What is Acupuncture and what is it good for?
"What is Acupuncture and what is it good for?" These questions are amoung the first on everyone's mind who has heard of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine, and my short answer is everything. But before you jump on the thought let's explore this further.
What is Acupuncture and what is it good for?
Acupuncture is a detailed system of Chinese medicine that involves inserting thin sterile single-use needles into acupuncture points, to which at times, heat and electrical stimulation are applied to promote natural healing mechanisms in your body to improve it's functioning and your overall health. Although the action of Acupuncture is both physical and quantum in it's nature, it's helpful to think of the action of Acupuncture in terms of language and perspectives which we are most familiar with in the Western-scientific epistemology.
Through stimulating nervous tissue and activating neural pathways in the brain Acupuncture is able to help regulate hormones, affect dopamine pathways and alleviate pain, as well as stimulate the immune system, regulate sleep and inflammatory pathways, and physically relax tense muscles and moderate blood perfusion to bodily tissues. Although the affect and use of Acupuncture needles is a main form of treatment in TCM, using diet and lifestyle advice to support and enhance treatment is commonly employed.
Acupuncture and Chinese medical practitioners work by identifying patterns of disharmony in the body and selecting points that stimulate the bodies natural mechanisms to harmonize these disorders and recover from specific body states. In order to identify these patterns a practitioner will use inspection, auscultation and olfaction, palpation, inquiry and the tongue and pulse to collect information about the body's expression of these patterns. Because acupuncture works on these whole body patterns, and doesn't focus on specific diseases, by harmonizing patterns we can both treat and prevent disease by moderating pathogenic environments in the body. When our body maintains a healthy, well regulated, homeostatic environment disease is less likely to occur.
The following list provides examples of only some of the researched applications of Acupuncture. Keep in mind that many studies also fail to en-capture the true essence of an acupuncture treatment, may be statistically underpowered, or poorly designed, but still many of these studies provide proof that acupuncture is an effective and safe therapy to treat many common disorders and disease states. More modern research is being conducted all the time! (Check PubMed)
According to the World Health Organization's report in 2003, compiled from over 255 trials prior to and including data before and up until 1999, acupuncture has been shown to be:
An an effective treatment of:
Adverse reactions to radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy
Allergic rhinitis (including hay fever)
Depression (including depressive neurosis and depression following stroke)
Dysentery, acute bacillary
Epigastralgia, acute (in peptic ulcer, acute and chronic gastritis, and gastrospasm)
Facial pain (including craniomandibular disorders)
Induction of labour
Low back pain
Malposition of fetus, correction of
Nausea and vomiting
Pain in dentistry (including dental pain and temporomandibular dysfunction)
Periarthritis of shoulder
Can theraputically benefit the following diseases, symptoms or conditions but for which further proof is needed:
Abdominal pain (in acute gastroenteritis or due to gastrointestinal spasm)
Alcohol dependence and detoxification
Cholecystitis, chronic, with acute exacerbation
Competition stress syndrome
Craniocerebral injury, closed
Diabetes mellitus, non-insulin-dependent
Epidemic haemorrhagic fever
Epistaxis, simple (without generalized or local disease)
Eye pain due to subconjunctival injection
Female urethral syndrome
Fibromyalgia and fasciitis
Hepatitis B virus carrier status
Herpes zoster (human (alpha) herpesvirus 3)
Male sexual dysfunction, non-organic
Opium, cocaine and heroin dependence
Pain due to endoscopic examination
Pain in thromboangiitis obliterans
Polycystic ovary syndrome (Stein–Leventhal syndrome)
Postextubation in children
Radicular and pseudoradicular pain syndrome
Raynaud syndrome, primary
Recurrent lower urinary-tract infection
Reflex sympathetic dystrophy
Retention of urine, traumatic
Sore throat (including tonsillitis)
Spine pain, acute
Temporomandibular joint dysfunction
Ulcerative colitis, chronic
Whooping cough (pertussis)
These diseases, symptoms or conditions for which there are only individual controlled trials reporting some therapeutic effects, but for which acupuncture is worth trying because treatment by conventional and other therapies is difficult:
Choroidopathy, central serous
Irritable colon syndrome
Neuropathic bladder in spinal cord injury
Pulmonary heart disease, chronic
Small airway obstruction
These diseases, symptoms or conditions which acupuncture may be tried provided the practitioner has special modern medical knowledge and adequate monitoring equipment:
Breathlessness in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Convulsions in infants
Coronary heart disease (angina pectoris)
Diarrhoea in infants and young children
Encephalitis, viral, in children, late stage
Paralysis, progressive bulbar and pseudobulbar
The WHO list may seem extensive but it is incomplete as more and more new studies are emerging that are showing the efficacy of acupuncture treatment. New trials, results and more recent knowledge about the physical mechanisms of acupuncture treatment is proving Acupuncture and TCM to be a model of healthcare that can be both complimentary and integrative with our modern western medical system.
The larger answer of "acupuncture is good for everything" is an opinion backed by the affect acupuncture has on "stress" and the nervous-endocrine system. Because the real power of acupuncture is in harmonizing the body as a whole, and these overarching symptoms affect the whole body, most patients will find that even if their condition is difficult to treat, that their quality of life will improve with treatment regardless of whether their condition completely resolves. Digestion, sleep, stress, hormonal imbalances, physical and emotional pain can all be addressed!
If you have any doubts about what Acupuncture can successfully treat, talk with your local Registered Acupuncturist (R.Ac).