Acupuncture – How It Really Works

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For critics of acupuncture, last week’s headlines provided ready ammunition.

News reports revealed that hundreds of NHS patients undergoing the treatment have suffered complications including fainting and dizziness.

A study said there were 325 reports of patients coming to harm after having acupuncture on the NHS in just two years. 

These included 100 cases of needles being left inside the body, and five patients who suffered collapsed lungs after a needle accidentally penetrated their chests.

Proof, according to acupuncture’s critics, that its claims to be an effective form of pain relief are not just mumbo-jumbo, but dangerous mumbo-jumbo. But is that the whole story?

Many would argue that all treatments have side-effects — especially if mistakes are made — and that the number of problems reported was relatively small.

Now a major analysis, published yesterday, suggests the sceptics are also wrong about acupuncture’s benefits: it really does control pain.

Practitioners claim that by inserting fine needles at 400 specific points on the skin, they can affect the ‘meridians’ — channels of energy that run up and down the body, blocking pain. Critics claim any relief comes purely from the placebo effect.

 The new report, the largest analysis of acupuncture ever conducted, involved nearly 18,000 patients and doctors from eight universities and hospitals in the UK, the U.S. and Germany.

They found that traditional acupuncture worked better than a placebo.

In fact, in conditions such as arthritis and chronic headache, acupuncture was twice as effective as the drugs and exercise recommended by most doctors, according to the analysis published in the authoritative Archives of Internal Medicine.

Acupuncture originated in China more than 2,000 years ago. It was brought to Europe in the 1500s by French missionaries.

The Lancet medical journal first ran an article about it in 1823.

Then it faded from the medical map until the Seventies following U.S. President Nixon’s historic visit to China and dramatic reports of operations with acupuncture as the only anaesthetic.

Experts have always disagreed about its benefits, though there are 15,000 doctors and physiotherapists working in the NHS trained to deliver it.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends it for back pain and arthritis, but is considering whether to add headache. 
Patients can have it on the NHS for other conditions if their doctor prescribes it.

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