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How Acupuncture Heals With Needles

Squeamish about needles?

What if those needles could heal safely and… painlessly? You may have heard about acupuncture, a form of alternative medicine developed in China that uses very fine needles to resolve health problems.

But you may not have heard how effective and well-researched acupuncture is!

Acupuncture has been around for thousands of years, much longer than conventional medicine. Acupuncture is safe and surprisingly painless. Thousands of studies demonstrate its efficacy. And furthermore – unlike many conventional medical approaches – acupuncture has no side effects.

Acupuncture continues to provide incredible results for people suffering from a range of health problems. Research has shown acupuncture can:

· Treat inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and Crohn’s disease.

· Prevent death from infections like sepsis that kills 25,000 people each year.

· Stop migraines.

· Calm dental patients.

· Help relieve hot flashes.

This list continues to grow as more scientists test acupuncture’s traditional applications and get solid results. In 2010, the British government’s National Institute For Health And Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommended it as a course of treatment for many forms of lower back pain. A study published around the same time demonstrated it worked better than conventional treatment for chronic lower back pain. [1]

Even more impressively, for over four decades, Chinese medical teams have combined acupuncture with lower doses of drugs to provide anesthesia for open heart surgery. A recent review of this startling use of acupuncture found the patients who used it in combination with low doses of drugs had quicker recoveries with less chance of infection than patients who used only drugs.[2]

The Way Acupuncture Works

While a growing body of research shows acupuncture is effective in treating health problems, western scientists are still just learning how it works.

Brain scans have shown acupuncture turns off certain areas of the brain linked to pain. [3] Acupuncture also seems to directly impact the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis which governs our stress response and much of our hormonal activity. [4]

For centuries, eastern practitioners have described acupuncture’s mechanism effectively using technical terms rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). According to TCM, acupuncture helps unblock and redirect the flow of “qi”, or life energy, in the body. Qi is the energy that allows our body to work. Qi allows us to move our legs, take a breath and digest our food. By stimulating both the central and peripheral nervous system in a strategic way, acupuncture changes the flow of energy in your body and consequently changes your state of health.

How To Find A Qualified Acupuncturist

Like all forms of healthcare, acupuncture works most reliably if practiced by a trained professional. A properly trained acupuncturist will work with you to ensure any treatment they prescribe does not interfere negatively with other medical treatments you’re currently undergoing. In the United States, they also use sterile, single-use needles.

Unfortunately, because acupuncture is still so new in the west, there is no mandatory national accrediting agency. Licensing laws vary from state to state. California, for instance, has its own strict licensing exam and requirements. And California does not accept any national certifications, exams etc.

Be sure to check with your state regulations on acupuncture. You can then look up any licensed acupuncturist online and verify they meet your local requirements. The most well-known accrediting agency is the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). NCCAOM is used by many states as their accrediting agency.

A growing number of MD’s and DO’s are also becoming trained in acupuncture under a special program for conventional doctors administered by UCLA. You can find these practitioners through the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture (AAMA). However, be aware that while these MD’s are fully credentialed to practice western medicine, the training offered by the AAMA is minimal. Some of the trainings are short weekend courses. In general, its trainings are not adequate for competent diagnosis and treatment according to eastern medicine.

Ultimately, while you can start the search for a well-qualified practitioner by looking into local licensing, you’ll have to use your own smarts as well. Ask questions. Find out how long the acupuncturist has been practicing. Ask for references and call them. Find out where the practitioner has studied.

Take your time to find a practitioner who understands the art and science of acupuncture. So that when you turn to using this alternative form of medicine, you can fully enjoy the health benefits it brings.

Abigail Allred, L. Ac, MSOM