Understanding Acupuncture on Western Medicine’s Terms

In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture uses needles inserted at specific points in the body to redirect one’s qi, or energy flow, when it is out of balance and causing illness. Western medicine’s view is that acupuncture seems to be effective for certain ailments, but there’s no consensus on theories of how it works.

However it works, medical studies indicate that acupuncture is most effective for nausea and pain. Sounds good, huh?

The LA Times recently published an article describing traditional and modern views of acupuncture and some of the current medical ideas and beliefs about it. It’s a fascinating read that’s not too long. I’m too tired to summarize it accurately, but trust me that it’s worth a look.

[9/21/06: This article is no longer available. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine provides similar information.]


2 thoughts on “Understanding Acupuncture on Western Medicine’s Terms”

  1. Acupuncture can be amazing in the treatment of migraine but the key, as in every other specialty, is to find the “right” practitioner: not an easy task. Go to twenty different acupuncturists and you will get twenty different treatments, because acupuncture is not “standardized.” Run from anyone who promises a “cure.” Stick with someone who is a good listener and a natural empath – again, this is a rare find. Not dissimilar to finding a good therapist, or a good neurologist, etc. You will know soon enough if this is a treatment modality that works for you because you will (or will not) have a quantitative reduction (for example, 10%, 15%, 20%, etc.) of symptoms right there on the table, or shortly thereafter. The reason that there are no good studies on acupuncture are many: 1) there is no “standardization” of treatments. Each treatment is tailored to the individual based on individual symptoms 2) there is no “standard” type of acupuncture itself. There is Korean acupuncture, auricular acupuncture, TCM, “Western,” and many hybrids of all the above. 2) it is impossible to utilize the “gold standard” in studying acupuncture (double-blind, placebo-controlled) as in other areas of medicine 3) there is not good funding for studies as no one benefits financially from such studies. I am writing this post as an R.N. who became an acupuncturist because of my own personal experience with what I now understand to be a migraine (wrongly diagnosed as “atypical odontaligia” because the pain showed up mainly in the teeth) fifteen years ago. I accept the fact that I do not understand why or how it works, but that when it works, it works!

  2. In Germany the insurance companies recently financed a very large study about accupuncture. The results were: Yes, it works, it even works better than most standard methods including drugs.
    But: There was almost no difference between the precise application of the chinese standards and placing the needles randomly.

    The explanations within the article about the hormonal changes made by accupuncture are quite convincing. But others already made the same explanations for the so called placebo effect. Research has found out that even putting somebody on the waiting list of an appreciated doctor helps, not that much as accupuncture does but still measurable.
    Best regards

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