When western medicine fails to adequately alleviate a patient’s pain, many turn to acupuncture or other forms of alternative medicine to find relief. As practiced for more than 2,500 years, acupuncture is widely accepted as a remedy for a variety of diseases, and reliance on this art as an alternative treatment has increased worldwide particularly since the 1970s. Moreover, acupuncture has been shown to improve neurological disorders, severe to moderate dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps), and to relieve chronic pain in children and adolescents. By example, a comparative study in which patients with ischemic cerebro-vascular disease, also known commonly as a stoke, who were treated with acupuncture, were compared with those treated with conventional drugs (Chen, et al. 1990). The researchers then assessed the patients’ nerve functions using the electroencephalographic map and the somatosensory evoked procedure. The results demonstrated significantly better health outcomes among patients who were treated with acupuncture than among their counterparts treated with traditional medicine. These results may be related to the way the brain functions and how those networks operate.
As noted by Qin, Bai, Dai, Liu, & Dong, (2011) “Stimulating different acupoints for treating various clinical conditions is usually accompanied with multidimensional physiological as well as psychological responses, indicating that the peripheral acupoint-brain interaction may engage complex neural substrates. The brain regions are organized into interleaved networks to accomplish various functions or healing effects when a neural intervention is triggered.”
In other research, acupuncture was administered to a group of patients suffering from severe to moderate dysmenorrhea, also known as menstrual cramps (Lorno, 2008). Dysmenorrhea can be classified as primary or secondary. The pain associated with dysmenorrhea can impair working activities and other functions. The objective of the study was to measure the efficacy of acupuncture in a number of women who had primary and secondary dysmenorrhea that was resistant to non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAID). The efficacy of acupuncture was then measured according to pain control and impact on NSAID consumption. The results of the application of acupuncture revealed a substantial pain reduction in 13 out of 15 patients; even among those whose pain had been resistant to NSAID. The pain control that was obtained at the end of the treatment was maintained for at least 6 months in 50% of cases.
These results confirmed that acupuncture treatments provides not only more than just a temporary symptomatic effect, but that acupuncture may be indicated to treat dysmenorrhea related pain; particularly in individuals in whom NSAID are contraindicated. Furthermore, the significant reduction of pain suggested that acupuncture had a true therapeutic effect because a placebo effect of any type of treatment is unlikely to occur in more than 50% of cases. Moreover, acupuncture’s short term effects on Dysmenorrhea are helpful in decreasing pain, as noted by Chung at el 2012 findings indicates that acupoint stimulation, especially noninvasive acupoint stimulation, could have good short term effects on pain of primary dysmenorrhea.
Inference in some studies was somewhat restricted due to low methodological rigor. We suggest well-designed, methodologically rigorous, exhaustive trial, evaluating both short and long-term effects on pain and other outcomes in comparison with the available standard treatments. Acupuncture has also been proven useful on children. Lin and associates conducted a study among 53 children and adolescents aged between 2 and 18 years to determine the benefits of acupuncture on children and adolescents suffering from chronic pain as well as chronic fatigue due to diverse health conditions (Lin, Bioteau & Lee, 2003). After administering acupuncture, the children reported significant reductions in pain in the visual analog scale (VAS) ratings. From the findings in the aforementioned studies, it is obvious that acupuncture has considerable promise as a treatment modality. For this reason, additional research continues to be conducted to try and establish physiologic rationale for incorporating acupuncture into ordinary care.
Acupuncture undoubtedly has many benefits, so whats stopping doctors from referring patients to an acupuncturist? As noted by Abrams (2012) “The bigger trouble, if acupuncture's effectiveness can't be explained by the placebo effect, may be that we don't have a good alternative for how it might work ... attempts have been made to look beyond traditional Chinese concepts of balanced qi and body channels to theories about triggering the release endorphins and the anatomic locations of loose connective tissues, but no robust evidence exists for any of the proposed plausible explanations.”
Although, we do not fully understand how acupuncture works, evidence has proven its benefits. We still have more research to perform on this topic, but I for one am not dismissing its promise as an alternative to traditional forms of pain alievement.
Abrams, L. (2012, September 11). Biological Implausibility Aside, Acupuncture Works. The Atlantic Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/09/biological-implausibility-aside-acupuncture-works/262224/
Atlantic.Chari, P, et al. (1988). Acupuncture therapy in allergic rhinitis. American Journal of Acupuncture, 16(2):143–147.
Chen, D.Z. et al. (1990). Evaluation of therapeutic effects of acupuncture in treat in ischaemic cerebrovascular disease. Chinese Journal of Integrated Traditional and Western Medicine, 10 (9):526–528
Chung, Yu-Chu; Chen, Hsing-Hsia; Yeh, Mei-Ling. Acupoint stimulation intervention for people with primary dysmenorrhea: Systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials Complementary Therapies in Medicine20. 5 (Oct 2012): 353-63.
Lin, Y., Bioteau, A. B., & Lee, A. C. (2003). Acupuncture for the management of pediatric pain: a pilot study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 14, 45–46
Lorno, V. (2008). Acupuncture treatment of dysmenorrhea resistant to conventional medical treatment. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 5(2): 227–230. doi: 10.1093/ecam/nem020
Effectiveness of Acupuncture? by Brenda Rivera-Billings MSc is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.