While in the past acupuncture for pain relief was seen as an unusual treatment, the ancient Chinese medical practice is now widely accepted as an alternative treatment. Today acupuncture is commonly used to help treat neck pain, osteoarthritis, headaches, sciatica pain and more and is now covered by a number of U.S. insurance companies.
Despite the fact that acupuncture is one of the oldest healing arts in the world, it wasn’t known in the English-speaking world until reporter James Reston wrote about the practice after he returned from China. Reston wrote about his experience with Acupuncture in an article titled “Now, About My Operation in Peking” in the New York times on July 26, 1971. Since then, more and more Americans-and their physicians have been finding acupuncture a useful tool for treating pain. In addition, acupuncture is commonly used as complementary therapy to help manage cancer treatment symptoms that include nausea, vomiting, fatigue and pain caused by chemotherapy.
The Process of Acupuncture for Pain Relief
Acupuncture involves the insertion of ultra-thin needle in strategic places, stimulating the body’s energy flow (referred to as qi) and the nerves that signal the brain to release beta-endorphins. These endorphins act as the body’s own natural opioids, reducing pain. Due in part to the current opioid crisis in the United States, acupuncture has grown in popularity.
States hoping to cut opioid prescriptions have been experimenting with providing Medicaid coverage for acupuncture as an alternative pain treatment. Ohio, Oregon, and Rhode Island have programs that offer coverage to some extent. Vermont commissioned a pilot study on acupuncture for pain relief involving its Medicaid members. The study determined that 32% of its patients that took opioids for pain relief cut back on usage.
Does Acupuncture for Pain Relief Work?
While the scientific evidence of acupuncture’s benefits is still debated, research from major Western studies indicate that it effectively treats a number of pain issues. Pain problems acupuncture is commonly used to treat include back and neck pain, headaches, knee pain, and osteoarthritis pain. The National Institute of Health reported that several studies found that acupuncture is especially effective in the treatment of chronic back pain.
Acupuncture has received support from Medicaid and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a worthwhile treatment in recent years.
The reported side effects of acupuncture, including muscle twitching, lightheadedness, emotional release and fatigue, are minimal and rare, and aren’t long lasting. Positive side effects include less pain, more energy, better digestion, improved sleep and less stress.
Tips for Finding a Good Acupuncturist
If you’re new to acupuncture, it’s important to find a licensed and certified practitioner. A good way to start is to ask your physician for a referral. Beyond that, choose a CT acupuncturist that you feel comfortable with.
As the popularity of acupuncture for pain relief has grown, more and more people in the U.S. have been turning to the practice when conventional medicine fails to get results. That said, it’s important to consult with a trusted medical professional before starting acupuncture. They may also recommend using the practice as a complementary treatment.