Acupuncture is among the oldest healing practices in the world. As part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), acupuncture aims to restore and maintain health through the stimulation of specific points on the body. In the United States, where practitioners incorporate healing traditions from China, Japan, Korea, and other countries, acupuncture is considered part of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).
The term "acupuncture" describes a family of procedures involving the stimulation of anatomical points on the body using a variety of techniques. The acupuncture technique that has been most often studied scientifically involves penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation.
Acupuncture became better known in the United States in 1971, when New York Times reporter James Reston wrote about how doctors in China used needles to ease his pain after surgery. American practices of acupuncture incorporate medical traditions from China, Japan, Korea, and other countries.
The report from a Consensus Development Conference on Acupuncture held at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1997 stated that acupuncture is being "widely" practiced—by thousands of physicians, dentists, acupuncturists, and other practitioners—for relief or prevention of pain and for various other health conditions. According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, which included a comprehensive survey of CAM use by Americans, an estimated 3.1 million U.S. adults and 150,000 children had used acupuncture in the previous year. Between the 2002 and 2007 NHIS, acupuncture use among adults increased by three-tenths of 1 percent (approximately 1 million people).
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates acupuncture needles for use by licensed practitioners, requiring that needles be manufactured and labeled according to certain standards. For example, the FDA requires that needles be sterile, nontoxic, and labeled for single use by qualified practitioners only.
Relatively few complications from the use of acupuncture have been reported to the FDA, in light of the millions of people treated each year and the number of acupuncture needles used. Still, complications have resulted from inadequate sterilization of needles and from improper delivery of acupuncture. Practitioners should use a new set of disposable needles taken from a sealed package for each patient and should swab sites with alcohol or another disinfectant before inserting needles.
There have been many studies on acupuncture's potential health benefits for a wide range of conditions. Summarizing earlier research, the 1997 NIH Consensus Statement on Acupuncture found that, overall, results were hard to interpret because of problems with the size and design of the studies.
In the years since the Consensus Statement was issued, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) has funded extensive research to advance scientific understanding of acupuncture. Some recent NCCAM-supported studies have looked at:
During your first office visit, the practitioner may ask you at length about your health condition, lifestyle, and behavior. The practitioner will want to obtain a complete picture of your needs and behaviors that may contribute to your condition. Inform the acupuncturist about all treatments or medications you are taking and all medical conditions you have.
Acupuncture needles are metallic, solid, and hair-thin. People experience acupuncture differently, but most feel no or minimal pain as the needles are inserted. Some people feel energized by acupuncture, while others feel relaxed. Improper needle placement, movement of the patient, or a defect in the needle can cause soreness and pain during acupuncture. This is why it is important to seek care from a qualified acupuncture practitioner.
Treatment may take place over a period of several weeks or more.
Scientists have observed the following clinical effects of acupuncture:
Augmentation of Immunity Theory – Increased Immune Function & Resistance to Disease by Stimulating Immune Cells
Endorphin Theory – Reduction of Pain by Increasing Release of Endorphins
Neurotransmitter Theory – Inflammation Reduction & Altering Brain Chemistry by Changing the Release of Neurotransmitters and Neurohormones.
Circulatory Theory – Increases Blood Circulation & Smooth Muscle Relaxation
Gate Control Theory – Increases Pain Tolerance
Motor Gate Theory – Hastens Motor Recovery from Paralysis
Bioelectric Theory – Stimulate Cells of Tissue Growth & Repair
Nervous System Theories – Regulates Central Nervous System, Spinal & Peripheral Nerve Stimulation, Resulting in Specific Effects such as Regulating one's Blood Pressure, Blood Flow, and Body Temperature.
Health For Life Clinic: Natural Medicine & Acupuncture