Is Acupuncture Out of The Question?

Acupuncture in prone position

Patients obtaining a mea­sure of relief with acupunc­ture swear it cures every­thing. How does it work and what are realistic expectations?

Publish 7 December 2021

Stick to Something That Works


“If something works for a friend, it should work for me.” This is a common viewpoint towards alternative medical practices. How many times have you heard friends rave about acupuncture or an exotic antioxidant? They might cite anecdotal evidence or claim personal improvement. You might give in without research because of the insistence.

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is an age-old practice in tradi­tional Chinese medicine. It involves strategically inserting very thin sterile needles at various depths into nerve-rich areas of the body, known as acupuncture points. The belief is that stimulat­ing these points improves healing and lowers pain. Acupressure, cupping, and friction tech­niques also stimulate acupuncture points.

Enjoy Health Benefits

Several studies suggest that acupuncture reduces chronic pain. It improves lower back pain, knee pain, and arthritis. Acupuncture can prevent chronic headaches and migraines. A 24-week study of 249 patients associated true acupuncture with long-term migraine reduction. [1] Migraine frequency also decreased in participants.

A review of six studies reveals benefits of acupuncture on major depressive disorders in pregnancy. [2] Sounding like a panacea, acupuncture can also help control allergies, morning sickness, sleeping problems, and strokes.

How Acupuncture Works

Pins and needles

Traditional Chinese medicine believes that the body has a life force known as “qì” (or “ch'i,” pronounced as Chee). The balance of this life force is crucial for health. A disturbance of balance causes illness. Acupuncture restores balance. Acupuncturists modify the energy flow of through 350 acupuncture points.

Researchers believe both real and sham acupuncture provide equal benefits because of a placebo effect. The placebo effect is an anticipation of participants that acupuncture will be helpful. There is no scientific explanation for acupuncture points on the human body. However, several studies suggest the beneficial effects of acupuncture in some conditions. [3]

Some scientists feel that needle insertion stimulates the central nervous system. This stimulation results in biochemical changes that enhance the body’s natural healing abilities. Acupuncture increases nutrient-rich blood flow to the target area. It also triggers natural painkillers, known as endorphins. [4]

Acupuncturists believe their practice reduces pro-inflammatory cytokines in the body. This includes interleukin-1 (IL-1) and tumor necrosis factor (TNF). Minimizing inflammation reduces pain. [5]

Realistic Expectations

Some acupuncture enthusiasts consider acupuncture to be a miracle cure-all. There is enough evidence that favors it as a pain and stress reliever. Acupuncture can help with insomnia, dental pain, sciatic pain, and sprains. Scientific support for curing every problem is not as strong. There is little evidence for the treatment of schizophrenia, obesity, infertility, and diabetes.

The number of treatments varies from one individual to the next. An acute problem responds better than a chronic medical condition. Acute problems can take 8 to 10 sessions to resolve. A chronic problem may require an indefinite number of sessions twice per week for perceivable results.

Keep This In Mind

Discuss acupuncture with your general health practitioner. Improper needle insertion can pierce internal organs. It might also damage nerve endings. Don’t rely on acupuncture for every ailment. Some illnesses need traditional medicine or surgical intervention. A variety of medical specialties include neurology, orthopedics, and physiotherapy. Focusing on one discipline limits available care.

Never postpone healthcare provider appointments between acupuncture treatments. If you have a bleeding disorder (non-clotting blood), avoid acupuncture. Consult a healthcare professional if you observe bleeding from insertion sites.

No one wants to be stuck with a chronic or debilitating health condition. Desperation may tempt every manner of experimental treatment. Maintain a sound mind. Ignore conflicting shouts from people unaware of your medical history.

Be cautious of anyone who recommends acupuncture before you can finish the sentence: “I had trouble sleeping.” Your medical doctor is the best person to advise when acupuncture might be appropriate—and when it is out of the question.

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