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How Does Acupuncture Work?

Feb 21, 2023
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Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body to treat a variety of ailments. Acupuncture can have a range of musculoskeletal benefits, from reducing pain and inflammation to improving mobility and range of motion.

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice that involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body to treat a variety of ailments. While the exact mechanisms underlying acupuncture's effectiveness are not fully understood, research suggests that it can have a range of musculoskeletal benefits, from reducing pain and inflammation to improving mobility and range of motion.

How does acupuncture work?

From a Western perspective, the effects of acupuncture may be related to its ability to stimulate the nervous system, increase blood flow to the affected area, and trigger the release of natural painkillers such as endorphins.

Traditional acupuncture theory is that there is an energy flow, or Qi, that runs through the body along specific pathways known as meridians. When this energy flow is disrupted, it can cause pain or illness. By inserting needles into specific points along these meridians, acupuncturists aim to restore the flow of Qi and promote healing.

Acupuncture for musculoskeletal conditions

Musculoskeletal conditions are disorders that affect the muscles, bones, and joints. These conditions can cause pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. Acupuncture is increasingly being used as a complementary therapy for musculoskeletal conditions such as back pain, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia.

Back pain

Back pain is a common musculoskeletal condition that affects millions of people worldwide. A systematic review of 22 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) found that acupuncture was more effective than no treatment or sham acupuncture for relieving chronic low back pain. The review also found that acupuncture was at least as effective as other conventional treatments such as physiotherapy and pain medication. (1)

Another systematic review of 11 RCTs found that acupuncture was more effective than no treatment or sham acupuncture for relieving acute low back pain. (2)

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that can cause pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. A systematic review of 16 RCTs found that acupuncture was more effective than no treatment or sham acupuncture for reducing pain and improving physical function in people with knee osteoarthritis. (3)

Another systematic review of 39 RCTs found that acupuncture was effective for relieving pain and improving physical function in people with hip osteoarthritis. (4)

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition that affects the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. A systematic review of 9 RCTs found that acupuncture was more effective than no treatment or sham acupuncture for reducing pain and improving quality of life in people with fibromyalgia. (5)

Conclusion

Acupuncture is a complementary therapy that may have musculoskeletal benefits for a range of conditions including back pain, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia. While the exact mechanism of action is not fully understood, there is growing evidence that acupuncture may stimulate the nervous system, increase blood flow, and trigger the release of natural painkillers.

 

References:

  1. Yuan J, Purepong N, Kerr DP, et al. Effectiveness of acupuncture for low back pain: a systematic review. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2008 Nov 1;33(23):E887-900. doi: 10.1097/BRS.0b013e3181857fcf. PMID: 18978583.
  2. Chou R, Qaseem A, Snow V, et al. Diagnosis and treatment of low back pain: a joint clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society. Ann Intern Med. 2007 Oct 2;147(7):478-91. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-147-7-200710020-00006. PMID: 17909209.
  3. Manheimer E, Linde K, Lao L, Bouter LM, Berman BM. Meta-analysis: acupuncture for osteoarthritis of the knee. Ann Intern Med. 2007 Aug 21;146(4):268-77. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-146-4-200702200-00005. PMID: 17310040.
  4. Lee MS, Shin BC, Kim JI, Han CH, Ernst E. Acupuncture for treating osteoarthritis of the hip: a systematic review. Clin Rheumatol. 2008 May;27(5):661-6. doi: 10.1007/s10067-008-0851-9. Epub 2008 Feb 16. PMID: 18278570.
  5. Deare JC, Zheng Z, Xue CC, et al. Acupuncture for treating fibromyalgia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 May 31;(5):CD007070. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007070.pub2. PMID: 23728665.