Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese healing technique that involves stimulating specific points in the body by inserting fine needles. And modern-day research is finding out why it may be effective.
People who practice acupuncture believe that the needles help restore the smooth flow of Qi (chee), or energy flow, through the body. Any blockage or imbalance of Qi, they believe, can cause pain and even illness.
How acupuncture works
In theory, acupuncture points lie along meridians, or energy pathways on the body. Each of these meridians is linked with specific organs. It is thought that there may be as many as 2,000 points that connect to the meridians. Most acupuncturists are trained to use a small number of these points for specific health problems and insert a single, very fine needle at select locations.
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans show that acupuncture can change the way the brain reacts to pain. Basically, the areas of the brain that are active when you feel pain can become less active when you receive acupuncture. Research also shows that acupuncture affects the area of the brain that is used when we expect to feel pain.
How is acupuncture used?
Acupuncture is used for a wide range of conditions and problems. In Chinese philosophy, the use of acupuncture goes beyond pain relief to the treatment of many other health problems. These include arthritis, nausea after chemotherapy and addiction. People seek out acupuncture most commonly for back pain, followed by joint pain, neck pain, headache/migraine and recurring pain.
Is acupuncture effective?
Many people who have received acupuncture say the treatments work. But a review of scientific studies shows that results are not consistent. To start, medical researchers can't agree on how to measure the treatment's effectiveness. For example, researchers use different methods to record whether acupuncture reduces pain. Another problem is that studies have been small so the results aren't as reliable as from studies of larger groups.
Continue to myOptumHealth.com to see what some studies have found out about acupuncture.
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