close up of a hand placing acupuncture needles along someones back

Live Comfortably - January 26, 2020

Get to the Point: The Basics and Benefits of Acupuncture

By: Amber McCracken

Let’s look at the basics and benefits of acupuncture. Known mostly as an alternative treatment for pain, acupuncture is becoming part of some people’s plan for overall wellness and stress management, according to the Mayo Clinic.

If you suffer from trypanophobia — the extreme fear of needles – you may have dismissed even considering a session of acupuncture. The mere thought of someone inserting tiny needles all over your body may not appeal to everyone. For many, the practice of acupuncture helps manage pain, reduce stress and bring balance.

At Goodwin House Life Plan Communities, residents are keenly interested in alternative treatments.

“At our Bailey’s Crossroads location, the Resident Health Committee is very open to alternative medicine and treatments, including acupuncture,” shared Karen Doyle, MSN, LNHA, HSE and administrator of health services.

The Basics of Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that uses thin, sterile, disposable needles to access particular points along channels that run throughout the entire body. These channels carry the body’s vital energy or “qi” (pronounced chee). The qi is said to flow within 12 major meridians (pathways) of the body. Qi should flow freely to keep the body in a good state of health.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, impurities or pathogens block the free flow of qi. When the body experiences disrupted energy, it goes out of balance, and symptoms of disease begin to manifest. In contrast, a person with free-flowing qi exhibits a balanced state, resulting in a strong immune system that is able to prevent or resist disease. The goal of acupuncture is to restore the normal flow of the qi.

Myth or Medicine

Acupuncture has been around for more than 5,000 years. While this ancient remedy may sound more like myth, modern medicine is coming around. A 2019 study appearing in the journal Oncologist found that breast cancer survivors suffering from chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy (pain and/or numbness in the back, face, foot, hands or thigh) experienced significant improvements of symptoms after eight weeks of acupuncture.

Another study that appeared even more recently in JAMA Oncology found that acupuncture is significantly associated with reduced pain and use of painkillers. This is especially noteworthy given that the National Institutes of Health names pain as the number one reason Americans seek medical attention. Research published in the medical knowledge provider The BMJ adds that chronic pain conditions are more prevalent for individuals 65 years old and older, with 52.8 percent reporting that they’ve experienced some type of pain within the previous 30 days.

Integrative Medicine

Acupuncture, as well as other alternative treatments, can be part of someone’s health care regimen, especially if they seek care from medical professionals trained in integrative medicine. Duke Health describes integrative medicine as “patient-centered healthcare that combines conventional medicine with proven complementary techniques to motivate and assist clients to optimize their health.”

Goodwin House Medical Director, Dr. Mariatu Koroma-Nelson explained, “Integrated medicine often combines Eastern and Western medicines. Those of us trained in this specialty recommend Western medical approaches such as medications, in combination with Eastern treatments such as acupuncture.”

Dr. Nelson went on to explain that Western medicine has adopted alternative treatments over time, and after careful research. “We move cautiously,” she shared, “but we are open to learning more about how alternative treatments improve people’s quality of life and how we can use them along with other treatments to help our patients. More studies have demonstrated that these alternative treatments help.”

Alternative Pain Killer

The rise in opioid prescriptions for pain is causing a substance use disorder epidemic among our population, including in older adults. As doctors look for safer ways to manage pain, acupuncture may be a good option.

More research is needed to confirm any scientific links to the benefits of acupuncture, though earlier studies show promise. Back in 2005, a group of researchers studied the use of acupuncture for substance abuse in 261 individuals in downtown Eastside Vancouver. The area had an estimated 4,000 people with drug addictions in an area of approximately 10 city blocks. With acupuncture as part of treatment, reductions in the severity of withdrawal symptoms were statistically significant. These symptoms included a decrease in shakes, stomach cramps, hallucinations, muddle headedness, insomnia, muscle aches, sweats, suicidal thoughts and heart palpitations.

Considering Acupuncture

With studies linking acupuncture to less stress, reduction in chronic pain, better digestion, less headaches and eye strain, increased energy levels and improvement in sleep, it might be worth the consideration to add this to your overall health regimen.

“I’ve seen acupuncture benefit patients a great deal, especially in treating or managing chronic pain,” Dr. Nelson commented. “I’ve also seen it be effective to help with smoking cessation, reducing anxiety and providing relief for headaches or migraines.”

Traditionally one of the main obstacles of acupuncture was cost. Rarely would you find it covered by health insurance. But that may be changing. Many healthcare plans, including Medicare Advantage plans, are offering non-traditional benefits. For instance, Anthem’s Medicare Advantage plans in several states offer access to acupuncture.

If you wish to try acupuncture, check with your health care provider first. Also, make sure you go to a licensed acupuncturist who is required to complete four to six years of graduate studies. Regulation of the profession is administered through state licensing boards (often the same medical boards that license MDs), as well as a national accreditation oversight commission (NCCAOM-National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine). Their website has a feature to help locate a licensed acupuncturist near you.

“It’s very important for anyone considering acupuncture to understand that it’s only as good as the person administering it,” stated Dr. Nelson. “It is very important to find a certified practitioner.”

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Amber McCracken is the executive director of Current Communications, a boutique consultancy that helps organizations with their marketing and public relations activities. Amber has worked with GHI since 2014, providing her expert advice to support Goodwin House at Home. She contributes regularly to The Good Life, both as a writer and editor. Amber lives in North Carolina with her husband and two children.

 

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