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Acupuncture is one of the main forms of treatment in traditional Chinese medicine. It involves the use of sharp, thin needles that are inserted in the body at very specific points. In Chinese acupuncture, the acupuncturist may turn or twirl the needles slightly or apply heat or electrical stimulation to enhance the effects.
This process is believed to adjust and alter the body's energy flow into healthier patterns, and is used to treat a wide variety of illnesses and health conditions.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends acupuncture as an effective treatment for over forty medical problems, including allergies, respiratory conditions, gastrointestinal disorders, gynecological problems, nervous conditions, and disorders of the eyes, nose and throat, and childhood illnesses, among others. Acupuncture has been used in the treatment of alcoholism and substance abuse. It is an effective and low-cost treatment for headaches and chronic pain, associated with problems like back injuries and arthritis. It has also been used to supplement invasive Western treatments like chemotherapy and surgery. Acupuncture is generally most effective when used as prevention or before a health condition becomes acute, but it has been used to help patients suffering from cancer and AIDS. Acupuncture is limited in treating conditions or traumas that require surgery or emergency care (such as for broken bones).
In eastern tradition acupuncture is thought to correct imbalances in the flow of energy in the body, called qi (pronounced “chee”). Qi is believed to help keep your body in balance and promote its natural ability to heal itself. A blocked or disrupted flow of qi can negatively impact physical and emotional well-being.
In Western scientific terms acupuncture is thought to ease pain by affecting neurotransmitters, hormone levels, or the immune system.
Electroacupuncture is is a modified form that uses two needles.
One study used electroacupuncture treatments for for rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In this study, those who received electroacupuncture treatment reported a significant reduction in knee pain just 24 hours after treatment. This effect lasts as long as four months after treatment.
Does acupuncture really work to quell pain? The evidence is mixed, with some studies showing that acupuncture relieves pain and others showing that it works no better than "sham" acupuncture (procedures designed to mimic acupuncture but to have no real effect, much like a placebo, or "sugar pill," used in medication studies). One of the problems with deciphering these results is that most acupuncture studies have been small. The design of "sham" acupuncture techniques has also varied widely, which complicates any comparison. It's also possible that acupuncture works for some people and not others.
Source: Relieving pain with acupuncture - Harvard Health
In July 2019 The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that medicare will cover acupuncture for people involved in research on whether the treatment is effective for chronic low back pain among older adults.
The studies will allow the government to assess whether there is enough evidence to offer Medicare coverage of the controversial treatment to a wider group of people age 65 and older who are afflicted by chronic low back pain. Currently, the giant government health insurance program does not cover acupuncture.
Relieving pain with acupuncture - Harvard Health
See Acupuncture for lower back pain.