Does acupuncture work for pain relief? It’s a question that’s been debated by the medical community for some time, but of late, more and more physicians have come down on the side of supporting it, or at least maintaining that it does no harm.
In 1998, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) stated that there was enough evidence to show that acupuncture has beneficial, pain-relieving qualities for adults suffering from postoperative dental pain, the nausea of chemotherapy, lower back pain, headache, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, and carpal tunnel syndrome. There have been several important studies that report acupuncture is effective in reducing chronic pain.
Most recently, a study in the Journal of Clinical Pain suggests that people being treated for lower back pain with acupuncture are less likely to gain benefit from treatment if they have low expectations for its effectiveness – an interesting twist to the earlier findings on pain relief. Emotion and attitude seem to have quite an impact on acupuncture’s efficacy. Dr. Felicity Bishop, author of the study, wrote:
People who started out with very low expectations of acupuncture – who thought it probably would not help them – were more likely to report less benefit as treatment went on. In particular, they experienced less disability over the course of treatment when they came to see their back pain as more controllable, when they felt they had better understanding of their back pain, when they felt better able to cope with it, were less emotional about it, and when they felt their back pain was going to have less of an impact on their lives.
Acupuncture works by inserting a number of hair-thin needles into the skin at specific points around the body. The needles are typically left in the skin for 15 to 30 minutes. They are solid and 20 times thinner than a hypodermic needle. When done by an experienced practitioner, the patient feels almost no pain at all at insertion.
Though the common Eastern understanding of acupuncture is that the needles are thought to correct imbalances in the flow of energy throughout the body, on a scientific level acupuncture is believed to ameliorate conditions by affecting neurotransmitters, hormone levels, or the immune system. The mechanisms of acupuncture have shown several effects, most notably the stimulation of the central nervous system: the brain and spinal cord.
In some situations, acupuncture may be used either in conjunction with painkillers, or may replace them altogether. Every situation is different and should be treated individually to tailor to patients’ needs.
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