I have had acupuncture maybe 10 times before. Sometimes, I feel that it provides relief, and sometimes, unfortunately, it does nothing for me. Like everything, I believe that each experience is unique, and that a lot of other factors contribute to the results each time. I would never say that it doesn’t work — in fact, I’ve had more positive experiences than negative ones — but I also could not sit here and promise you that it does work. Every person is different and the way that every patient responds to any treatment – traditional or alternative – may vary. What I can do, though, is provide you with some facts and statistics about acupuncture, particularly as it relates to arthritis and inflammatory conditions.
What is acupuncture? According to a company called Wholistic Acupuncture, it is an “effective form of health care that has evolved into a complete and holistic medical system. Practitioners of acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine have used this noninvasive medical system to diagnose and help millions of people get well and stay healthy. An acupuncturist will place fine, sterile needles at specific acupoints of the body. This activates the body’s Qi and promotes natural healing by enhacing recuperative power, immunity, and physical & emotional health.”
The widely-regarded and respected Mayo Clinic says this about acupuncture: “Acupuncture involves the insertion of extremely thin needles in your skin at strategic points on your body. Acupuncture originated in China thousands of years ago, but over the past three decades its popularity has grown significantly within the United States. Traditional Chinese theory explains acupuncture as a technique for balancing the flow of energy or life force — known as qi or chi (chee) — believed to flow through pathways (meridians) in your body. By inserting needles into specific points along these meridians, acupuncture practitioners believe that your energy flow will re-balance. In contrast, many Western practitioners view the acupuncture points as places to stimulate nerves, muscles and connective tissue. This stimulation appears to boost the activity of your body’s natural painkillers and increase blood flow.”
Most doctors – whether traditional or naturopathic – will agree that, generally speaking, acupuncture is widely considered as safe, as long as it is done in a clean, professional environment using sterile needles and when practiced by a professional. It is an all-natural, drug-free therapy, with little chance for side effects or infection. The only groups of people that it is not advised for are those with pacemakers and anyone with a bleeding disorder. Most acupuncturists and practitioners of Chinese medicine will state that acupuncture can “heal” the following: anxiety, addiction, arthritis, asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic fatigue, colitis, common colds, depression, digestive disorders, facial palsy, fatigue, fertility problems, fibromyalgia, headaches, lower back pain, menopause symptoms, osteoarthritis, PMS symptoms, sciatica, shoulder and neck pain, sinus problems, tennis elbow, trigeminal neuralgia, and wrist pain. Of course, there is no medical “miracle” out there that will “cure” all of the above conditions. However, the term “heal” is used loosely here, as in, acupuncture can help heal some of the symptoms associated with these afflictions.
Even folks with cancer, multiple sclerosis, and autoimmune conditions have been known to benefit from the feel-good effects of acupuncture. Rheumatoid arthritis and lupus patients also do well. If you live with arthritis you know that there are days you’ll “try anything” to feel better and rid yourself of pain. Acupuncture may be worth a try — in conjunction with your regular medications and treatments, however. In fact, Arthritis Today Magazine lists acupuncture as one of many “alternative” or “integrative” ways to manage your RA in a complementary fashion. It also can help osteoarthritis sufferers.
A 2004 study showed that patients with OA of the knee experienced a 40% decrease in pain and a 40% increase in function after receiving a series of acupuncture treatments.
So, how does it work?
First, it is important to understand that the practice of acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine view the “causes” of these conditions in a different light than traditional Western medicine does. Causes of any form of arthritis from a TCM perspective are as follows: weakness or deficiency of internal organs, constitutional imbalance, changes with the quality or quantity of Qi, or blockage/inadequate flow of Qi. Qi is the vital energy that “animates the body and protects it from illness.” In a Western sense, we could equate these views as our view that RA, for example, is an autoimmune condition — in both cases, our own body is causing ourselves harm. TCM states that the “Qi” flows through pathways throughout our body called meridians, providing nourishment for every cell, tissue, muscle, and organ. When there is a problem with the Qi, physical symptoms may result. If the Qi issue is chronic, your symptoms will be chronic, and so forth.
Most modern practitioners of acupuncture ask you for a complete medical history and encourage you to still see your regular medical doctors. They also recommend a healthful and balanced diet, proper rest and hydration, sleep, stress relief, and exercise as part of the treatment aside from acupuncture and your medications. Acupuncture can help autoimmune diseases, too, by strengthening the immune system, reducing stress, and possibly reducing pain.
Does it work? Again, the results of this are on a case-by-case basis. According to the Mayo Clinic, ” The effects of acupuncture are sometimes difficult to measure, but many people swear by it as a means to control a variety of painful conditions. Several studies, however, show that simulated acupuncture like acupressure appears to work just as well as real acupuncture. There also is evidence that acupuncture works best in people who expect it to work. Since acupuncture has few side effects, it may be worth a try if you’re having trouble controlling pain with more-conventional methods.”
The Arthritis Foundation supports acupuncture, too. “More than 2,000 acupuncture points connects to the meridians. Stimulating those points with needles may correct the flow and alleviate pain,” says the Arthritis Foundation website. The site also shares the following useful information. “Tim Rhudy, a licensed acupuncturist in the department of pain management at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, explains that acupuncture diminishes pain by ‘untying muscular straitjackets – releasing tight, spasmed, shortened muscles to their resting state.’ And there’s more: Acupuncture tells the body where the battle is. When you cut your hand, the body sends help to the injury site. Likewise, when a needle is inserted into an acupuncture point, the body pays special attention to the micro-trauma and emits healing factors,’ says Rhudy.
Acupuncture also alters the perception of pain, he says. ‘Brain magnetic resonance imaging shows that deep needling of acupuncture points deactivates the part of the brain that deals with our perception of pain.’ With deep needling, a needle in inserted as far as one-half inch (12.7 millimeters) as opposed to superficial needling. For rheumatoid arthritis: A recent study from China shows that both traditional acupuncture and electro-acupuncture – a type in which pulsating electrical currents are sent through the needles to stimulate target areas – may reduce tenderness. All 36 study participants had a standardized treatment, whether they received traditional acupuncture or electro-acupuncture. During a total of 20 sessions throughout a 10-week period, needles were placed at a depth of about 10 to 20 millimeters and left in place for 30 minutes. For osteoarthritis: In a German study, 304,674 people with knee of him OA who received 15 sessions of acupuncture, combined with their usual medical care, had less pain and stiffness, improved function and better quality of life than their counterparts who had routine care alone. The improvements occurred immediately after completing a three-month course of acupuncture and lasted for at least another three months.”
So, you may think it’s wacky — but it could very well be worth a try! It can be pricey, but most insurance plans will have some sort of coverage for acupuncture, and, if not, some acupuncture clinics will work out payment plans.
Have you tried acupuncture? We’d love to “needle” you for more info — please share your experience by leaving a comment! Thanks for reading!
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