Acupuncture – what current research says
I’ve now completed the first half of my 2 year Doctoral program. One of the major goals for the program is to have Acupuncturists ready to work collaboratively with conventional medicine practitioners. As such, we do a lot of research for Chinese medicine, conventional medicine and various forms of alternative medicine. The goal is to get a comprehensive sense of what current data says regarding patient care.
This is an exciting time for the field of Chinese medicine. There is a lot of existing research for Acupuncture, with much more to come. The data is showing promising results for certain conditions (most notably treatment of pain), while other data is inconclusive or needing further study. There is also extensive research being done to determine what Acupuncture does to our bodies.
Below is a summary of some of the studies I’ve found interesting thus far. Before diving into these studies, I’d like to touch briefly on the concept of “double blind studies” and what that means for Acupuncture. If you’re unfamiliar with what a double blind study is, this article explains it well. For Acupuncture, the placebo group usually receives what is called “Sham Acupuncture”. Instead of a needle being placed into an acupoint, the patient instead receives mild electrical stimulation. So they’re not actually getting Acupuncture, but they’re still getting the same points stimulated.
In many studies, patients receiving the “Sham” treatment still report positive results. The sham treatments often prove to be less effective than the actual Acupuncture, but it can muddle the results. Conventional research wisdom can dismiss the findings as clinically valid as a result.
Below is some of the interesting findings I’ve come across this far.
Acupuncture is effective for pain relief for various types of pain. Back pain is probably one of the most common conditions I treat. Not only is it effective with pain relief, it is also cost effective. The American Medical Association advocates for referral to Acupuncture for any type of back pain. This is because of the consistent research findings. It’s also much safer than pain medications, which often just mask the issue at hand.
Science and medicine are learning a lot about inflammation and it’s effects on the body. There is still much to learn. Inflammation is not all bad: it kickstarts the healing process when we’re injured. This is referred to as Pro-inflammation. The problem occurs when our bodies stay inflamed while the original problem isn’t resolved.
Acupuncture shows a lot of effects on the various neurological pathways that regulate inflammation. This article reviews various studies that have been done thus far, both on the inflammation process and how Acupuncture can help. It is believed this is a major reason why Acupuncture can help with pain and various neurological issues.
Acupuncture has a beneficial effect on the nervous system. It “down modulates an upregulated nervous system”. In plain terms, that literally means it calms the nerves and helps the body feels less stressed. This is very important, as many disease processes are adversely linked to stress reactions. This includes a number of Cardiac diseases.
One of my favorite things to help patients with is their emotional conditions. This could be stress, anxiety, depression or PTSD. It really is amazing to see how much better people can feel after just a few sessions.
Chinese Medicine has a detailed way of working with emotional imbalances. It truly is amazing to see how people can feel after just a few sessions. It’s often not the only answer; I often like to work with counselors/therapists to help patients. Patients also must find a way to find balance in their lives, as Acupuncture alone will not “cure” them. Of course, some people might still need pharmaceutical aid.
The research for Acupuncture treatment of emotional disorders such as anxiety, PTSD and depression is encouraging. A meta analysis showed that Acupuncture can be very helpful for treating anxiety, even when compared to pharmaceutical intervention. However, more studies are needed as the sample sizes are still small, while other studies are questionable in their setup.
Treatment of Anxiety with Acupuncture is something worth a post of it’s own. There are numerous studies showing promise, but also a need for further study. I believe that Acupuncture will one day be a common treatment for emotionally based conditions.
Here’s one of the main articles I found regarding Acupuncture and anxiety. It is a meta-analysis of various existing studies: