Tuesday, 06 November 2012 18:45


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For people who deal with chronic pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia, they will do just about anything to ease their pain. Sometimes, medications, procedures, and injections don’t offer enough pain relief for what plagues them daily. Patients can sometimes turn to alternative methods, such as herbal supplements, to help control what medical science has failed to relieve. Some of these patients opt for acupuncture in the hopes that it will finally relieve the pain.

Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years to cure everything from chronic back pain to the common cold. A great deal of research has been done on whether acupuncture is actually effective in treating any of these conditions. It is expensive, not often covered by insurance, and has a spotty track record when rigorously studied. If you are considering pursuing acupuncture for your pain, you should examine whether the benefits are worth the added expense.

What Is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is based on the idea that all people have an inner river of qi, or life force, which flows through them. When the body is healthy, the qi flows normally, and it is unobstructed. However, when there is any disease or pain in the body, the qi is thought to be blocked. At different places on the body, there are areas that the qi flows close to the skin. These areas are considered qi hotspots and targeting them can cause a change in the flow of qi.

In acupuncture, a professional finds these areas of qi and inserts a small needle into the area. The needle helps the qi to move more effectively, destroys any blocks, and allows for the disease state to subside. In recent years, acupuncture has evolved into a procedure where small electrical currents are passed through the needles and into the qi hotspots. Research has found this to be more effective than traditional acupuncture, but the evidence for acupuncture as a single all encompassing treatment remains questionable.

Research Results

A study reported by Reuters looked at the efficacy of acupuncture in chronic pain, and it found interesting results. It examined 29 individual studies into acupuncture, and made a general consensus about the results. People who received acupuncture for chronic pain syndromes from back pain to osteoarthritis did have a moderate improvement in their pain after treatment. When the acupuncture patients were compared with patients who had no therapy at all, the bulk of the studies showed improvement in pain ratings.

However, the true nature of the study becomes clearer when acupuncture patients are compared with those who received sham treatments. Sham treatments are placebo treatments that do not follow the rules and regulations of acupuncture. This could include placing needles in random areas or using different techniques than a qualified acupuncturist would. It found that over 50 percent of the people who received the fake treatments also had improvement in their pain.

Although acupuncture did better than those who had no treatment and those who had fake treatment, it is still clinically significant that people who had fake treatments had any response at all. This strongly suggests that some of the relief felt from acupuncture may be from the placebo effect. In other words, just performing a procedure can make people believe that they are going to feel better. The belief that they are going to feel better is actually causing the pain relief and not the practice of acupuncture.


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Dr. Scott MacAdam

Dr. MacAdam is the owner and operator of Ladera Family & Sports Chiropractic. For over 20 years, he has been treating his patients with world-class care and service.