The effectiveness of acupuncture has come under greater scrutiny over the last decades, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. The scientific process is helping to prove what we’ve always asserted — that acupuncture works. In fact, Medicaid’s own rigorous studies convinced them to offer acupuncture as a covered service. So, why is there still skepticism about its use?
In part, this is because of how simple treatments are. A few needles and 30 minutes of rest can make a big difference. But how can this be? The truth is that acupuncture’s simplicity belies a complex internal world Western science has begun to unveil.
How Does It Work?
A great deal of information has been gathered concerning the physiological effects of acupuncture. We know that it dampens the need for pharmaceuticals in the treatment of pain by stimulating release of the body’s endogenous opioids. This covers the gamut of musculoskeletal conditions that Western pain specialists struggle with: back and neck pain, frozen shoulder, sciatica, etc.
That’s only a small part of its scope, however. Acupuncture can modulate smooth muscle via the autonomic nervous system, thus affecting the airways, stomach, bowels and blood pressure. It has also been effective in the treatment of PTSD, depression, addiction and other emotional and psychological disorders.
What Does It Treat?
The World Health Organization compiled a list of conditions acupuncture can help with, which contains over 100 illnesses. These range from low-back pain to alcohol dependency, insomnia to infertility. For the sake of brevity, here are some highlights:
- Pain anywhere
- Weight loss
- Bell’s palsy
- GI discomfort
Aside from all the ways it helps medically, acupuncture is also an excellent way to reduce fine lines and wrinkles. It’s gained a lot of popularity in cosmetic circles as an alternative to Botox® and facelifts.
It’s also important to note that acupuncture is only one tool. Separating it from the wider context of traditional Chinese medicine is like calling a flu shot the full spectrum of modern medicine. Practitioners offer electro-acupuncture, cupping, moxibustion and herbal medicine as common adjuncts to treatment, in addition to guidance on lifestyle and diet.
Does It Hurt?
Needles are no one’s favorite thing, but the needles used in acupuncture are thinner than a beard hair. Sensation is determined by constitution and location, but most of the time you’ll hardly feel it. This is a major barrier to whether people give acupuncture a try, but I promise that whatever you have in mind is much worse than the reality.
Acupuncture has suffered from its mysterious reputation in the West. However, in China, acupuncturists work in hospitals alongside MDs, as I have. Treat it like any other medicine because it works, and you deserve to feel better.