Acupuncture is a technique in which very thin needles of varying lengths are inserted through the skin to treat a variety of conditions. There are a number of different acupuncture techniques, including some that use sound waves, tiny electrical charges, and that may or not use actual needles.
Although available evidence does not suggest acupuncture is effective as a treatment for cancer, clinical studies have found it may help treat nausea caused by chemotherapy drugs and surgical anaesthesia. It may also help relieve pain after dental surgery. The technique has been tested on people who are trying to stop addictive behaviours, such as smoking or alcoholism, but reports are mixed. It is useful for treating headaches, helping in rehabilitation from strokes, and treating a number of musculoskeletal conditions.
In China,and many other countries acupuncture is used as an anaesthetic during surgery and is believed to have the power to cure diseases and relieve symptoms of illness. According to the theories and teachings of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) explain that acupoints lie along invisible meridians. There are purported to be twelve major meridians in the human body, which are thought to be channels for the flow of vital energy or life force called qi (also spelled ch'i or ki, and pronounced "chee" or "kee") that is present in all living things. Meridians also represent an internal system of communication between specific organs or networks of organs. According to traditional Chinese medicine theory, illness may occur when the energy flow along one or more meridians is blocked or out of balance. The goal of acupuncture is to restore health and balance to the energy flow.
Some practitioners in the West reject the traditional philosophies of Chinese medicine, believing that any relief given by acupuncture or acupressure is caused by other factors, such as the stimulation of endorphin production in the body. Endorphins are natural substances made by the body which help relieve pain.
What does it involve?
In traditional acupuncture (sometimes called acupuncture therapy), acupuncture needles are inserted at specific locations called acupoints in order to restore balance and healthy energy flow to the body. Needles are inserted just deep enough into the skin to keep them from falling out and are usually left in place for a few minutes. Skilled acupuncturists cause virtually no pain. The acupuncturist may twirl the needles or apply heat or a weak electrical current to enhance the effects of the therapy .
Sonopuncture is similar to acupuncture, but needles are not used. Instead, an ultrasound device that transmits sound waves is applied to the body's acupoints. Sonopuncture is sometimes combined with tuning forks and other vibration devices. Proponents claim this approach is useful to treat many of the same disorders as acupuncture.
Electroacupuncture is considered an enhanced version of traditional acupuncture. Electroacupuncture uses tiny electrical charges, with or without needles, to stimulate the same acupoints that are used in traditional acupuncture . Electroacupuncture devices are sometimes promoted for diagnosis or testing.
In acupressure, a popular variation of acupuncture, therapists press on acupoints with their fingers instead of using needles. This technique is used by itself or as part of an entire system of manual healing such as in shiatsu .
In other variations of acupuncture, heat, friction, suction, magnets, or laser beams are directed to acupoints. Acupuncture is sometimes used along with less well-known traditional healing techniques, such as moxibustion and cupping . Acupuncture may sometimes be referred to as Zhenjiu, which is the standard Mandarin word for needle.
Acupuncture began more than 2,000 years ago and is an important part of traditional Chinese medicine (also called Oriental Medicine or TCM). Originally, 365 acupoints were identified, corresponding to the number of days in a year, but gradually, the number of acupoints grew to more than 2,000. Traditional acupuncture needles were made of bone, stone, or metal, including silver and gold. Modern acupuncture needles are made of very thin sterile stainless steel and are disposable. In China, acupuncture is commonly accepted as a treatment for many diseases. Acupuncture has also become quite popular in the United States and Europe, where the technique is mainly used to control pain and relieve symptoms of disease such as nausea caused by chemotherapy drugs, but not to cure the disease itself. In 2000, there were an estimated 11,000 licensed acupuncturists in the United States, with the number expected to double by 2010. More than 40 states have set up training standards for licensing or certification to practice acupuncture. Medicare does not cover acupuncture, but it is covered by some private health insurance plans and HMOs. There are about 3,000 doctors in the United States who also practice acupuncture.
What is the evidence?
Available scientific evidence does support claims that acupuncture is effective as a treatment for many conditions; In an official report, Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials, the WHO (WHO) has listed a wide range of symptoms, diseases and conditions that have been shown through controlled trials to be treated effectively by acupuncture
Acupuncture has been the subject of many clinical studies. A recent analysis of 11 studies looked at the effect of acupuncture in reducing nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy. The report suggested that acupuncture may reduce the vomiting that occurs shortly after chemotherapy is given, even though it had little effect on nausea. It also did not seem to help with delayed vomiting.
A small clinical trial found that acupuncture helped reduce the number of hot flashes men experienced during hormonal therapy for prostate cancer. There is also some evidence that acupuncture may lessen the need for pain medicine. A study of headache sufferers compared acupuncture with standard medical treatment. Those treated with acupuncture used less pain medicines and missed fewer work days. However, some recent studies of acupuncture have had mixed or uncertain results. Part of the problem is that it can be difficult to come up with good control procedures—one that convincingly mimics acupuncture—for scientific comparisons.
A number of studies have looked at the effectiveness of acupuncture in helping smokers quit. Experts reviewed studies in which acupuncture was used to help reduce withdrawal symptoms from quitting smoking. When the studies were analysed as a group, the evidence suggested that sham acupuncture (placebo) worked as well as real acupuncture for smoking cessation. Similar results were found when studies of acupuncture for cocaine withdrawal were analysed.
Although the scientific evidence is mixed, acupuncture may prove to be useful by itself or when combined with mainstream therapies to treat headache, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, lower back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and asthma, and to help in the rehabilitation of stroke patients. Further research is needed in these areas.
Controlled clinical studies of electroacupuncture have suggested that it may help some people with pain after surgery, some of the nausea related to chemotherapy, and pain from kidney stones.
Are there any possible problems or complications?
When done by a trained professional, acupuncture is generally considered safe. The number of complications reported have been relatively few, but there is a risk that a patient may be harmed if the acupuncturist is not well trained.