2006 March



Acupuncture originated in China more than 2,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest and most commonly used medical procedures in the world. The term acupuncture describes stimulation of anatomical points on the body. The skin is penetrated with thin needles which are manipulated by the hands or electrical stimulation. It is thought that acupuncture produces its effects through regulating the nervous system, thus aiding the activity of pain- killing biochemicals such as endorphins and immune system cells at specific sites in the body. In addition, studies have shown that acupuncture may alter brain chemistry by changing the release of neurotransmitters and neurohormones and so, affect the parts of the central nervous system related to sensation and involuntary body functions, such as immune reactions and processes that regulate a persons blood pressure, blood flow and body temperature.

Is acupuncture suitable for everyone?

It is important to inform all your health care providers about any treatment that you are using or considering, including acupuncture. If you have received a diagnosis from a doctor, you may wish to ask your doctor whether acupuncture might help. Inform the acupuncture practitioner if you think you may be pregnant as stimulating acupuncture points on or near the abdomen can trigger uterine contractions. People on anticoagulant drugs may bleed easily even when very thin needles are used. Electrical stimulation of acupuncture needles could cause problems for people with pacemakers, as could magnets which are sometimes used to stimulate acupoints. Anyone with a compromised immune system will be vulnerable to infection, as will diabetics.

What does acupuncture feel like?

Acupuncture needles are metallic, solid, and hair thin. People experience acupuncture differently, but most feel no, or minimal pain as the needles is inserted. Some people feel energized by the treatment, others feel relaxed. Improper needle placement, movement of the patient, or a defect in the needle can cause soreness and pain during treatment. This is why it is important to seek treatment from a qualified acupuncture practitioner.

Is acupuncture safe?

Sterile, non toxic, single use needles are used. Millions of people are treated every year and very few complications arise. Potential problems if acupuncture is not practiced properly are infection and the potential to puncture organs.

Does acupuncture work?

There have been many studies on acupuncture’s potential usefulness, but results have been mixed because of the complexities of study design and size, also it is difficult to use placebo acupuncture. However, promising results have emerged showing the efficacy of acupuncture, for example, in adult postoperative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting, and in postoperative dental pain. There are other situations such as addiction, stroke rehabilitation, headache, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, low back pain and carpel tunnel syndrome in which acupuncture may be useful as an adjunct treatment or an acceptable alternative to traditional medication.

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