How it works, uses, benefits and risks

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Acupuncture is a form of complementary therapy that involves inserting very fine needles into the body. Practitioners insert needles in different places and to different depths to treat different health conditions.

Acupuncture can help relieve pain and treat a range of other problems. However, the exact way it works remain unclear. Some people believe it works by balancing life energy, while others believe it has a neurological effect.

In this article, we detail what acupuncture is, how it can work, and what the benefits and risks of the practice are.

Acupuncture involves inserting needles into the body to stimulate sensory nerves in the skin and muscles. This can help treat chronic pain and other physical conditions.

Acupuncture has its roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and is now a joint complementary treatment worldwide.

TCM explains that health is The result of a harmonious balance of the complementary yin and yang extremes of the life force known as Qi, pronounced “chi”. Proponents believe that disease is the consequence of an imbalance of these forces.

According to TCM, Qi flows through meridians, or pathways, in the human body. These meridians and energy flows are accessible through 361 acupuncture points in the body. Inserting needles into these points with appropriate combinations will bring the flow of energy back into balance.

A 2017 report suggests that many acupuncture points are at sites where stimulation can affect the activity of multiple sensory neurons. These sites are also called receptive fields.

The physical stimulation of needle insertion at these sites can affect pain processing in the central nervous system and muscles and increase blood flow to certain parts of the body.

A Meta-analysis 2018 of the effect of acupuncture on chronic pain revealed that the practice may provide distinct pain relief benefits from placebo. However, the exact mechanism by which acupuncture works is unclear.

All therapies have both risks and benefits. A person should always consult a doctor before undertaking any therapy.

Possible risks acupuncture are as follows:

  • Bleeding, bruising and pain may occur at the insertion sites.
  • Unsterilized needles can lead to infection.
  • In rare cases, a needle can break and damage an internal organ.

the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates acupuncture needles as medical devices. Their manufacture and labeling must meet certain standards. Needles should be sterile, non-toxic and labeled “for single use” by a licensed practitioner.

As with any complementary therapy, it is advisable to use acupuncture alongside conventional treatments in cases of chronic or severe illnesses.

Acupuncture is a common complementary therapy that can help people manage many different conditions.

The benefits of acupuncture include the following:

  • People can effectively combine acupuncture with other treatments.
  • Effective acupuncture can help manage chronic painmigraines and headaches.
  • Acupuncture carries a low risk of side effects.
  • It is a flexible form of treatment that can target many health conditions at once.

the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) advises people not to use acupuncture as a replacement for conventional medical help.

An acupuncturist will examine a person and assess their condition, insert one or more thin, sterile needles, and offer advice.

People usually sit or lie down during the procedure. The acupuncturist must use sterile, single-use disposable needles. People may feel a very brief tingling or prickling sensation when inserting the needle.

They may then feel a dull ache at the base of the needle.

Generally, the needles will stay in place for 20–60 minutes, although this varies depending on the procedure.

In some practices, the acupuncturist sometimes heat the needles after insertion.

The number of treatments a person will need depends on their individual case. A person with a chronic illness may need one or two treatments per week over several months. An acute health problem usually improves after 8 to 12 sessions.

Acupuncture is a complementary therapy and should not replace treatments recommended by doctors.

Before undergoing acupuncture to treat chronic pain or other conditions, a person should seek the advice of a primary care physician. In some US states, acupuncturists themselves may be primary care physicians.

Acupuncture is a traditional complementary therapy that has a historical origin in China. It involves inserting small needles to stimulate specific parts of the body and its neural network.

Studies show that acupuncture can help manage chronic pain, osteoarthritis, headaches and migraines.

Acupuncture carries little risk of side effects and practitioners must be licensed to perform acupuncture procedures.

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