Acupuncture is one of the most popular member of the alternative medicine family. Is it a viable alternative, though? People have apparently been sticking needles into each other as a form of treatment for thousands of years. Acupuncture as we understand it today originated in China then spread first to Korea. The practice was then brought to Vietnam and eventually to Europe and beyond.
Now, the popularity and general acceptance of acupuncture has waxed and waned through the years, but it is still widely practiced. And in this case, “widely practiced” has come to mean modern clinics, state of the art hospitals and even academic medical centers. Still, the actual efficacy of acupuncture is still up for debate.
So, how much do we actually know about acupuncture? And in what cases might it be considered a viable form of treatment? Read on…
How Does it Work?
In traditional Chinese medicine, being healthy means that a person’s life force, known as qi or chi, is in a state of balance where the extremes of yin and yang perfectly complement each other. The same concept is found in the traditions of various other cultures. Furthermore, the aforementioned energy is thought to flow through the body through certain meridians or pathways.
This flow can then be accessed through the various acupuncture points across the body. There are, by the way, a total of 361 classical acupuncture points, about 48 extra points and a lot of variation across regions. Anyway, by inserting needles into these points and in the correct combination the flow of energy can be brought back into balance.
Conversely, the most common modern explanation for the purported effects of acupuncture is that the points correspond to locations where nerves, muscles and connective tissues can easily be stimulated. This, in turn, can then cause an increase in blood flow and also trigger the release of endorphins, our body’s natural pain relievers.
“Don’t hesitate to ask your doctor if acupuncture might be applicable to a health concern, especially if it involves chronic pain”
But, again, there has been no conclusive scientific proof to support this idea. See, when, say, a new drug undergoes clinical trials, a control group is set up. Subjects in this control group would be given placebos—without their knowledge, of course—and their reaction to the medication will then be compared to subjects receiving the actual drug. Same thing goes for other forms of treatment. There is, however, no placebo equivalent to sticking needles into somebody.
Limitations aside, there has been many studies carried out on the effects of acupuncture, the mechanisms of perceived effects and how it compares to mainstream treatment, but results so far have been inconclusive. So, essentially, we know that it might work in some cases. We just don’t know exactly how or why.
Pain Relief and Beyond
Quite a few studies have shown that acupuncture might help relieve pain. This includes chronic pain such as low-back pain, neck pain and osteoarthritis. Furthermore, acupuncture has also been suggested for reducing the frequency of tension headaches and preventing migraines.
Back in 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) published “Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials” which mentions 28 conditions where acupuncture has been proven to be an effective form of treatment. These include both high and low blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis and even nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy. Another 55 conditions—from fibromyalgia to vascular dementia—might benefit from acupuncture but require more clinical trials. The WHO, however, also pointed out that the publication was intended primarily to “facilitate research” on acupuncture.
All that being said, acupuncture has been an accepted part of mainstream healthcare for quite a while. In Indonesia, the concept of medical acupuncture began with a pilot project initiated in 1967 at the Dr. Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital. When you see the abbreviation “Sp.Ak.” behind a doctor’s name, then that doctor is a specialist in acupuncture.
The traditional application of acupuncture is, of course, still favored by many. But it also has a long history of being used as a complement to mainstream modern medicine with demonstrable—to a certain extent—results.
So, when you find yourself in a conversation with your physician and they suggest acupuncture as a form of treatment you might be interested in, it’s definitely not a ridiculous idea. In fact, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor if acupuncture might be applicable to a health concern you’re facing, especially if it involves chronic pain. Consulting directly with an acupuncture specialist (check out pdai.or.id for a list of specialists and also a brief overview of medical acupuncture in Indonesia) might also be an option.
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