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Using Science to Understand Acupuncture: What You Need to Know

One of the biggest skepticisms of acupuncture is that there is no science to back it – that it is nothing more than a placebo. However, more research is going into this ancient form of medicine and proving how acupuncture benefits the body.

As more studies take place, it will hopefully help more individuals (and even scientists) be less weary of acupuncture and make the practice more mainstream.

If you are interested in learning about the efficiency behind acupuncture, see below for a variety of studies that show how this incredible form of Chinese medicine is helpful to the body.

Acupuncture for Chronic Pain’s Study

A study titled Acupuncture for Chronic Pain published in Archives in Internal Medicine found exciting results backing the efficacy of acupuncture. As quoted in this New York Times blog article, Dr. Andrew J. Vickers, the lead author on the study stated, “This has been a controversial subject for a long time…But when you try to answer the question the right way, as we did, you get very clear answers. We think there’s firm evidence supporting acupuncture for the treatment of chronic pain.”

Researchers of the Acupuncture for Chronic Pain study found that acupuncture outperformed sham treatments and standard care when used by people suffering from osteoarthritis, migraines and chronic back, neck and shoulder pain.

To create a sham acupuncture treatment in different control groups, researchers inserted needles superficially or patients were, “Treated with needles that covertly retracted into handles.”

This study, which took about six years to complete, involved many people from various countries. The New York Times article seeking to answer if acupuncture users are experiencing true relief or a placebo effect summarized the study’s process:

Dr. Vickers and a team of scientists from around the world — England, Germany, Sweden and elsewhere — sought an answer by pooling years of data. Rather than averaging the results or conclusions from years of previous studies, a common but less rigorous form of meta-analysis, Dr. Vickers and his colleagues first selected 29 randomized studies of acupuncture that they determined to be of high quality. Then they contacted the authors to obtain their raw data, which they scrutinized and pooled for further analysis. This helped them correct for statistical and methodological problems with the previous studies, allowing them to reach more precise and reliable conclusions about whether acupuncture actually works.

At the end of the study, “About half of the patients treated with true acupuncture reported improvements, compared with about 30 percent of patients who did not undergo it.”

Those who practice acupuncture have known for many years that acupuncture yields actual results; it is exciting that scientist and doctors are engaging in studies that prove what we experience every day.

Dr. Morry Silberstein’s Study

Dr. Morry Silberstein of the Curtin University of Technology has done research into explaining the scientific process of acupuncture; his research was published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology.

Silberstein’s research as reported by Curtin University of Technology indicated, “The insertion of an acupuncture needle into the skin disrupts the branching point of nerves called C fibers, which transmit low-grade sensory information over very long distances by using Merkel cells as intermediaries.”

Dr. Silberstein stated, “We have known for some time that acupuncture points have a much lower electrical resistance than nearby areas of skin. It is possible that this is because C fiber nerves branch at acupuncture points.”

Though scientists and doctors are not clear as to what role C fibers play in the nervous system, Dr. Silberstein explains his theory: “This network of nerves possibly exists to maintain our state of arousal or wakefulness, and its disruption by an acupuncture needle numbs our general sensitivity to pain.”

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health’s Findings

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health Findings (NCCIH) is a great resource for finding and compiling data on the efficacy of acupuncture. Here are some of its reports for a variety of ailments:

  • Back Pain: Clinical practice guidelines issued by the American Pain Society and the American College of Physicians in 2007 recommend acupuncture as one of several nondrug approaches physicians should consider when patients with chronic low-back pain do not respond to self-care (or practices that people can do by themselves, such as remaining active, applying heat and taking pain-relieving medications).

  • Neck Pain: A large German study with more than 14,000 participants evaluated adding acupuncture to usual care for neck pain. The researchers found that participants reported greater pain relief than those who didn’t receive it; the researchers didn’t test actual acupuncture against simulated acupuncture.

  • Headaches: A 2009 systematic review of studies concluded that actual acupuncture, compared with simulated acupuncture or pain-relieving drugs, helped people with tension-type headaches. A 2008 systematic review of studies suggested that actual acupuncture has a very slight advantage over simulated acupuncture in reducing tension-type headache intensity and the number of headache days per month.

  • Knee Pain: A 2014 Australian clinical study involving 282 men and women showed that needle and laser acupuncture were modestly better at relieving knee pain from osteoarthritis than no treatment, but not better than simulated (sham) laser acupuncture. Participants received 8 to 12 actual and simulated acupuncture treatments over a period of 12 weeks. These results are generally consistent with previous studies, which showed that acupuncture is consistently better than no treatment, but not necessarily better than simulated acupuncture at relieving osteoarthritis pain.

Learning About Acupuncture for Yourself

Acupuncture is a holistic system based on 12 primary channels and 8 extraordinary vessels in the body, in which Qi circulates.

When the balance inside the body is bothered, the flow of Qi can become blocked, leading to pain, discomfort and illness. Acupuncture needles are used at specific points to stimulate the Qi along the channels in order to harmonize the body and bring balance and health where there was once imbalance from illness or pain.

When addressing pain in acupuncture, it important to note that it can come from different sources. It can come from an external cause, such as a sports injury car accident, or from an internal condition, such as a Qi deficiency or Qi stagnation.

What Can You Expect from an Acupuncture Treatment?

If you’re new to acupuncture, plan for your first office visit to take about 90 minutes. Returning office visits, when needed, last 60 minutes. I begin with a detailed intake of your current concerns as well as assessing your constitutional nature, and then move onto treatment that is specific to you. Sterile single use acupuncture needles are applied followed using Tuning Forks (gentle vibration therapy) and moxibustion (heat therapy).

Depending on your concerns or challenges, here’s how many treatments you can expect:

  • Acute injuries with no preexisting history of injury: Typically, 2 to 6 weeks depending on the severity of the injury.

  • Acute injuries with preexisting history of injury: Commonly 2 to 8 weeks, but likely closer to the 6 to 8 week mark.

  • Chronic injuries: A common rule of thumb for herbs is they are taken for 1 month for every year the injury has been present; it can be several months or longer.

  • Wellness: Maintenance formulas are usually taken as needed up to 3 months and then given a break before starting a new cycle.

You can read more about treatments for pain and illness and how many appointments you will likely need here.

The more research done on acupuncture, the better! As more studies invest in scientifically explaining why acupuncture is effective and works, the more it will be promoted and accepted.

I see incredible results from acupuncture every day and would be honored to help you experience its incredible benefits for yourself. Schedule an appointment today to get a firsthand understanding of acupuncture and how it can help you; I look forward to working together!

About Green Lake Natural Health:

Green Lake Natural Health provides natural healing services and medicinal herb counseling to patients. The mission of Green Lake Natural Health is to provide customized care to patients to effectively treat their health concerns in a natural manner that restores harmony and healing in the body. Services include, but are not limited to, acupuncture, massage, medicinal herb counseling to treat conditions such as anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain and more. Proudly serving the Seattle community since 2010.

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