This Week’s Question: I have arthritis in my knee. I’m thinking about trying acupuncture, but my friends think I’m nuts. What do you think?
Several recent studies show osteoarthritis symptoms can be relieved with acupuncture. One Scandinavian study reported that 25 percent of patients canceled their plans for knee surgery after acupuncture.
About 15 million Americans have tried this needle therapy. The World Health Organization recommends it for more than 40 conditions as diverse as asthma and nausea from chemotherapy. The Food and Drug Administration regulates acupuncture needles.
So, no, I don’t think you’re nuts.
By the 3rd century B.C., the Chinese had documented a medical system that is based on qi (pronounced “chee”), a concept of vital energy that is believed to flow throughout the body.
Qi is said to regulate a person's physical, spiritual, emotional and mental balance. Advocates of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), say qi is affected by yin (negative energy) and yang (positive energy). When the flow of qi is disrupted and yin and yang are unbalanced, the condition leads to pain and disease, according to TCM.
Treatments that are integral to this ancient system are herbal and nutritional therapy, restorative physical exercises, meditation, acupuncture and remedial massage.
To correct the flow of qi, acupuncture uses superfine metal needles inserted into the skin at more than 2,000 “acupoints” along pathways known as “meridians.” It is believed that there are 12 main meridians and 8 secondary meridians. The points can also be stimulated with heated herbs, magnets, mild electrical current, manual pressure, low-frequency lasers, or even bee stings.
Most acupuncture patients feel little or no pain as the needles are inserted. Some people are energized by treatment, while others feel relaxed. Improper needle placement, movement of the patient, or a defect in the needle can cause soreness and pain during treatment.
Relatively few complications from acupuncture have been reported to the FDA. However, inadequate sterilization of needles and improper administration have led to complications. When done improperly, acupuncture can cause serious problems such as infections and punctured organs.
Western scientists don't know how acupuncture works. However, studies show that stimulating acupoints causes multiple biologic responses. For example, this stimulation can prompt the release of the body's natural pain-killing endorphins.
If you are interested in acupuncture, ask your doctor about it. Healthcare practitioners can be a resource for referrals to acupuncturists. More medical doctors, including neurologists, anesthesiologists, and specialists in physical medicine, are becoming trained in acupuncture.
About 10,000 acupuncturists practice in the United States. Most are state-regulated. About 4,000 doctors have completed a recognized acupuncture training program.
Look for an acupuncture practitioner who is licensed and credentialed. And, check with your insurer before you start treatment to see whether acupuncture will be covered for your condition.