The ancient Chinese alternative healing method called Acupuncture is now a popular and widely accepted alternative pain relief method in the United States. An estimated 15 million Americans have tried this “unconventional” therapy. It is offered in many chronic pain clinics and is covered by some insurers and managed health organizations. The Chinese therapy of acupuncture has been used for millions of years to treat a range of ailments. Now it looks like Western medicine is getting the point. The intent of acupuncture therapy is to promote health and alleviate pain and suffering. The method by which this is accomplished, though it may seem strange and mysterious to many, has been tested over thousands of years and continues to be validated today.
The perspective from which an acupuncturist views health and sickness hinges on concepts of “vital energy,” “energy balance” and “energy imbalance.” Just as the Western medical doctor monitors the blood flowing through blood vessels and the messages traveling via the nervous system, the acupuncturist assesses the flow and distribution of this “vital energy” within its pathways, known as “meridians and channels.”
The World Health Organization recommends acupuncture as an alternative pain relief for more than 40 conditions as diverse as asthma and chronic pain. The Food and Drug Administration regulates acupuncture needles as medical devices, the same as it does surgical tools. And in 1997, a National Institutes of Health panel found acupuncture to be an acceptable treatment for many pain conditions, including fibromyalgia and general musculoskeletal pain.
Modern studies have revealed that acupuncture stimulates one or more of the signaling systems, which under certain circumstances, can increase the rate of healing response. This may be sufficient to cure a disease, or it might only reduce its impact (alleviate some symptoms). These findings can explain most of the clinical effects of acupuncture therapy.
It is also no surprise that some rheumatologists recommend acupuncture to be used alongside more conventional treatments. There are a few patients who even perform the acupuncture treatments on themselves.
When performed by a properly trained and licensed practitioner, acupuncture is safe and effective, free from adverse or addictive side effects. Quite often, a sense of relaxation and well-being occurs during and after treatments. While undergoing therapy for one ailment, other problems may resolve concurrently. This is a common side benefit that again demonstrates the value of balancing the quality and quantity of “vital energy” within the entire person.
Licensed acupuncturists know the human anatomy well, and insert needles in a safe fashion. The instruments used to penetrate the skin are either pre-sterilized and disposable after a single use, or disinfected and sterilized in an autoclave, as surgical and dental instruments are, after each use.
Although most evidence supporting acupuncture can be dismissed as anecdotal, trials have been done where acupuncture does show a pain relieving effect above placebo. The effect is not large, of the same magnitude as taking Aspirin or Ibuprofen, but nonetheless it’s there and cannot be ignored.