Chronic pain in the muscles and joints can make life miserable. Standard treatments like ice and heat, anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, and appropriate exercises can often ease the pain. But when they don’t, acupuncture is an option with a good track record that’s worth considering.
Over the years there has been substantial debate about whether acupuncture really works for chronic pain. Research from an international team of experts adds to the evidence that it does provide real relief from common forms of pain. The team pooled the results of 29 studies involving nearly 18,000 participants. Some had acupuncture, some had “sham” acupuncture, and some didn’t have acupuncture at all. Overall, acupuncture relieved pain by about 50%. The results were published in Archives of Internal Medicine.
The study isn’t the last word on the issue, but it is one of the best quality studies to date and has made an impression.
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Acupuncture is used to treat several types of pain. Here’s what the research says.
Low back pain
A 2015 review of studies found that acupuncture could provide short-term relief from low back pain. This is true if acupuncture is used alone or with other treatments, such as medications or physical therapy.
Pain caused by osteoarthritis in the knee is a leading cause of disability among adults. A 2010 review found that acupuncture is an effective treatment for knee pain and physical symptoms of osteoarthritis.
Acupuncture can significantly reduce neck pain, according to one 2015 study. When acupuncture is used with other techniques to ease neck strain and reduce muscle tension, the symptom relief was significant when compared with traditional care.
Migraines and headaches
A 2012 review of migraine studiesTrusted Source found that acupuncture was at least as effective at easing migraine symptoms as other treatments, including medication. It also has some benefits over those classic treatments, including longer lasting effects, lower medication use, and fewer serious complications or side effects.
Additionally, research suggests that regular acupuncture treatments may help people with a history of migraines prevent future episodes.
Researchers are mixed on the use of acupuncture to reduce labor pains during childbirth. Some studies show a statistically significant reduction in pain experience. Others point out that acupuncture’s effectiveness during labor is difficult to measure.
Still, acupuncture remains an area of interest for many mothers looking for medication-free options.
Acupuncture is sometimes used for the treatment of conditions other than physical pain. Research has yet to establish acupuncture as an effective smoking cessation therapy. When compared with nicotine replacement therapy, acupuncture was less effective.
However, though more research is needed, acupuncture shouldn’t be firmly ruled out as a potential therapy for quitting smoking.
One study looked at the use of acupuncture and antidepressant medication to ease signs of depression. It suggests that medication and acupuncture together may be effective. It’s also well tolerated and presents few complications.
But a review of studies could not declare acupuncture as a reliable treatment for depression. The author concluded the findings were enough to justify additional research.
Overall, the World Health Organization recognizes acupuncture as effective in treating hundreds of diseases and symptoms.
ORIGINAL POST: https://www.healthline.com/health/acupuncture-for-anxiety#takeaway
In recent years, acupuncture has grown in popularity as an alternative therapy during pregnancy to treat a range of discomforts. If you’re pregnant and interested in trying acupuncture, you may wonder if it really works—and have concerns about potential dangers. Below we explore the safety and efficacy of using this ancient practice while expecting.
Acupuncture is a complementary medical practice of traditional Chinese medicine that seeks to balance the flow of energy (known as chi or qi) in the body. This healing art has been used in Eastern medicine for centuries and there is an established tradition (and substantial anecdotal evidence) of positive results.
While there is a lack of rigorous, comprehensive scientific studies to back up some acupuncture health claims, preliminary research does show many promising results.
Acupuncture is used primarily as alternative medicine and is not routinely a part of traditional care. However, the healing art is often included in the growing trend of an integrative healthcare approach. And many conventional doctors are seeing some benefits in incorporating acupuncture into their patients’ healthcare.
Some studies have also shown promising results for its effectiveness in pain relief. It’s also reported to help discomfort from arthritis, migraines, and headaches, and even improve skin appearance by improving circulation and tightening facial muscles.
How It Works
Most often, acupuncture treatments involve stimulating key points in the body (acupuncture points or acupoints) with thin, sterile needles. Applying acupuncture needles is thought to enhance the body’s natural ability to self-heal, thereby alleviating pain and other discomforts, boosting immunity, and treating some conditions.
Do the Needles Hurt?
Most people report that they barely feel any pokes from the needles.
Researchers have found that many acupoints correlate to deep-seated nerves, which trigger the release of endorphins and other brain chemicals when activated by the needles. This process of nerve stimulation helps to explain how acupuncture might block pain signals to help to alleviate a number of common discomforts.
Acupuncture and Pregnancy
Increased interest in acupuncture during pregnancy, in particular, is due, in part, to some doctors’ claims and limited research that the ancient practice can help improve fertility in couples looking to conceive.1?
Other doctors and healthcare providers have been recommending acupuncture as a way to provide pain relief during and after childbirth, and as a strategy for decreasing opioid use.
Many women are also turning to acupuncture to help alleviate common pregnancy ailments such as nausea, vomiting, and headaches caused by hormone changes.
Acupuncture during pregnancy has not been thoroughly studied, so it is challenging to say with 100% certainty whether acupuncture during pregnancy is safe or effective.
Additionally, not all the claims about its benefits are supported by science. Knowing what acupuncture works best for can help align your expectations and avoid disappointment if you do choose to try it.
A 2013 review by Medical Acupuncture revealed that anywhere from 4% to 13% of European women use acupuncture during their pregnancies.2? They did not have exact numbers for American women but noted that acupuncture use, in general, was rising in the United States. The researchers theorized that pregnant women would be part of that growing population.
Over the past few decades, alternative medicine techniques, including acupuncture and its use during pregnancy, have grown in popularity in the West.
In theory, acupuncture during pregnancy can be used to treat a variety of different pregnancy-related ailments or be used to assist with labor or conception. Potential uses include to:
Alleviate nausea and vomiting
Alleviate pain after a surgical birth
Alleviate pain during labor
Alleviate panic, stress, and depression during pregnancy
Assist with general pain and discomfort from pregnancy
Some pregnant women are drawn to acupuncture’s promise of gentle, relaxing, pain-free treatment for some of pregnancy’s most nagging discomforts.
Acupuncture for pain relief during labor and after surgery (c-section) is one of the most commonly cited uses for the therapy in pregnancy, especially because healthcare providers are looking for alternatives to opioids. New mothers are at higher risk for addiction after being prescribed opioid painkillers for pregnancy-related pain.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ (ACOG) 2018 report on labor and birth management mentions acupuncture as one of several documented strategies that may help manage pain during labor. But, the report also notes that there haven’t been enough studies done to definitively conclude that acupuncture should be recommended.3?How Pregnant Women Can Safely Use Pain Relievers
Nausea and Vomiting
The 2013 ACOG review found that acupuncture was effective for relieving nausea associated with analgesia from c-sections,3? so it has may have many uses for relieving symptoms, even in a hospital setting.
Acupuncture may also be helpful for women who suffer from severe nausea or vomiting during their pregnancies (technically called hyperemesis gravidarum), especially if they want to avoid medication as a remedy.
Labor Induction and Breech Positions
In at least two cases in the review, acupuncture was used successfully as a way to induce labor without any medication.3? This was in mothers who were full-term and had been recommended for labor initiation.
Acupuncture has also been said to be helpful in correcting a baby who is in a breech position, to turn the head down to be ready for delivery.
One of the most largely-respected and widely-cited reviews on acupuncture during pregnancy concluded that the practice is beneficial in relieving pelvic pain and low back pain associated with pregnancy.4?Lightning Crotch During Pregnancy
Acupuncture has been associated with relieving symptoms of depression during pregnancy. This may be especially important to note since, unlike antidepressants or other medication commonly used to try to treat depression, acupuncture has no known potential risks to the unborn fetus.
Although acupuncture has been associated with helping women conceive, especially when used with IVF, a 2018 study by the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that there is no proof that acupuncture increases the incidence of live births in women who are using IVF to get pregnant.5?
However, the study noted that many acupuncture recipients did report feeling more relaxed and less stressed with acupuncture, which is helpful when undergoing IVF, so the practice shouldn’t be completely ruled out for use when trying to conceive.
Any practice that is safe and could help a mother relax more when trying to conceive can be a helpful adjunct to staying healthy and potentially increasing the odds of conception.
Acupuncture has a very low risk of negative effects. The most commonly reported adverse reactions include soreness at the needle site, local bruising, weakness, fatigue, sweating, and nausea.
According to a 2013 review, there is only one documented case of negative effects of acupuncture during pregnancy and it was related to injury as a result of asthma complications. The baby was unaffected and delivered healthy and full-term.
Where acupuncture is administered may be especially important to consider when pregnant. The same review study mentioned that there is some concern from the ACOG about some acupuncture points causing premature labor, especially if used before a woman is full-term in her pregnancy.
The 2018 JAMA study on IVF and acupuncture also found that there was a higher rate of miscarriage (almost double, in fact) in the group that received acupuncture as compared to the group of women who did not receive acupuncture.5?
The study concluded that, in those cases, the acupuncture treatments may have been administered incorrectly, which could account for the higher miscarriage rates. They also noted that there is an especially high link between the acupuncture points LI4 and SP6 and miscarriage.
However, there haven’t been any documented cases of acupuncture definitively causing premature labor or miscarriage, so it is just a general recommendation to avoid the practice during your first trimester.
There are also some obvious risks of acupuncture, during pregnancy and otherwise, if you choose a practitioner who is not certified or one who does not follow proper safety protocols when using needles. A risk of blood-borne disease transmission, such as HIV, is always a risk when working with needles in the human body.
It’s also worth mentioning that not all acupuncture practices are built exactly the same. There are some imitation-type acupuncture practices that use incorrect needles or different-sized needles that are not true to traditional acupuncture practice, which could be associated with more adverse reactions and risks.
A Word From Verywell
While there is some promising research to support acupuncture during pregnancy, there isn’t enough high-quality evidence for acupuncture to be routinely recommended for pregnant women.
However, the risks and costs of acupuncture during pregnancy are very low (and sometimes covered by insurance). If you are interested in trying the practice to manage your pregnancy symptoms or incorporating acupuncture into your pain relief plan for birth, be sure to speak to your doctor about your options.
More than 40 million U.S. adults have symptoms of anxiety, which refers to excessive worrying that’s hard to control and often impacts daily life. It’s often treated with psychotherapy, medications, or a combination of both.
There have been several studies done about the effects of acupuncture on anxiety. These studies have focused mostly on generalized anxiety disorder and suggest that acupuncture is helpful in treating general anxiety.
One promising study from 2015, for example, found that acupuncture improved symptoms in people with anxiety that didn’t respond to other treatments, including psychotherapy and medication. Participants received ten 30-minute sessions of acupuncture over the course of 12 weeks. They experienced a significant reduction in their anxiety, even 10 weeks after treatment.
However, two reviews of existing research, one from 2007 and another from 2013, note that many studies on the subject aren’t very reliable. Some had very few participants — including the one mentioned above — while others were poorly designed. On the other hand, these reviews also point out that acupuncture doesn’t seem to have a negative effect on anxiety.
In a more recent 2016 study on rats, acupuncture was found to be effective for reducing anxiety. The researchers suggested that it impacts how the body triggers the fight-or-flight response.
While we need to better understand how acupuncture affects anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias, research is showing promise for acupuncture as a viable and safe option. If you have anxiety that hasn’t responded to other treatment methods, or you’re simply interested in trying something new, acupuncture shouldn’t worsen your symptoms.
While acupuncture won’t make your anxiety worse, it does come with some possible side effects and risks. You can avoid most of these by making sure you see a licensed acupuncturist. In the United States, license requirements vary from state to state, but most require taking an exam from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
The main side effect that people experience with acupuncture is soreness following a session. This usually goes away within a few hours, though it can also leave some bruising. Some people also feel pinpricks of pain during a session.
Licensed acupuncturists are required to use sterile, disposable needles. You could get an infection if your practitioner didn’t use properly sterilized needles. The Mayo Clinic notes that these complications are very uncommon if you see an experienced, certified acupuncturist.
People with some health conditions shouldn’t have acupuncture. You should avoid acupuncture if you:
It’s also important to keep up with any ongoing anxiety treatment, including prescribed medications, while getting acupuncture. You shouldn’t stop any medications without first discussing with your doctor.
When you go in for your first appointment, your acupuncturist will start by asking you which symptoms you’re looking to treat. They’ll also ask about any medications you take, your medical history, and any other health concerns you have. This is a good time to ask any lingering questions you have about the process.
During your actual session, they’ll insert long, thin needles into different pressure points on your body. Depending on the pressure points used, this could take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. Your acupuncturist might also twist the needles or apply an electrical pulse to them. They’ll leave the needles in for up to 20 minutes before carefully removing them.
You likely won’t feel instant gratification. Most acupuncture treatments are intended to be repeated. Some people report immediate improvements but most notice subtle and gradual changes with repeated visits.
Before you go, make sure you understand the costs involved. Some health insurance plans cover acupuncture for medical or mental health conditions, including anxiety, but others don’t.
ORIGINAL POST: https://www.healthline.com/health/acupuncture-for-anxiety#takeaway