Acupuncture: A Comprehensive Guide to What You Need To Know - Benefits, Safety, and More
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine technique in which practitioners insert fine needles into the skin to treat various health problems. The practice has been in use for over 2,500 years and has gained popularity worldwide since the 1970s. According to the World Health Organization, acupuncture is used in 103 out of 129 countries that reported data.
Acupuncture is commonly used to treat pain conditions such as back, joint, or neck pain. Studies have shown that acupuncture may have effects on the nervous system, other body tissues, and nonspecific (placebo) effects. The beneficial effects of acupuncture may continue for up to a year after the end of treatment for various painful conditions.
Aside from pain conditions, acupuncture has been studied for at least 50 other health problems. Evidence suggests that acupuncture may help relieve seasonal allergy symptoms, stress incontinence in women, and nausea and vomiting associated with cancer treatment, among others.
Auricular acupuncture, a type of acupuncture that involves stimulating specific areas of the ear, has shown promising results in relieving chronic back pain and cancer pain. However, a recent review of studies on battlefield acupuncture, a form of auricular acupuncture used by the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs to treat pain, did not find any significant improvement in pain compared to no treatment, usual care, delayed treatment, or sham battlefield acupuncture.
While acupuncture is generally considered safe, complications can arise from the use of nonsterile needles and improper delivery of treatments. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates acupuncture needles as medical devices and requires that they be sterile and labeled for single use only.
Some health insurance policies cover acupuncture, but coverage is often limited based on the condition being treated. Medicare covers acupuncture only for the treatment of chronic low-back pain, and Medicaid coverage varies from state to state.
Most states license acupuncturists, but the requirements for licensing vary. NCCIH funds research to evaluate acupuncture’s effectiveness for various kinds of pain and other conditions and to further understand how the body responds to acupuncture and how acupuncture might work.
In conclusion, acupuncture is a widely used technique for treating various health problems, particularly pain conditions. While more research is needed to fully understand its mechanisms and effectiveness, acupuncture is generally considered safe when delivered properly and by licensed practitioners.