Acupuncture: benefits, principle of action, side effects.

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Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practice that dates back thousands of years. It is based on the assumption that blocking or interrupting the flow of the body's vital energy, or "qi," can cause health problems. Acupuncturists insert fine needles into specific acupuncture points throughout the body to restore the flow of qi, balance the body's energy, stimulate healing, and promote relaxation.

According to TCM theory, there are more than 1000 acupuncture points in the body, each of which is located on an invisible energy channel or "meridian". Each meridian is associated with a separate organ system.

Scientific Photo Library – ADAM GOLT / Getty Images

How does acupuncture work?

Researchers don't fully understand how acupuncture might work, but there are many theories. One theory is that acupuncture stimulates the release of endorphins, the body's natural pain-relieving chemicals .

Acupuncture also affects the autonomic nervous system (which controls body functions) and releases chemicals that regulate blood flow and pressure, reduce inflammation, and calm the brain .

Applications

Acupuncture is believed to be beneficial in treating a variety of medical conditions, including :

  • Anxiety
  • Arthritis
  • Chronic pain (eg, headache, back pain, neck pain)
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Migraine
  • Nausea
  • Radiculitis
  • Nasal congestion
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Tinnitus
  • Weightloss

Some people use acupuncture to stimulate fertility. It is also used to stop smoking and as a component in the treatment of other addictions.

Cosmetic acupuncture , also known as facial acupuncture, is used to improve the appearance of the skin.

Health benefits

Here are some of the findings from the available research on the benefits of acupuncture:

Back pain

In a report published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2017, researchers looked at previously published trials on the use of non-drug therapies (including acupuncture) for low back pain.

The authors of the report found that acupuncture was associated with less pain intensity and better function immediately after acupuncture treatment compared with no acupuncture. However, in the long term, the differences were small or diffuse.

Noting that the strength of the evidence was low, the authors found "limited evidence" that acupuncture was "moderately effective for acute low back pain."

Migraine

In a 2016 review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, scientists reviewed 22 previously published trials (with 4,985 participants). In their conclusion, they found that adding acupuncture to the treatment of migraine symptoms can reduce the frequency of episodes, but the effect size is small compared to sham acupuncture treatment.

Tension headaches

A 2016 review (including 12 trials and 2,349 participants) found that acupuncture with at least six sessions can help people with frequent tension headaches.

In two studies, acupuncture added to routine care or treatment only at the onset of a headache (usually with pain relievers) resulted in a lower incidence of headaches compared to those who received only conventional care.

The researchers note that the specific points used during treatment may be less important than previously thought, and that much of the benefit can be attributed to the effects of the needle.

Knee pain

An analysis of previously published studies found that acupuncture improves short-term and long-term physical function in people with chronic knee pain due to osteoarthritis, but appears to provide only short-term pain relief (up to 13 weeks).

Another review published in JAMA Surgery looked at previous studies of non-pharmacological interventions for pain management after total knee replacement and found evidence that acupuncture delays the use of patient-controlled opioid medications for pain relief.

How is acupuncture performed

Before your first visit, you will be asked to complete a medical history. The acupuncturist begins the visit by asking you about your health problems, diet, sleep, stress levels, and other lifestyle habits. They may ask you about your emotions, appetite, food preferences and aversions, and your reaction to changes in temperature and seasons.

During your visit, the acupuncturist will closely observe your appearance, noting your complexion, voice, color, and coverage of your tongue. He or she will measure your heart rate at three points on each wrist, noting strength, quality, and pace. In Chinese medicine, the tongue and pulse are believed to reflect the health of your organ systems and meridians.

Typically, six to more than 20 tiny acupuncture needles are used per session (number of needles does not indicate intensity of treatment). The needles are usually left in for 10 to 20 minutes. The acupuncturist can gently twist the needles for added effect.

Your acupuncturist may use additional techniques during your session, including:

  • Moxibustion – Also known as moxa, moxibustion involves the use of hot sticks (made from dried herbs) alongside acupuncture needles to heat and stimulate acupuncture points.
  • Banks : Glass or silicone plugs are applied to the skin for a suction effect. In traditional Chinese medicine theory, cupping is used to relieve stagnant qi and blood.
  • Herbs : Chinese herbs can be given in the form of tea, pills, and capsules.
  • Electro Acupuncture – An electrical device connects to two or four acupuncture needles, providing a weak electrical current that stimulates the acupuncture needles during treatment.
  • Laser acupuncture : This technique is believed to stimulate acupuncture points without the use of needles.

Ear acupuncture, also known as pinna acupuncture, is sometimes used during weight loss treatments. stop smoking, addiction, and anxiety.

Although the duration of an acupuncture session can vary from a few minutes to more than an hour, the typical duration of treatment is 20 to 30 minutes. The initial visit can take up to 90 minutes, including the time of your appointment and the collection of your medical history.

After the procedure, some people feel relaxed (or even sleepy), while others are full of energy. If you experience any unusual symptoms, you should see your doctor.

Is acupuncture harmful?

You may feel a slight tingling sensation, tingling sensation, pain, or some pain during the insertion of the acupuncture needle. Some acupuncture specialists manipulate the needle after it has been placed in the body by twisting or turning the needle, moving it up and down, or using a machine with a small electrical impulse or current.

The resulting tingling, numbness, heaviness, or pain (known as qi) are considered by some acupuncturists to be desirable for therapeutic benefit.

If you feel pain, numbness, or discomfort during treatment, tell your acupuncturist immediately.

Possible side effects.

Like any treatment, acupuncture carries several risks, the most common of which are pain and bleeding due to the insertion of acupuncture needles. Other side effects can include skin rashes, allergic reactions, bruising, pain, bleeding, nausea, dizziness, fainting, or infections.

To reduce the risk of serious side effects, acupuncture should always be performed by a properly trained and licensed healthcare provider using sterile disposable needles.

According to a report published in Scientific Reports , acupuncture can lead to serious side effects such as infections, damage to nerves and blood vessels, complications associated with broken needles or needle debris, punctured organs, damage to the central nervous system or spinal cord. , bleeding, etc. D. fatal injury to organs and tissues.

Puncture of the pleural membranes around the lungs can cause the lungs to collapse. People with a rare anatomical change known as a sternal foramen (opening in the breastbone) are at risk of perforating the lung or heart (pericardium).

There have been reports of needles left after treatment. A report published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization summarized the side effects associated with acupuncture in Chinese language studies.

Acupuncture may not be suitable for people with certain medical conditions. The risk of bleeding or bruising is increased if you have a bleeding disorder or are taking blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin).

Acupuncture should not be used as a substitute for standard treatments. Avoiding or delaying standard medical care can have serious consequences.

Get the word of drug information

If you are having difficulty treating pain or other health problems with conventional methods, acupuncture may be worth a try. Just be sure to check with your healthcare provider first to see if this is right for you.

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