Acupuncture is one of the oldest holistic treatment modalities in the world. It’s clinically proven to relieve chronic pain and can also help with a variety of other symptoms of chronic conditions.
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Using Acupuncture For Chronic Diseases:
Acupuncture is a healing modality rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) which predates modern medicine by thousands of years. Acupuncture is centered around maintaining harmony and balance in the body.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture can be described as a type of alternative treatment that involves penetrating a person’s skin with very thin needles at specific points on the body, to various depths. Over the years, research has proven that it can help relieve pain and discomfort, and it is used for a wide range of other symptoms and conditions.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the body remains healthy when the life force energy or qi is able to circulate throughout all the meridian channels and energy centers of the body. Qi gets blocked by poor diet, inadequate movement, stress injury, or illness, and this creates the environment for chronic illness and disease. By placing very small steel needles in some of the 365 acupuncture points running along 12 major channels and 8 minor channels of the body, the energy is encouraged to flow freely once more and the body can be guided back towards balance, regulation, healing, and vitality.
There is a belief in TCM that all healing happens when you are in a state of balance between being active and being passive, or restful. In a session, your acupuncturist will seek to harmonize your “Yin” (resting), and your “Yang” (active) energy. It is likely that your balance of yin and yang is disturbed somewhere in the body. Yin is described as dense, downward moving, cool, still, and feminine like water; yang is described as warm or hot, upward moving, active, and masculine like fire. Excessive Yin in the body can present as stiff or sore joints, a runny nose or sinus issues, coldness, fatigue, clammy skin, perhaps loose elimination. Excessive Yang can create dehydration, dryness, feeling hot in the body, insomnia, or constipation. Needling will allow the body to release and regulate.
Acupuncture can serve too as a supportive tool for pain management for injury, generalized pains like neck, back, or chronic pain. It can be a treatment for a variety of conditions including osteoarthritis, migraines and headaches, autoimmune disorders, nerve problems, IBD, and gut health issues. Many cancer patients find it a transformational tool for dealing with the side effects of chemo. It can also provide emotional and energetic support for depression or mood disorders, progress infertility issues, or a remedy for pregnancy-induced nausea.
While acupuncture can be used in certain cases to help with acute symptoms, it’s important to understand its use in a different way than conventional medicine. It’s used as preventative medicine at the early signs of underlying disease, not necessary to treat visible symptoms. In ancient Chinese courts, the king’s acupuncturist was responsible for keeping the king in optimal health. In theory, the king should not become sick if the acupuncturist was doing his job right! Acupuncture can clearly not replace the importance of a healthy balanced diet, good stress management, adequate sleep, and sufficient exercise but it can be a powerful form of maintenance. Frequent acupuncture is therefore used by many people as a tool for self-care and staying balanced in what can be a somewhat destabilizing world.
What conditions can acupuncture help to treat?
Acupuncture can be prescribed to treat a variety of conditions. Some of these conditions include:
- Low back pain
- Knee pain
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Headache and migraine
- Neck pain
- Facial pain
- Tennis elbow
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Postoperative pain
- Sport injuries
- Cancer pain
- Nausea and vomiting (chemotherapy-induced and postoperative)
- Morning sickness
- Labor pain
- Menstrual cramps
- Dental pain
- High and low blood pressure
- Respiratory disorders, such as allergic rhinitis, sinusitis, bronchitis, and asthma
- Sore throat
- Gastric conditions, such as gastritis and peptic ulcer
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Neurogenic bladder dysfunction
- Anxiety and depression
- Stroke (reduces the risk and helps with rehabilitation)
- Parkinson’s disease
What are the benefits of Acupuncture?
The benefits associated with acupuncture include the following:
- It is effective in relieving pain and discomfort.
- It is safe when performed correctly.
- It has very few side effects.
- It can be conveniently and effectively combined with other forms of treatment.
- It is a suitable alternative for patients who cannot use or do not pain medications.
How effective is Acupuncture in treating chronic conditions?
Research has proven that acupuncture can help treat several conditions and diseases. Not only is it effective, but it is also safe, relatively painless, and has minor side effects.
According to a study on its effectiveness in enhancing recovery in gynecological surgery, acupuncture significantly improved postoperative symptoms. Gastrointestinal motility and coldness achieved a 50% improvement rate. Acupuncture also helped with postoperative nausea and vomiting, sore throat, and urinary retention. These were all recorded without any adverse effects.
Acupuncture has been proven to help with cancer pain and cancer-related symptoms. In a 2018 study, acupuncture was effective in treating cervical cancer pain (CCP) after a 14-day treatment at pain acupoints with no adverse effects. Similarly, a research article reported that acupuncture was found to effectively manage cancer symptoms including pain, nausea and vomiting, anxiety, depression, hot flushes, xerostomia, and insomnia with minimal side effects.
Acupuncture is helpful with psychological conditions such as anxiety, depression, nervousness, and stress. According to a study amongst women with infertility issues, acupuncture was a useful intervention in reducing infertility-related stress. The women reported positive psychological outcomes relating the impact of acupuncture to a sense of relaxation and time out, the engagement with the acupuncturist, and intervention that had very few side effects. Post-treatment changes included a sense of relaxation and changed perspective about their ability to cope. A similar study amongst women with infertility found out that acupuncture was considered empowering whether or not the pregnancy was achieved.
What do I expect from an acupuncturist?
According to traditional Chinese medical theory, acupuncture points are located on meridians, through which vital energy runs. This energy is known as “qi” or “chi.” Some acupuncturists follow these principles exclusively. However, most acupuncturists often combine these traditional Chinese principles with the western method of using needles to stimulate body systems.
When you visit an acupuncturist, he/she will examine you and assess your condition. You will be asked to lie down on one of your front, back, or sides, depending on where one or more thin needles are to be inserted. Acupuncture is usually relatively painless.
Sterile, single-use and disposable needles are used for each acupuncture treatment. As each needle penetrates the skin, the patient may feel a short stinging or tingling sensation. After the needle is inserted, there is sometimes a dull ache at the base of the needle that comes and goes. The needles are made to remain in for anything between 5 to 30 minutes (usually 20 to 25 minutes).
In some cases, the needles may be heated or stimulated with electricity after insertion. At the end of your treatment, the acupuncturist discusses self-care and may suggest other complementary therapies, such as Chinese herbs.
The number of treatments needed depends on the patient’s condition. A patient with a chronic condition may need one to two treatments a week over several months. However, acute conditions typically improve after 8 to 12 sessions.
Is acupuncture covered by insurance?
Acupuncture is considered an alternative treatment but in recent times, it has been integrated into traditional medical care. Traditional medical doctors may prescribe acupuncture to treat a variety of conditions. Hence, more insurance companies are covering acupuncture to treat chronic pain and other symptoms. This does not mean every insurance provider covers acupuncture, so it is safer you ask your acupuncturist and insurance company before commencing treatments.
Medicare only covers acupuncture for chronic low back pain. Other conditions and/or symptoms are not included in the Medicare plans. Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) covers up to 12 acupuncture visits in 90 days for chronic low back pain. If your symptoms improve, Medicare covers an additional 8 sessions. If your doctor reports that your symptoms are not improving or are getting worse, Medicare won’t pay for any other acupuncture visits. No more than 20 acupuncture treatments can be given yearly.
You should not expect immediate results, and you should see it as a powerful way to help move through stagnation and revitalize your body. If you’re expecting immediate results, you may be disappointed. We recommend most patients to do 3-5 sessions before they can notice any results, although some do see results after 1-2 sessions.
If you have a phobia of needles, don’t let that put you off. The needles used in acupuncture are so small, you’ll likely barely feel them. Needles are usually left in for about 20 to 25 minutes only and your practitioner will regularly check in on you. If you feel any discomfort during your session, be sure to tell your acupuncturist as they are well trained to adapt the treatment accordingly to prioritize your ease. You should expect to feel entirely calm, safe, and stress-free in all sessions in order to receive the full benefits and healing from this powerful modality.
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