6 Health and Wellness Benefits of Acupuncture
Most people who have heard of acupuncture already have a vague idea of what it entails. Fine needles are applied to specific pressure points in the human body to improve health and cure certain ailments and diseases. However, there is also much to learn about its history, its belief system, and what it actually does based on research.
Because of this lack of understanding, some people are quick to dismiss acupuncture as nothing more than hearsay and outdated ideas. While its safety and effectiveness are still up for debate, there is no harm in becoming more familiar with its uses, benefits and origins. This article will provide a basic introduction to acupuncture and will hopefully answer some of the questions and concerns you may have about the procedure.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture was first used in China over 2,500 years ago. The idea behind acupuncture is that energy (or qi) flows through meridians (or channels) that form a network throughout our body. If this energy (or qi) is disrupted, it can cause disease, ailments and pain.
As this energy flows through the human body, different organs can be accessed via meridians which can be targeted through different acupuncture points on our skin. Stimulating specific acupuncture points can supposedly help the qi run freely throughout the body and thus, cure the body of whatever ailment or disease that is currently plaguing it.
Whilst there is no scientific proof for qi or acupuncture points, many people in the western world are still convinced of its benefits. Acupuncture first became popular in the U.S. during the 1970s and since then, more and more people have shown interest in the procedure. According to the National Institute of Health, 3.1 million people tried acupuncture in 2007 alone.
Studies have found that acupuncture does cause responses in both humans and animals, and some of these responses may occur where the needle was inserted. Other responses may happen in a totally different part of the body because of connections within the nervous system. This in itself would suggest that the beliefs behind acupuncture may have some basis in reality.
What is Acupuncture Treatment Like?
Different practitioners will have different approaches to acupuncture treatment and may be influenced by practices found in countries outside of China (such as Japan or Korea). However, the most common form of acupuncture involves inserting needles into the required acupuncture points found on the human body.
Acupuncture is normally carried out over an extended period of time (commonly over a 12 week period). The patient will be asked to lie down and have sterile needles inserted into certain parts of their body.
The procedure is not exactly painful, but the patient may feel a ‘deep aching’ sensation when the needle has been fully inserted. After all needles have been inserted, they will be left to sit for around twenty minutes.
6 Health and Wellness Benefits of Acupuncture
1. Acupuncture May Help Treat and Prevent Headaches
In 2009, the National Centre for Complementary Medicine in Munich, Germany looked at multiple acupuncture studies that have taken place over the years and reviewed the findings.
The centre compared the results from scientific tests that used an acupuncture group, a placebo group and a control group to determine the effectiveness of acupuncture. The acupuncture group received full treatment, the placebo group had needles inserted at random rather than into the designated pressure points, and the control group received no treatment. (1)
They initially found that both the acupuncture group and the placebo group both experienced a reduction in headaches whereas the control group did not, which would suggest that it is the needles themselves that caused this change and/or that the acupuncture group felt a reduction of headaches due to a placebo effect.
In the follow-up survey, they found that the acupuncture group continued to experience a reduction both in the number of headaches they experienced and in the intensity of the headache. This would suggest that whilst the placebo group may have experienced an initial reduction due to placebo, only the acupuncture group experienced lasting benefits.
2. Acupuncture May Be An Effective Form of Treatment for Animals
The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine’s uses acupuncture to help small and large animals alike with a variety of conditions. (2) In 2008, a horse called Gypsy was treated for an infected ankle using a combination of acupuncture and conventional therapy to treat her. The doctor used acupuncture to help strengthen the horse’s bones, relieve pain and help her immune system. As a result, Gypsy made a full recovery.
Veterinarians are now able to take on additional training in order to learn acupuncture and apply it to animals. It is not meant to replace standard medicines and conventional treatments, but it can work alongside traditional methods to help relieve pain, improve health and even boost fertility in pets and larger animals.
3. Acupuncture May Help Cancer Patients Recover
Acupuncture may be able to help people in remission and cancer survivors respond better to conventional treatments and ward off future complications. A randomized study found that acupuncture treatment helped increase the patients’ immune systems and increased healthy cells after chemotherapy or radiation, whereas patients who did not receive acupuncture didn’t have the same benefits. (3)
Studies have found that because acupuncture can help boost the immune system, it can be used to help cancer patients recover after rigorous treatment. They have also found that patients who undergo acupuncture treatment have an improved quality of life, experience less pain and fewer side effects from chemotherapy.
4. Acupuncture May Reduce Stress and Combat Pain in Pregnant Women
Doctors often recommend acupuncture for pregnant women because it offers a host of health and wellness benefits such as reducing stress, combating pain and balancing hormones. (3)
It can also help during the delivery itself. Doctors think it is safe to administer acupuncture up to actual labor to help prepare the mother and the baby. Acupuncture may also help treat post-partum depression and the general stress, fatigue and pain that a new mother may experience. (4)
5. Acupuncture May Help with Insomnia and Improve Sleep Quality
Many people suffer from insomnia and it can have a really adverse effect on one’s health and quality of life. In 2009, a study was conducted in China on the beneficial effects of acupuncture on insomniacs, They compared patients who were treated with acupuncture with patients who had no treatment or only took traditional medicines and/or herbal remedies. (5)
The study found that the patients suffering from insomnia who underwent acupuncture treatments had better results than the other groups, and unlike many sleeping pills that can make you drowsy throughout the day, there were no negative side effects found with the acupuncture group.
6. Acupuncture May Provide Relief for Lower Back Pain, Arthritis, Shoulder Pain and More
In a study conducted by the University Medical Center in Berlin Germany, results showed that patients who suffered from chronic lower back pain reported a significant reduction in pain after receiving acupuncture treatment over the course of 8 weeks. (6)
In another study conducted at theMemorial Sloan-Kettering Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, results showed that acupuncture may be an effective form of treatment for chronic pains related to arthritis, as well as back and neck pain, shoulder pain and chronic headache. (7)
Is Acupuncture Safe?
When it is administered correctly, acupuncture is perfectly safe and is unlikely to have any side effects. The only time acupuncture could be dangerous is if it is administered by someone who is not fully qualified.
If you were unlucky enough to find an unqualified acupuncture practitioner, you are still unlikely to experience any bad consequences.
All needles should be fully sterilized, single-use and should be disposed of after every treatment.
There are some other potential complications that could be caused by acupuncture. If you are taking blood thinners, you should consult your doctor before making any decisions. In very rare cases, the needle could break and damage an insertion area. Soreness or bruising after treatment is not uncommon.
Acupuncture has been around for thousands of years and despite the fact the belief system behind it has never been proven, many people have found it incredibly beneficial. Acupuncture can be used to help with a variety of ailments and can be helpful for cancer patients, insomniacs, people with depression, headache sufferers and even animals.
Acupuncture should not be used instead of traditional medicines, but it can be used alongside more traditional therapies for a more speedy and pleasant recovery. While there are some risks, acupuncture is generally very safe and tends to have fewer side effects than a lot of traditional medicines. When the procedure itself may sound unpleasant, it is unlikely to cause much pain.