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What is Acupuncture and What Research Is Being Conducted?

By Arushi Neravetla


Acupuncture is an ancient medicinal practice cultivated and originated from Chinese culture where people studied the human body's 2,000 acupuncture points are connected through pathways or meridians [1]. The energy flow called Qi (Qi-Chee) is a part of those pathways. By applying acupuncture on certain pressure points, it is said that the flow of Qi is improved; Conversely, the disruption of this energy flow can cause diseases [1].


Penetration of skin using thin needles creates an electrical stimulation within the specific movements which are handled by the practitioner. As a precaution, acupuncture needles are first sterilized, heated, and cleaned before getting inserted to a specific meridian point that produces a sensation of pain on the patient through applied pressure. The needles, specifically use pressure and friction to relax the muscles and release electromagnetic impulses that reach the affected organ or tissue. These electromagnetic impulses then send biochemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and the brain to stimulate the body’s natural healing and promote emotional thinking [1].


Acupuncture serves as a treatment for chronic pain, which is a common condition that affects millions of people. Even though family physicians are there to guide and give momentary assistance, 50 studies have shown that many physicians consider the training they receive in pain management to be inadequate and not successful because of the tremendous demands that are received within the health-care system regarding chronic pain[2].


In the Journal of Pain, a meta-analysis about acupuncture trialists used the placebo effect to demonstrate acupuncture and its benefits. To provide a clear definition, the placebo effect is a treatment that triggers a patient to believe the benefits of a particular experiment and is grounded in a patient’s psychological reaction. In 2021, researchers collected patient data from randomized controlled trials from November 2008 and December 2008. Within those trials, it had to meet the following criteria of 4 types of chronic pain conditions: osteoarthritis, chronic headaches, back or neck pain, and shoulder pain. These types of chronic pain conditions were presented in each patient who had received acupuncture while some received none, measuring at least 4 weeks prior to initial testing. Over 13 trial tests met the current criteria; however, 12 trials representing over 2,905 patients did not meet the current benchmark, demonstrating that over a total of 20,827 patients covered 29 trials [2].


The results show that the effects of acupuncture are consistent over time, but could not be further explained because of the placebo effect. Over half of the trials had Chinese acupuncture techniques while a quarter of the trials relied on modern medicine, while the rest had a combination of both [2]. The results showed that the previous key findings of acupuncture are clinically useful compared to not using acupuncture.


To further explain, the effects of acupuncture that were tested on patients persisted around 12 months, where the researchers added that “the effects of acupuncture isn’t completely explicable with the terms of the placebo effect” [2]. However, the researchers reminded the Journal of Pain authors that “factors other than the specific needle handling used on different locations'' also contributed to the benefits of receiving acupuncture.


It is important to note that using acupuncture is a reasonable option to consider if patients suffer a type of chronic pain, but the controversial argument of acupuncture being accepted in different areas has not proved if acupuncture is what patients really need. Today, additional research is being conducted to determine if acupuncture is beneficial for the patients’ needs in pain-management services.


References:

  1. “Acupuncture.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/acupuncture.

  2. “Research Finds Acupuncture Effective for Chronic Pain.” AAFP Home, www.aafp.org/news/health-of-the-public/20180521acupuncture.html.

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