such as insomnia and anxiety.

You might wonder if you have to leave a gratuity to these clinics. Some practitioners expect a tip between 15% and 20%, but not all the clinics and private acupuncturists accept gratuity.

Which organization gives the acupuncturist the license to practice this therapy?

In most states the person who performs acupuncture needs a license to practice this therapy. The standards are very different from state to state. If the acupuncturist is not a physician, he has to pass an exam conducted by NCCAOM. There is a big difference between medical doctors who use acupuncture and non-medical practitioners who claim to be trained in the philosophy and techniques of Chinese medicine. For more information about professional standards and licensing requirements for acupuncturists, we recommend you to contact the AAAOM.

A licensed acupuncturist is a person who has a license to practice in one or more states, while a person certified by the NCCAOM is called a diplomat of acupuncture. An oriental medicine doctor (O.M.D.) is a physician who obtained his experience in acupuncture at a recognized school of oriental medicine. This specific school requires a minimum of three to four-year study program. These schools are usually accredited by Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.

Medical doctors can practice acupuncture as well if they have 200-300 hours of self-study, if they passed an exam, have practiced acupuncture for at least two years, and performed at least 500 acupuncture sessions. The organization who gives the license for medical doctors to practice acupuncture is the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture in El Segundo, California,

Alternative therapies of acupuncture

Acupuncture includes bodywork, dietary advice, and the taking of herbal supplements in combination with acupuncture treatments. Acupuncture is combined by many practitioners with “cupping”. This is an Asian technique which increases the blood flow to a particular area of the body using heated glass cups. This way the practitioner creates suction and promotes blood flow to the surface of the skin. Acupuncture gave excellent results when combined with other therapies including massage, movement therapies such as qigong and tai chi, and chiropractic manipulation, as well.3

There are a few different styles of acupuncture. In the United States the most common are:

French energetic acupuncture

This is used by a medical doctor acupuncturist. The practitioner works with meridian patterns, with yin and yang pair of meridians.

Myofascially-based acupuncture

This is an acupuncture therapy approach usually used by physical therapists. They feel the meridian lines searching for those specific tender points, and only then they apply the needles. According to these specialists, the tender points are signaling the places in the body where the energy doesn’t flow normally.

Traditional Chinese acupuncture

The acupuncturists base their diagnosis on the eight principles and their balance: yin/yang, hot/cold, internal/external, excess/deficiency.

Japanese acupuncture

This therapy is often called “meridian therapy.” The acupuncturist has to focus on the needling technique and on feeling the extremities for a proper diagnosis.

Auricular acupuncture

This acupuncture method is used by practitioners to treat people with addictions. They apply needles on specific points on the ear. They believe that these points correspond to specifically affected organs.

Korean hand acupuncture

This method focuses its practice on the hands and feet. According to this approach, both the hands and the feet have a large concentration of “qi” and applying needles on these particular areas is beneficial for the entire body.4

Which are the myths around acupuncture treatments?

1. Many people believe that acupuncture effects are only at a psychological level. It doesn’t do anything to the body or the energy of the body. The acupuncture effects, as we showed above are not psychological. Many studies demonstrated how the brain releases endorphins during an acupuncture session. The Endorphins are natural painkillers. The acupuncture treatment helps the immune system and has a long-term anti-inflammatory effect.

2. They say that once you start going to acupuncture, you will always need this type of treatment to keep your body healthy. For most of the health issues, acupuncturists are doing their best to solve the problem in just a few visits. However, for chronic conditions, patients have to return periodically, like once a month, to keep their energy level balanced.

3. They also say you have to see results after one or two visits to the acupuncturist. If you don’t, it means acupuncture cannot help you. The response to this type of therapy depends on each organism and different health conditions. Some people feel better after one, two or three sessions, while others need eight or 10 visits before they feel a difference. You can see if acupuncture helped you after you finish the whole package of sessions recommended by your acupuncturist. Because there are so many styles, you can give it another try to this therapy by going to a different practitioner who performs a different technique.

4. There is this modern myth suggesting that people who go to acupuncture therapy are into New Age healing methods. This is not true because even you probably know someone, a colleague, a friend or member of the family who receives or has received acupuncture treatment.

For positive results in this therapy make sure you follow your practitioner suggestions and consult your doctor as well if needed.5

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