Acupuncture tends to put researchers on pins and needles.
You see, scientists prefer things be black or white. They want to be able to run an experiment in a lab and prove that something is true or untrue. But acupuncture is seldom so straightforward.
What we do know is that a growing number of studies have found this ancient practice appears to help ease certain symptoms. But how acupuncture does this, we aren’t sure. And whether the process is even directly responsible for the improvements continues to be the subject of a lot of debate.
And now a new study, published in the European Journal of Integrative Medicine, has added yet more fuel to the fire.
Acupuncture benefit: Found to relieve anxiety
Researchers reviewed the results of six different trials. Each tracked the use of acupuncture to treat anxiety triggered by dental procedures. And they found there was a small but significant drop in anxiety levels when dental patients received the treatment.
On an 80 point scale, folks who received acupuncture had their anxiety drop by eight points on average. And for the estimated 30 percent of adults who suffer with dental anxiety that eight points could make a significant difference.
Experts say its ability to ease intense anxiety could be useful in other situations too. After all, a lot of us battle nerves outside the dentist’s office. Making this acupuncture benefit one that could help a lot of folks.
And of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a connection between acupuncture and real world benefits. Millions of satisfied folks have received the treatment over the last 2,000 years. But other studies have found an association between the practice and symptom relief too.
How acupuncture works
I’ll have more on those studies in just a moment. But first let’s take a quick look at how acupuncture is applied.
An acupuncturist inserts tiny, hair-thin needles into your skin at specific spots around your body. And for the squeamish out there, I can assure you from personal experience it’s painless.
According to Eastern medicine, inserting the needles unblocks or corrects energy flow, or qi (chi), which moves along invisible energy lines in the body. Western experts believe the needles may trigger certain hormones—in particular feel-good endorphins—leading to symptom relief.
Two more proven acupuncture benefits
Following are two more conditions experts say acupuncture may be able to help with.
1. Pain relief:
Studies have found evidence that acupuncture may be able to help us manage chronic pain. And while it’s not a cure, or usually a standalone treatment, it can make a useful addition to your current conventional pain therapies.
For example, a meta-study, published in the British Medical Journal, pooled the results from 13 other studies on acupuncture and pain. The scientists found a modest, but significant, drop in pain using acupuncture. The volunteers had a 10 point average improvement in pain on a 100-point scale
And in another even larger meta-analysis, an international team of researchers looked at how acupuncture effects four types of chronic pain: back and neck, osteoarthritis, headache and shoulder pain.
In the 29 studies included in the analysis, folks received either…
- “sham” acupuncture designed to look like the real deal
- actual acupuncture
- the usual care with no acupuncture
The real acupuncture beat both the sham procedure and the usual care. After all the number crunching, the researchers found the acupuncture relieved pain by around 50 percent.
In other words, this acupuncture benefit is backed up by real research.
Here an acupuncturist demonstrates how she uses the therapy to treat neck and back pain.
2. Cancer treatment side effects:
Many cancer treatment centers (up to 90 percent) suggest acupuncture as a complimentary therapy to help with side effects. Over 70 percent of US National Cancer Institute designated cancer centers, offer it as a treatment.
And there are studies to support its use.
In a systematic review, researchers concluded acupuncture is an appropriate treatment to help relieve the nausea and vomiting that often accompany cancer treatments.
Plus the ancient therapy may help relieve treatment-linked joint pain. Women taking aromatase-inhibiting drugs to treat breast cancer often experience intense, arthritis like pain. In a small trial, acupuncture relieved overall joint pain and severity better than a sham treatment.
And that led to a larger trial. The women were divided into three groups…
- one receiving a real acupuncture treatment
- one getting a sham treatment
- a control group that received neither
After six weeks, the volunteers rated their pain. The acupuncture group rated their worst pain a full point lower on a zero to 10 scale. And acupuncture even performed better than other common treatments for the pain such as antidepressants.
But this acupuncture benefit didn’t end there. The percentage of folks whose pain improved by at least two points almost doubled. And unlike with the antidepressant, the acupuncture benefits lasted after the treatment was over.
Thinking about trying acupuncture? Do this…
If you’d like to try acupuncture therapy, have a chat with your doctor about adding it to your treatment plan. And look for an acupuncturist who has been licensed by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
Be sure to ask your practitioner the number of treatments he anticipates you will need. And the cost of each. Also, some insurance companies now cover the cost of acupuncture. So be sure to check with yours before paying out of pocket.
Just because we don’t fully understand how acupuncture works yet, there’s no reason to toss out the baby with the bathwater. There’s plenty of evidence that acupuncture has benefits, making it worth trying. And it could turn out to be just the thing for tackling your own anxiety or pain.