Can Acupuncture Support Your Health?
by Lisa DiFalco
Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years and many Americans are turning to acupuncture as part of their complementary health care approach. This therapy can be beneficial as part of a patient’s individualized treatment program and help those suffering from chronic pain or recovering from injuries.
Insurance does not always cover the preferred treatment of a patients and those choosing alternative therapies often have to pay additional costs. Americans have spent approximately $30.2 billion annually out-of-pocket on complementary practices and health products. Is acupuncture worth the additional cost and can it be used to effectively treat patients?
Acupuncture is used to treat a wide range of conditions. It may also be applied to promote relaxation and support general health. Learn more about acupuncture, therapeutic benefits, and recent research and applications.
What Is Acupuncture?
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) began over 2,500 years ago. Acupuncture is one of the practices within TCM. There is a belief that the body has energy meridians and the use of inserting thin needles into certain points or “acupoints” along these lines will balance the body’s energy. Practitioners use the needles to treat energy in excess or blocked or depleted life energy and address associated conditions and symptoms. In addition to the practice of using thin filiform needles, an acupuncturist may also use electric or manual stimulation or treat the whole body with ear acupuncture. There is biochemical evidence that acupuncture can release natural endorphins and may be useful in the treatment of headaches and chronic pain. Acupuncture has been used to treat conditions and symptoms including:
- Anxiety and depression;
- Parkinson’s disease;
- Digestive issues including constipation, nausea, and vomiting;
- Irritable bowel syndrome;
- Rheumatoid arthritis;
- Infertility and gynecological issues;
- Reducing fatigue; and
- Decreasing addictive behaviors.
It is important to communicate with a certified acupuncturist. Those who have a pacemaker, are pregnant, or are diagnosed with a bleeding disorder may need to have their treatment modified. A patient can expect a treatment session to take anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes. The number of treatments necessary depend on a variety of factors, including the severity of the symptoms and the patient’s response to treatment.
Support for Acupuncture
While acupuncture has been used as part of TCM for thousands of years, it is a practice that is not fully understood by Western doctors and researchers. Acupuncture may be used to address a wide range of conditions. However, additional research is needed to support all of the applications of this ancient practice. Studies have shown acupuncture as being beneficial for individuals suffering from osteoarthritis, headaches, and neck and back pain. In addition, the practice is generally viewed as safe when an experienced practitioners uses sterile needles.
Researchers want to know more about how acupuncture may benefit patients. Current NCCIH-supported studies are investigating:
- The potential for acupuncture to benefit those receiving chemotherapy and reduce associated discomfort;
- Objective measurements when comparing acupuncture to simulated acupuncture and traditional pain relief methods; and
- The ability for acupuncture to decrease the frequency of hot flashes in menopausal women.
Research may provide additional support for the use of acupuncture in treating a range of conditions, including symptoms of menopause and cases of infertility.
A Mixed Bag
Studies may show mixed results when it comes to the use of acupuncture for a specific condition. According to a recent study from China, acupuncture appeared to benefit women with stress incontinence and improve their symptoms. David Shurtleff, deputy director at the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine, said:
“The research on acupuncture for stress incontinence suggests that acupuncture could be a reasonable and low-risk approach to try before attempting riskier, more invasive treatment such as surgery.”
In another study, acupuncture did not seem to help infertile women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Other research indicates acupuncture may boost fertility in cases when PCOS is not involved. Both studies were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on June 27th.
Patients considering acupuncture should also see a health care provider for accurate diagnosis and treatment of health conditions. A health care provider may be able to refer patients to an acupuncturist for alternative care and ensure that the practitioner is suitably licensed, certified, or registered. Requirements vary by state. Acupuncture is considered an alternative therapy. Patients receiving acupuncture may also use massage therapy or chiropractic treatments to manage symptoms of their condition or promote healing. Some insurance companies may cover the cost of acupuncture treatment. It is important to speak with practitioners and contact the health insurance provider to understand more about the process, limits, requirements, and any out-of-pocket costs. Acupuncture may also be one of the initial therapies used to manage pain without drugs, along with yoga or physical therapy. This option may help reduce the number of patients prescribed opioid painkillers.
Acupuncture May Provide Natural Pain Relief
With a focus on conservative care approaches, acupuncture, massage therapy, and chiropractic may become more common within a holistic approach to treatment addressing chronic pain or specific symptoms of a diagnosed condition. As research continues, more insurance companies may decide to cover the costs associated with such types of care.
Acupuncture has a long history of use. Patients may want to search for a health care provider open to alternative treatment therapies and work with them to tailor their care and incorporate preferred treatment modalities. In addition, such therapies may be beneficial in reducing a patient’s reliance on prescription pain medications. Acupuncture is worth investigating further and can be used to complement traditional Western therapies.