Acupuncture has always been and remains a controversial topic in western medicine, and chances are, if you have reached this article, then you too are probably questioning its legitimacy. You’re probably wondering whether or not it really works. Well, to answer that question in a word – yes. Probably. At least it appears to.

Many studies over the past decade have found similar results; acupuncture is an effective treatment for many chronic pain conditions, and it is now a widely accepted practice in the medical community. There are many schools of thought on exactly why it works (and the limitations of the practice), and there is a distinct difference between Eastern and Western medicine perspectives on the subject.

What does acupuncture involve?

Acupuncture is an ancient treatment over 2,000 years old involving the use of needles as a form of treatment. Over the years, the practice has evolved, but the core principles remain the same.
Needles are inserted into various ‘acupoints’ in the body by a trained practitioner, and then maybe stimulated in various ways such as with electricity, heat, or movement. Typically, around five to twenty needles will be inserted, and the process will usually last for up to thirty minutes.

Is it painful?

Usually, there is little pain involved in the process, though the ability of the acupuncturist and your own pain tolerance level will influence the amount of pain felt. Many people report feeling no pain whatsoever.

How does it work?

Traditional practitioners claim that inserting needles into certain parts of the body can be used to manipulate the body’s ‘meridians’ and alleviate pain. The meridian system is believed in Chinese medicine to be a channel through the body through which ‘life-energy’ (more commonly known as ‘qi’) flows. Neither the concept of meridians nor that of qi are recognized in western medicine.

A common opinion in the western medical community is that the effects of acupuncture are due to the ‘placebo effect’, in which a patient that is convinced of its legitimacy will be more likely to perceive a reduction in pain that may not necessarily have really occurred.

The placebo effect theory has been somewhat discredited by recent studies which have found that patients that receive sham acupuncture treatment are less likely to feel a reduction in pain than those that receive traditional treatment. The statistical difference in effect between the two treatments was small but nonetheless significant.

Another, perhaps more convincing, opinion is that the effects of acupuncture are due to the stimulation of pathways that help to produce endorphins, which function as natural painkillers.

What can it be used to treat?

The most common use of acupuncture is to treat and alleviate chronic pain across the body, but the effects of acupuncture are not limited to this as many studies claim that it is effective to treat a number of other conditions, such as depression, insomnia, anxiety, and IBS. It is also used in certain cases to help alleviate symptoms in cancer patients.

So it works then?

Probably. If you feel you may benefit from acupuncture, your best option is to consult with a doctor or other medical professional to weigh up your options. The practice may not be beneficial for everyone, but if you suffer from chronic pain, it may be a useful option to consider.

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