These pathways create an energy flow Qi, pronounced "chee" through the body that is responsible for overall health. Disruption of the energy flow can cause disease. Acupuncture is not for everyone. Most people report feeling minimal pain as the needle is inserted. Some people report acupuncture makes them feel energized. Others say they feel relaxed. That is why it is important to seek treatment from a qualified acupuncture practitioner. The FDA regulates acupuncture needles just as it does other medical devices under good manufacturing practices and single-use standards of sterility.
Instead of needles, other forms of stimulation are sometimes used over the acupuncture points, including:. Acupuncture points are believed to stimulate the central nervous system. This, in turn, releases chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. These biochemical changes may stimulate the body's natural healing abilities and promote physical and emotional well-being. Many Americans seek acupuncture treatment for relief of chronic pain, such as arthritis or low back pain. Acupuncture, however, has expanded uses in other parts of the world. Conditions that may benefit from acupuncture include the following:.
Gastritis Irritable bowel syndrome Hepatitis Hemorrhoids. Anxiety Depression Insomnia Nervousness Neurosis. Irritable bladder Prostatitis Male infertility Some forms of impotence Addiction. Because scientific studies have not fully explained how acupuncture works within the framework of Western medicine, acupuncture remains a source of controversy. It is important to take precautions when deciding about acupuncture. Discuss all the treatments and medicines dietary supplements, prescription and over-the-counter you are taking.
Acupuncture vs. Opioids for Pain Relief
However, proponents of acupuncture often make such statements, trying to convey the impression that their approaches are growing rapidly in popularity and only perverse, closed-minded curmudgeons still resist them. The little evidence we have certainly does not support such claims. Waste of money. All kinds of chronic pain problems continued to plague North Americans — quite possibly in record numbers, especially low back pain. So … what really happened to James Reston? Did he actually have surgery without anaesthetic?
He did not! These details are described in a thorough series for ScienceBasedMedicine. Like Reston, most patients who underwent acupuncture for surgery were given also sedatives, narcotics, and local anesthetics. During the Cultural Revolution, patients were under extreme pressure to please their physicians and any authority figures — such as a Party representative proudly, conspicuously presiding over the procedure! In the late s, when criticism became safe, knowledgeable doctors began speaking out publicly about the fakery, and use of and respect for Traditional Chinese Medicine has been declining in China since that time.
Significantly, there is no longer any acupuncture anesthesia or analgesia — at least not to an extent that is either humane or clinically useful for surgery. Acupuncture treatments, as sold in most places, are used to try to treat specific health conditions and chronic pain.
Using acupuncture for true anaesthesia actually is almost as impossible and absurd as it sounds. Ask any nurse or doctor: people are full of surprises, and often hurt much less or much more than you might expect. Harriet Hall tells the story of a man who got a vasectomy without anesthesia because he was mistakenly injected with saline solution rather than lidocaine.
She also tells the story of a woman whose severe headaches went away after being injected with saline. The latter swore that only Demerol worked for her, but she had been conditioned to feel relief when she got a shot. Likewise, the vasectomy victim didn't feel excruciating pain because he also was conditioned to get pain relief from certain injections.
There is a world of psychological difference between experiencing acupuncture in its native cultural context, and experiencing it as a commercialized fad in North America. It was pretty uninspiring, honestly. Our finding of limited, at best, analgesic effects of acupuncture corresponds with the seven Cochrane reviews 43 on acupuncture for various types of pain, which all concluded that no clear evidence existed of an analgesic effect of acupuncture. Even the most optimistic assessment of the existing scientific research can grant acupuncture no more than the slight possibility of subtle efficacy.
Treating serious pain is serious business. Acupuncture has seemingly been studied to death … and yet it will not die. It has a zombie like ability to live again as credulous reporters and health professionals write about the benefits after reading a poorly controlled study. Melany Hamill, for Skeptic North.
More studies are not the answer. No matter how many studies showed negative results, they would not persuade true believers to give up their beliefs. Harriet Hall, Acupuncture Revisited. But people are suffering from real, horrible chronic pain — they write to me every day, and statistics about chronic pain are thoroughly alarming — and there is urgent work to be done finding solutions for them, and educating both patients and professionals about realistic, rational options.
At best, acupuncture is a waste of valuable time — and now so is the debate about it. Carl Sagan famously asked the Dalai Lama what would happen to Tibetan Buddhism if proof that there is no reincarnation could be found. The Dalai Lama sensibly replied:. And it should be no different for acupuncture. That evidence has emerged. Science blogger Orac explains a similar evolution in his thinking about acupuncture :. Homeopathy , I always realized to be a load of pseudoscientific magical thinking. Even so, there was always one modality that I gave a bit of a pass to. There was one modality that, or so I thought, might actually have something to it.
There was one modality that seemed to have a bit of suggestive evidence that it might do something more than a placebo. I did wonder if perhaps it worked as a counterirritant or by releasing endorphins.
Then I actually started paying attention to the scientific literature regarding acupuncture, including literature like this and this. The more I read, the more I realized something. What I had thought about it was that it might have a very mild beneficial effect. What I know now is that acupuncture is almost certainly no more than an elaborate placebo.
What I know now is that virtually every study of acupuncture claiming to show a positive effect has serious methodological flaws and that the better-designed the study the less likely there is to be an effect. As with any treatment that breaks the skin, disastrous infection is possible, and outbreaks of mycobacteria infection caused by acupuncture have been reported in the last decade. Nothing like a little sepsis and collapsed lung to add to the fun of chronic pain!
Integrative Medicine for Chronic Pain: Acupuncture and Massage
Of course these risks are not common complications. Then there is no justification for any risk. If you found this article useful please support independent science journalism with a donation. See the donation page for more information and options. I am a science writer, former massage therapist, and I was the assistant editor at ScienceBasedMedicine.
Why it's done
I have had my share of injuries and pain challenges as a runner and ultimate player. My wife and I live in downtown Vancouver, Canada. See my full bio and qualifications , or my blog, Writerly. You might run into me on Facebook or Twitter. I think almost everyone did. Probably not this guy. And probably not this one either. But just about everyone else, even skeptics, cut acupuncture some slack.
- Acupuncture for Back Pain: Does it Work?.
- Plague of Heritage.
- related stories.
So how did it feel to change my mind? Oh, a little awkward. It was like diving into water you just know is cold enough to make you gasp. I felt some emotional resistance to the evidence. I also remember feeling comforted whenever I read anything that seemed to bolster my besieged beliefs , and there was plenty of that. It took me quite a while to notice the disturbing pattern that the evidence supporting acupuncture was of consistently lower quality, while the evidence undermining it was of consistently higher quality.
Things started to get more comfortable when I noticed that I rather liked the doctors, scientists and skeptics who were challenging acupuncture. They seemed ridiculously bright — and I like bright people. But they won me over. Having my beliefs challenged by such intelligent people was uncomfortable at first, but it was overshadowed by the desire to understand.
Search Harvard Health Publishing
Eight updates have been logged for this article since publication All PainScience. Like good footnotes, this sets PainScience. Although footnotes are more useful , the update logs are important. I log any change to articles that might be of interest to a keen reader. Complete update logging of all noteworthy improvements to all articles started in Prior to that, I only logged major updates for the most popular and controversial articles. Whether needling at acupuncture points, or at any site, reduces pain independently of the psychological impact of the treatment ritual is unclear.
A dozen of the best scientific studies of acupuncture treatments for pain were carefully analyzed in this review. The acupuncture treatments were for conditions like osteoarthritis, headache and migraine, low back pain, fibromyalgia, and more. Pain invited a well-known voice of reason in medicine, Dr. Harriet Hall , to write an editorial about this paper.
It is reproduced in full on ScienceBasedMedicine. Real acupuncture once again fails to beat sham acupuncture, this time for menopausal hot flashes. Large trial, good methodology, fine journal, low risk of researcher bias … and completely consistent with the trend in acupuncture research: the better the test, the harder it fails. A bizarre and already infamous paper: bizarre because the authors clearly acknowledge that acupuncture is no better than a placebo, and bizarre because they conclude that it should be recommended, and most bizarre of all because it is published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Truly, one of the lowest moments in the history of that famous journal! More than participants were either given standard acupuncture treatments or simulated acupuncture. The apparent difference between real and fake acupuncture they observed was minor.
In particular, they gloss over the damning implications of their most important finding: what little effect they think they found had nothing at all to do with needle placement. The interpretation of Dr. It's not a placebo, and it's not a scam. What do actual experts say?
Steven Novella:. The comparison between true acupuncture and sham acupuncture shows only a small difference, which is likely not clinically significant or perceptible. More importantly, this small difference is well within the degree of bias and noise that [is] inherent in clinical trials. Everything Dr. NCCAM has also gotten around no-better-than-placebo findings essentially by fluffing up the importance of the placebo effect and claiming that it is inherently interesting.
Therapeutic touch practitioners could not demonstrate any ability to detect a person by feeling their aura, let alone manipulating it therapeutically. The test made them look ridiculous. This is a disturbing and typical example of sloppy modern acupuncture research, methologically flawed in several ways with clearly negative results, despite the fact that it was clearly built to give acupuncture an unfair advantage, by researchers who wanted to prove that acupuncture works.