How acupuncture can help
Numerous large, well conducted studies in the last 10 years have shown that it is more effective to have acupuncture than no treatment or usual care for chronic back pain, osteoarthritis, or headache (Sherman 2009). There is also evidence that it is more effective than sham acupuncture for chronic knee pain or headache and, at least in the short term, for chronic back pain (Hopton 2010). Other conditions have been less well researched.
In general, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neurochemical messenger molecules. The resulting biochemical changes influence the body's homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional well-being. Stimulation of certain acupuncture points has been shown to affect areas of the brain that are known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the ‘analytical’ brain, which is responsible for anxiety (Wu 1999).
Acupuncture may help relieve chronic pain by:stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, which leads to release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors (e.g. neuropeptide Y, serotonin), and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord (Pomeranz 1987, Han 2004, Zhao 2008, Zhou 2008, Lee 2009, Cheng 2009);
- stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, which leads to release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors (e.g. neuropeptide Y, serotonin), and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord (Pomeranz 1987, Han 2004, Zhao 2008, Zhou 2008, Lee 2009, Cheng 2009);
- increasing the release of adenosine, which has antinociceptive properties (Goldman 2010);
- modulating the limbic-paralimbic-neocortical network (Hui 2009);
- reducing inflammation, by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors (Kavoussi 2007, Zijlstra 2003);
- improving muscle stiffness and joint mobility by increasing local microcirculation (Komori 2009), which aids dispersal of swelling.
About traditional acupuncture
Acupuncture is a tried and tested system of traditional medicine, which has been used in China and other eastern cultures for thousands of years to restore, promote and maintain good health. Its benefits are now widely acknowledged all over the world and in the past decade traditional acupuncture has begun to feature more prominently in mainstream healthcare in the UK. In conjunction with needling, the practitioner may use techniques such as moxibustion, cupping, massage or electro-acupuncture. They may also suggest dietary or lifestyle changes.
Traditional acupuncture takes a holistic approach to health and regards illness as a sign that the body is out of balance. The exact pattern and degree of imbalance is unique to each individual. The traditional acupuncturist’s skill lies in identifying the precise nature of the underlying disharmony and selecting the most effective treatment. The choice of acupuncture points will be specific to each patient’s needs. Traditional acupuncture can also be used as a preventive measure to strengthen the constitution and promote general well-being.
An increasing weight of evidence from Western scientific research (see overleaf) is demonstrating the effectiveness of acupuncture for treating a wide variety of conditions. From a biomedical viewpoint, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system, influencing the production of the body’s communication substances - hormones and neurotransmitters. The resulting biochemical changes activate the body's self-regulating homeostatic systems, stimulating its natural healing abilities and promoting physical and emotional well-being.
For more details of specific research on chronic pain conditions there are some factsheets available via the British Acupuncture Council which can be downloaded via their website,www.acupuncture.org.uk Factsheets include : Acupuncture and Back Pain; Acupuncture and Endometriosis; Acupuncture and Frozen Shoulder; Acupuncture and IBS; Acupuncture and GI Tract; Acupuncture and Migraine; Acupuncture and Headache; Acupuncture and Sciatica; Acupuncture and Fibromyalgia; Acupuncture and Osteoarthritis; Acupuncture and Rheumatoid Arthritis; Acupuncture and Dysmenorrhoea; Acupuncture and Neck Pain. There is also evidence from randomised controlled trials and systematic reviews that suggests acupuncture may reduce chronic pain in myofascial syndrome (Shen 2009), chronic shoulder problems (Lathia 2009), chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome (Lee 2009) and tennis elbow (Trihn 2004). There is preliminary evidence for ear acupuncture in cancer pain (Lee 2005).