Does Acupuncture Really Work?

Acupuncture is another strand of ancient Chinese medicine, which has been practiced for well over 4000 years. It’s carried out by a practitioner who inserts fine needles into designated acupuncture points on your body, to clear any blockages in your ‘Qi’ – the vital energy that practitioners believe flows through your body.

Acupuncture has grown in acceptance and popularity in recent years, and it’s often recommended for conditions like anxiety and lower back pain. In some cases, it’s regarded so highly that even some GPs recommend it – and it’s available in a large number of NHS pain clinics.

What Conditions is Acupuncture Good For?

Acupuncture is used alongside, or in place of traditional medicine for conditions like:

  • headaches and migraines
  • anxiety and depression
  • arthritis
  • asthma
  • back pain and sciatica
  • high blood pressure
  • infertility
  • menstrual problems
  • skin conditions

Acupuncture is also widely recommended for treating addictions, helping people to give up smoking, drinking and drugs or even for weight loss.

How Effective is Acupuncture?

There have been several medical trials that have researched acupuncture’s ability to heal, and enhance health. In early 2008, the British Medical Journal published a review that showed that acupuncture could increase a woman’s chance of getting pregnant by up to 65% – if she was already having fertility treatment. Another recently published review of acupuncture in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine came to the conclusion that the clinical evidence backed up some of acupuncture’s claims for “some but not all conditions”.

Other scientific evidence has proved that acupuncture works on back pain, nausea and vomiting, migraines and toothache – and in June 2000 the British Medical Association recommended that acupuncture should be made more widely available on the NHS.

Good news for pregnant women too – although more research is needed, it’s been shown that acupuncture can often work wonders if you’re suffering from morning sickness, and help to relieve labour pains, according to the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in January 2002.

On the down side, research carried out by Cardiff University seemed to show that pregnancy rates in women having fertility treatment in Denmark were actually 20% lower in women used who used complementary including acupuncture, compared with those who didn’t.

Acupuncture and Pain

One area that acupuncture seems to shine is pain relief. Some trials have been carried out which have looked closely at the effect, or perceived effect of acupuncture versus a placebo, and the effect was undeniable – although it was said to be less effective than an over the counter painkiller, it was still in evidence. The problem with trials involving pain relief though, is that pain is subjective and it’s hard to actually measure ‘pain reduction’.

Nobody really knows for sure how acupuncture works, but most modern theories concentrate on the way acupuncture affects the nervous system. The accepted opinion is that in cases where a muscular pain (such as lower back pain, which acupuncture is routinely recommended for) can be alleviated by manipulating the nerves, acupuncture could feasibly work.

If you’re thinking of trying a treatment, make sure that your therapist is accredited – contact a professional association such as the British Acupuncture Council for advice and to find out if your chosen practitioner is a member.

Acupuncture, although not as strictly regulated as some of the ‘Big Five’ complementary therapies, is still considered one of the more convincing ones by the medical establishment. So, as long as you don’t mind needles, if you’re suffering from one of the conditions mentioned above, it’s worth considering.

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