Pins and needles may help certain medical problems

Nicole Patti

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, acupuncture is one of the oldest and most commonly used medical procedures in the world. It originated in China more than 2,000 years ago, but it became better known to the United States in 1971.

In the past 20 years, acupuncture has grown in popularity in the United States and it is practiced by thousands of physicians, dentists and other practitioners for relief or prevention of pain and for a variety of other health conditions. Metallic, solid and hair-thin needles are inserted at specific points in the body to help facilitate the flow of energy, thus reducing and preventing pain.

In traditional Chinese medicine, imbalances in the basic energetic flow of life are believed to cause illnesses. These imbalances are referred to as “chee” or “qi.” It is believed that “chee” flows through channels in our bodies called meridians. By inserting fine needles into these meridians acupuncture practitioners believe that the energy flow will rebalance and the natural healing mechanisms in the body will take over.

Mayo Clinic concluded that it is hard to create a definitive list of conditions for which acupuncture might be beneficial. Studies indicate that it might be helpful for numerous diseases and conditions which include migraines, headaches, lower back pain, osteoarthritis, stroke rehabilitation, carpal tunnel syndrome and asthma.

Some doctors combine acupuncture and medications to manage pain during and after surgery. Research also shows that acupuncture can help control postoperative dental pain and lessen chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. It also appears as though it offers a reprieve from tennis elbow and constant menstrual cramps. In recent years, Yale researchers concluded that acupuncture is promising treatment for cocaine addiction.

Licensed acupuncturist Jack Gorfien said that he does not believe curative claims can be made regarding acupuncture, although he said that numerous studies show definite benefits. Gorfien, who owns Guilford Acupuncture in Madison, further stated that there are a lot of unknowns in acupuncture because people can see the results but they are hard to explain in terms of Western science. He further raised the question of how to conduct a placebo acupuncture.

Out of the millions of people treated each year few complications have been reported to the Food and Drug Administration. Complications have occurred because of the insufficient sterilization of needles and incorrect delivery of treatments. If not delivered properly acupuncture can cause severe ramifications, which include infections and punctured organs.

In 1996, the FDA approved acupuncture needles for use by licensed practitioners. Sterile, nontoxic, individually wrapped, stainless steel needles are required for use. Most people feel little to no pain as the needles are inserted and some people become energized while others feel relaxed. When the needle hits a key spot, it is common to feel an aching sensation. Once the needles are placed they are sometimes gingerly moved or stimulated with electricity or heat.

Therapy normally involves a series of weekly or biweekly treatments and it is common to have up to 12 treatments in total. Normally, each visit will last anywhere from half an hour to an hour. Individual acupuncturists have his or her own style but it is common for each visit to consist of an exam, assessment of the patient’s current condition, the actual acupuncture itself and a discussion of self-care instructions.

Gorfien suggests that if anyone is interested in acupuncture treatment, one of the first and foremost questions to ask is what are the qualifications of the acupuncturist? As the laws regarding qualification to become a licensed acupuncturist vary from state to state the buyer should always beware.