What is Acupuncture?
If you’ve ever suffered from any physical or mental ailment, you understand the frustration that comes in failing to find relief through conventionally recommended methods. Somewhere along the lines, chronic pain sufferers, chemotherapy patients, and a score of others seeking relief from anxiety, depression, and stress have rediscovered the ancient practice of acupuncture. After 2500 years, acupuncture is finally sliding into the spotlight to receive the credit it so desperately deserves.
Today’s chronic pain sufferers seem more willing than ever to delve into the world of alternative medicine. Upon first visit, new patients can expect to sit or lie down while slender needles are appropriately placed in coordinating locations on the body. Depending on your ailment, treatment may stimulate local acupoints or acupoints in an area with no obvious connection to your complaint. While it may sound a bit intimidating, needle insertion is practically painless; some patients even fall asleep during treatment. Why, then, would such a simple, noninvasive procedure be surrounded by such controversy?
The Placebo Effect
Before its recent surge of popularity, acupuncture wasn’t considered a legitimate treatment within the medical community but, instead, a placebo effect with no real medical benefits. Now, as more physicians, dentists, and surgeons take notice to the undeniable benefits of acupuncture, the demand for clinical research has increased.
In 2012, an extensive study was conducted which was widely known to be “the most rigorous and detailed analysis of the treatment to date.” Over nearly six years, a global team of research scientists conducted a detailed analysis of earlier research including data from nearly 18,000 patients.
To rule out the placebo effect, the results of acupuncture were compared against traditional medicine as well as sham acupuncture treatments. Unbeknownst to the patient, sham treatments employ retractable needles which are not actually inserted into the skin during treatment. The study concluded that acupuncture is an effective treatment for migraines, arthritis, and other forms of chronic pain; furthermore, the study found a significant difference between true and sham acupuncture indicating that acupuncture is more than a placebo.
Dr. Andrew J. Vickers was the lead author of the study and serves as attending research methodologist at world renowned hospital, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. “We think there’s firm evidence supporting acupuncture for the treatment of chronic pain,” said Vickers in an interview with the New York Times. It seems that Vickers’ study concluded what an estimated 3 million American adults receiving acupuncture treatment each year already knew: Acupuncture is an effective form of treatment- especially when it comes to those facing chronic pain.
As the medical community continues to adopt alternative therapies as complementary parts of their practices, patients who may have never considered acupuncture are being introduced to its health benefits. With research advancements and support from the medical community, insurance companies are beginning to recognize acupuncture as an insurable treatment option. This development in insurance coverage paired with an influx of of sliding-scale group clinics have made affordable acupuncture available to a larger population.
From a mystic Chinese tradition to a treatment mired in the placebo effect, it seems that acupuncture is finally being applauded as a legitimate and effective form of treatment. “This has been a controversial subject for a long time,” said Vickers. “But when you try to answer the question the right way, as we did, you get very clear answers.”