Acupuncture has been recognized as a medical technique effective in treating a range of conditions. As part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), acupuncture has been practiced for thousands of years. Thought by many to be mysterious and non-scientific, medical science has uncovered the physiological effects that acupuncture has on the body. Medical acupuncture is a term for the practice of acupuncture by licensed physicians. So why does inserting thin needles into certain areas of the skin help your body to heal and improve functioning?
Long acknowledged to be an option for providing pain relief, many people considered the apparent effects of acupuncture to be solely as a placebo. In other words, people only felt less pain because they expected to, and not due to any therapeutic benefit. While many people can attest to having a relief from pain after acupuncture, the cause of the relief isn’t so simple or correct as calling it a placebo effect.
Traditionally, acupuncture was understood to be a method for restoring the natural flow of energies in the body. Now that we can measure the level of neurotransmitters and hormones and the change that occurs in response to acupuncture, we have a different way of explaining it. In a way, doctors learned how to translate and measure the therapeutic effects of acupuncture so that they can be understood within the framework of medical science in the West.
When acupuncture is used alone or in conjunction with another treatment for pain, the result is not limited to pain relief, but a stimulation of the body’s own healing process. The World Health Organization includes a wide range of bodily conditions and disorders for which acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment. These include dietary and gastric issues, anxiety and stress, PTSD, tendonitis, arthritis, infertility, and many more.
When an acupuncture needle is inserted at the proper location, there is a response from the nervous system that includes the release of endorphins. These provide pain suppression and the overall sense of wellbeing that endorphins bring. The nerve also causes the release or serotonin and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters also suppress the pain signals from the area where the needle was inserted. Most modern antidepressants focus on raising the levels of serotonin and/or norepinephrine in the brain, and a general lifting of the mood is one aspect of acupuncture.
Outside of a sterile medical setting, the use of acupuncture needles can be associated with a risk of infection. Doctors trained in medical acupuncture use the same protocols as with any other medical equipment. Needles are either sterilized or single-use. For some people, there is a short period of adjustment following treatment where symptoms may initially get worse, but it will subside. There may be no side effects apparent at all.
Medical acupuncture is becoming more mainstream and less “alternative” as scientific evidence is compiled that shows its benefits. More and more health insurance plans cover acupuncture as it becomes recognized for promoting good health and preventing illness.
Dr. Rey Ximenes of Balcones Pain Consultants in the Austin, Texas is board certified in acupuncture, and served as the President of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture. For any type of acute or chronic pain, call (512) 834-4141 for an appointment at one of our convenient locations today. We see patients in Austin, Cedar Park, and Marble Falls, Texas.