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Advantages and Disadvantages of Acupuncture

Ningthoujam Sandhyarani
Acupuncture is an important part of traditional Chinese medicine and has been practiced for thousands of years. Even though acupuncture is used for treating many health problems, the credibility of this ancient medical practice is still questioned by many skeptics.

Did You Know?

According to the Chinese scholar and physician Huangfu Mi (c. 215-282 AD), using needles as a means of therapy was used in China over 5000 years ago during the Bronze Age. Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese therapy that involves the use of needles.
Acupuncture has been practiced in China, Japan, Korea, and other Asian countries since several centuries. In acupuncture, specific points or acupoints of the human body are stimulated by inserting and manipulating thin metallic needles that have a diameter ranging between 0.18 mm to 0.51 mm.
Handling of these needles can be done either by hand or by electrical stimulation.
In US, acupuncture is mostly practiced for treating musculoskeletal pain, depression, and stress. According to a survey conducted in 2002, it is estimated that more than 8 million Americans have opted for acupuncture at some point or the other in their lives. Let's find out more about the advantages and disadvantages of acupuncture through this story.

Advantages of Acupuncture

The WHO (World Health Organization) has reported that acupuncture is an effective treatment for therapeutic purposes. According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the main idea behind acupuncture is to restore and maintain health by working on vital energy or (Qi) points of the body.
It is widely used by acupuncturists (practitioner), dentists, physicians, and other health practitioners for relieving pain and several other health related problems.
One of the most important advantages of acupuncture is that, there are rarely any side effects if it is carried out by a registered and well-trained practitioner.
The NIH (National Institutes of Health) has reported that acupuncture has lower adverse effects as compared to prescribed medications and other medical procedures that are followed for treating similar conditions.
Acupuncture can be performed in any age group such as children, adults, and elderly people. Usually it does not hurt and is done without interfering with other ongoing treatments and medications. Even, people with compromised immune systems can benefit from acupuncture treatment.
The GERAC or the German Acupuncture Trials, was the largest study ever conducted to find out about the effectiveness of acupuncture. GERAC trials of 2001 revealed that acupuncture worked better than the established and common practices of medicine and therapy, however, it did not reveal the desired effects when pitted against sham acupuncture.
The positive results of the trial lead to the inclusion of acupuncture in the German statutory health insurances by German Joint Federal Committee. However, this type of holistic therapy was restricted to lower back and knee pain therapy.
In 2012, a major meta-analysis was conducted on 17,922 patients in order to find out the effectiveness of acupuncture, on four chronic types of pain that include headache, back and neck ache, shoulder pain, and osteoarthritis. The trials revealed that pure acupuncture was indeed more effective than sham acupuncture and was not a mere placebo.
Acupuncture is especially effective in alleviating chronic pain and was recommended in 2008 by the Osteoarthritis Research Society International for treating pain symptoms of osteoarthritis affecting the knee.
Acupuncture has been researched enough times to reveal that it induces the nerves in the spinal cord and brain to release pain relieving neurotransmitters.
A research conducted in 1999 went on to report that acupuncture causes the pituitary glands to release endorphins. It was found that the individuals who went through acupuncture for reducing recurrent pain had elevated levels of endorphin in the cerebrospinal fluid.
In 2003, the World Health Organization also recognized the efficacy of acupuncture and mentioned an extensive list of diseases and disorders that can and could be treated with the help of acupuncture.
Many people have reported that they experienced relief from headache, back pain, joint pain, insomnia, stress, and fatigue after completing prescribed acupuncture sessions. It is also claimed that acupuncture helps restore energy and increases the overall stamina of the patient.
It has been suggested that acupuncture is an effective treatment for various health conditions such as, dental pain, asthma, nausea, infertility, and migraine. However, more research needs to be done in order to validate these claims as well as to identify the various acupuncture points of the body and understand its effects on the brain during treatment.

Disadvantages of Acupuncture

Acupuncture is safe as far as the procedure is practiced by a licensed acupuncturist and the needles used are sterile. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set certain standards for acupuncture needles, which must be adhered to.
It has been recommended that needles should be labeled and sealed properly in order to prevent tampering, contamination, and misuse.
Some of the points to be kept in mind while undergoing acupuncture treatment are - the practitioner should swab the treatment site with skin disinfectant before inserting the needles. The needles should be used only once per patient and should be disposed properly.
Every person responds differently to acupuncture and hence, the effectiveness of this technique varies from person to person. While some may be required to undergo more sessions in order to experience long-lasting relief, others may be satisfied with the results in merely a few sittings.
The patient may experience mild soreness in the pierced areas of the body after the treatment. However, this discomfort usually subsides after a day or two.
Some experience more pain than others while undergoing acupuncture. On the other hand, some people with sensitive skin may develop rashes or eruptions as a result of the body reacting against the acupuncture procedure.
Acupuncture may also cause drowsiness, loss of appetite, weakness, or induce sleep. This practice is not a sure-shot method and will not magically cure ailments that require modern medical intervention. The only help that acupuncture may provide, is temporary relief from pain.
Acupuncture is often not covered by health insurance providers and is thus a risky bargain for those who seek treatment for their health ailments. The practice of acupuncture does not provide any guarantees or proof that its patients will be completely healed.
The entire procedure can also turn out to be extremely expensive after the follow-up treatments are taken into account.
Acupuncture must not cause bleeding when the needles are pierced into the skin. If this happens, the procedure is not being practiced correctly and must be stopped immediately.
Infection and injury to tissue may occur in rare cases, when the procedure is performed incorrectly.
Always make sure that the acupuncturist is registered and qualified enough to perform acupuncture. Improper placement of needles by an unqualified practitioner that can lead to bleeding, swelling, and pain in the treatment site.
While acupuncture may not have many side effects, if it does not yield any benefits either, the practice would prove futile for the patient.