Health benefits of acupuncture include relief from chronic pain, arthritis, anxiety, insomnia, depression, migraine, nausea, postoperative pain, and obesity. Acupuncture is one of the most widely used alternative medicines throughout the world, and in simplest terms, acupuncture is the practice of penetrating the skin with small needles at specific points on the body. This stimulates certain nerve endings of the body and can relieve a wide variety of health conditions.
Acupuncture originated as a traditional practice of Chinese medicine, and in its classical form, acupuncture is one of the oldest forms of medicinal practice in human history still being used today. Many nations around the world swear by acupuncture, and the popularity of the practices has spread throughout the world, though it is variably accepted as an effective and trusted method of treatment. The uses of acupuncture traditionally centered on actuating different bodily functions that may be stalled or working improperly, warming the body, defending against pathogens, containing bodily fluids, and transforming those fluids into other usable forms of material or energy. Some of those traditional intentions have been kept, while others have changed.
There are dozens of other potential health benefits being researched as well, including asthma, drug addiction, epilepsy, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, schizophrenia, tennis elbow and many more. The research for these effects of acupuncture in all of its forms has been somewhat limited but continues at this time.
The popularization of alternative medical techniques has led to a plague of “sham” acupuncture which is not necessarily based on ancient tenets or techniques originally associated with the Chinese methods. Furthermore, many of the modern acupuncturists do not place as much importance on point specificity (meaning the accuracy of placement of each needle), because there are vying theories regarding the importance of locational accuracy versus the process of relaxation and skin penetration. The debate still continues, as does the research, but people in dozens of countries find relief from a wide range of health concerns every day by using this powerful alternative tool!
Health Benefits of Acupuncture
Despite the fact that there is still some concern over the functional usage of acupuncture to treat certain conditions, there is an ample amount of research that confirms certain health benefits, most of which can be found below.
Reduces Chronic Pain
This is perhaps the most common and celebrated use of acupuncture on the human body, and as such, it has undergone the most research to test its validity. A recent study in the Archive of Internal Medicine has shown acupuncture to reduce pain up to 15% when used for a variety of different types of pain, but primarily focused on chronic back pain that may result from physical stress, poor sleeping habits, old injuries that never fully healed, tightness of muscles, pregnancy, or other sources. Knee pain is another common affliction that causes people to try acupuncture, and although the studies have occasionally contradicted one another, there is a decent amount of positive research results that make acupuncture a legitimate way to reduce knee pain from surgery, or from the pain associated with osteoarthritis and aging. A study published in the Oxford Journals showed that patients with chronic knee pain showed short and long term benefits over those patients who either received sham acupuncture or not acupuncture at all, so there must be something positive going on in this traditional style or pain management!
Arthritis can be a debilitating disease that affects tens of millions of people around the world. Unfortunately, the benefits of modern medicine often fall short in fixing it over the long term, which means you must constantly (at least once daily) take powerful medicine to relieve the joint pain. Acupuncture offers a different option for reducing the painful and debilitating effects of arthritis. In the traditional belief system of acupuncture, there are 14 meridians, or energy channels, in the body that allow for the flow of qi, or natural body energy. These meridians often correspond to key nerve endings throughout the body that act as receptors for impulses from parts of the body like our knees, back, joints, temples, facial muscles, etc.
By inserting needles onto these meridians, our nerve endings communicate with our brains, and tell it that our muscles feel aching or “full”. This will cause the release of endorphins, which are typically released during stress for an energy boost and to block pain receptors. These endorphins, combined with the normal neurotransmitters that affect nerve impulses, may be able to stop the pain associated with arthritis that physically limits so many people. One very unusual form of acupuncture that is gaining ground is called BVA (Bee Venom Acupuncture) where bee venom is topically applied to an acupuncture point of penetration. Studies have shown positive results between this style of acupuncture and a reduction in pain associated with arthritis.
Another of the most popular applications of acupuncture in recent years has been for the relief of migraines and headaches, both in terms of pain relief and reduction in frequency. Although the exact mechanism to prevent these conditions via acupuncture around the face, neck, and scalp is not fully understood, positive results from research have in some ways justified, dozens of generations of this treatment method. Studies in the past have shown that patients treated with acupuncture had a higher chance of showing a marked decrease in pain rather than modern medical treatment. There is also a far lower chance of intense side effects from acupuncture than those frequently reported from strong migraine medicine.
Neck pain has actually been one of the most highly verified and proven conditions for which acupuncture is effective. In a 2011 review, there was nearly unanimous support and proof of acupuncture being a reliable and side-effect free way to relieve chronic neck pain, very often the pain that can lead to constantly tense muscles, soreness, and headaches.
Prevents Nausea & Vomiting
Along with strong proof in support of acupuncture alleviating neck pain, it has also been shown as a very effective tool against nausea and vomiting. There is a particular acupuncture pressure point on the underside of the forearm, near the wrist, that when stimulated, is thought to reduce the sensation of nausea that can induce vomiting. After surgery, when a patient is recovering from the effects of anesthesia, they very often experience postoperative nausea and vomiting. A study released in 2009 argued that acupuncture was just as effective as antiemetic drugs that are commonly given to recovering patients. And again, the side effects of antiemetic drugs can change your body chemistry, something that most people who employ acupuncture try to avoid.
Chemotherapy is often used as a treatment option for cancer patients, and it can be a very effective way of saving lives. However, the side effects of chemotherapy are quite severe and include hair loss, nausea, and vomiting, among others. Another study released in 2011 showed that acupuncture was effective in preventing nausea and vomiting on the day of the chemotherapy treatment, however, it did not that the acupuncture did not stop immediate nausea following the treatment, or delayed nausea in the following days.
There have been a number of studies done on the effects of acupuncture on anxiety, including generalized anxiety disorder, anxiety neurosis, and perioperative anxiety. Like many of the other uses of acupuncture, the exact mechanism is not completely understood, but clinical trials show a positive correlation between anxiety reduction and acupuncture. Furthermore, when acupuncture was added to a pharmaceutical regimen for the treatment of stress and anxiety, and the medical dosage is decreased, results were actually better than when acupuncture was not involved. On top of that, the side effects of anti-anxiety drugs can be very intense, including nausea, mood swings, and depression, so any reduction of dosage without a return of the anxiety should be seen as a smart choice!
Studies have shown that acupuncture can reduce the frequency of insomnia for many people. It shows that acupuncture increases the secretion of nocturnal melatonin, which is a chemical that aids and induces sleep. The study showed that in less than five weeks, regular acupuncture significantly decreased the presence and effects of insomnia in the test study group. So, if you can’t sleep, and you don’t want to suffer through the potentially complicated side effects of sleep aid pharmaceuticals, speak to an acupuncturist!
Minimizes Heartburn & Indigestion
Regular acupuncture therapy has been proven to reduce signs of heartburn, indigestion, and required sufferers to use fewer antacids, a recent study shows. Brazilian researchers carried out the test subject and found significant difference between symptoms of pregnant women who used acupuncture, and those who simply watched their diet and took medication when necessary. Although the study was done on pregnant women, the effects are being extrapolated and tested on other test subject groups currently.
The Final Word: As mentioned before, there are dozens of other potential treatments that acupuncture might positively effect, including help quitting smoking to improved vision, weight loss, hormonal balancing, fertility, and erectile dysfunction. Ongoing research in many of these areas will bring answers to light in the coming years, but at the moment, verified scientific proof is limited. A number of placebo experiments have shown acupuncture believers to legitimately improve their health in the ways they had hoped, even when undergoing “sham” acupuncture, so there can still be miraculous benefits to using acupuncture in your weekly or monthly health regimen.
Except for occasional, slight aching and soreness at the point of skin penetration, there are no side effects, provided you go to a trained acupuncturist that knows the body and has sterile needles, etc. Most importantly, keep your eyes and ears open to new scientific proof about the additional benefits of acupuncture. So far, it has proven to be a wonderful benefit to millions of people, and its benefits will most likely continue as more research is done.