Everything You Need to Know About Acupuncture: How It Works, Benefits and Results for Pain

Dr. Lambros Lambrou Mar 17, 2022

Acupuncture was originally developed in China as a system of diagnosis and treatment based on meridians, a set of channels connecting the internal organs with the body's surface. Although it was outlawed briefly, it was eventually added to the set of practices known as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Eventually, acupuncture made its way to the United States, where it's now used to treat a wide range of medical conditions. Here's everything you need to know about acupuncture, including how it works, what benefits it produces and how it can help with pain.

What Is Acupuncture and What Does It Do?

a person closes their eyes and undergoes acupuncture treatment on their face

According to the principles of TCM, the body's meridians produce a flow of energy responsible for each person's overall health and well-being. Acupuncture, or the insertion of thin needles at specific points, is said to improve this energy flow, preventing or relieving the symptoms of disease. Once the needles are inserted, they're activated with heat, electrical stimulation or the movement of the acupuncturist's hands.

What Are the Benefits of Acupuncture?

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Acupuncture stimulates the central nervous system, releasing certain chemicals into the spinal cord, muscles and brain. These chemicals stimulate the body's natural defenses, promoting physical healing and improved emotional well-being. One of the main benefits of acupuncture is that it has fewer side effects than many other medical treatments. Acupuncture may also relieve pain, reduce nausea and make it easier to manage the symptoms of physical and mental health conditions.

What Health Conditions Can Acupuncture Treat?

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Acupuncture can help with conditions affecting almost every system of the body. 

Digestive Conditions

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Several pilot studies have shown that acupuncture is effective for treating the symptoms of many digestive disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, gallstone disease and peptic ulcer disease. It's especially effective for treating nausea and vomiting. Researchers believe that acupuncture eases the symptoms of digestive disorders by sending impulses through the nerves in the gut. 

Female Reproductive Conditions

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Acupuncture is used to treat several conditions of the female reproductive system, including painful menstrual periods and infertility. A study published in Medicine, a peer-reviewed journal, indicates that acupuncture may be more effective for treating menstrual pain than ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Because NSAIDs can cause serious side effects, including an increased risk of stroke or heart attack, women with painful periods may be able to use acupuncture to avoid taking potentially harmful medications.

Some women have endocrine conditions that make it difficult to conceive a child. For these women, acupuncture can help with infertility by addressing underlying endocrine disorders. According to the American Pregnancy Association, acupuncture may also improve ovarian function, making it easier to conceive. Although acupuncture is effective for treating some causes of infertility, it doesn't work for infertility caused by scar tissue in the fallopian tubes, which can occur in women with a history of endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease.

Acupuncture helps with reproductive issues in several ways. First, it can relieve stress, making menstrual periods less painful and helping a woman get in the right frame of mind for conceiving a child. Second, it increases blood flow to the uterus, ovaries and other reproductive organs. Finally, acupuncture can help balance the endocrine system, preventing hormonal imbalances that can make it difficult to get pregnant.

Neurological Disorders

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Acupuncture is used to treat a variety of neurological problems, including headaches, migraines, stroke, Parkinson's disease and pain following neurosurgical procedures. A study published in Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience indicates that acupuncture works to treat these conditions by delaying the death of nerve cells, protecting the nervous system from damage and inhibiting the buildup of harmful proteins in the nervous system.

In people with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, acupuncture may prevent cognitive function from worsening and improve language skills and motor function. Although acupuncture isn't a replacement for medications and other dementia treatments, it's often performed as a complement to traditional treatment options.

Acupuncture may even help relieve back pain in people with disk herniations and other conditions affecting the spine. In a study of 90 people with disk herniations, participants who received warm needle acupuncture had significantly better results than participants who received postural adjustments and no acupuncture. Participants who received acupuncture reported less pain in their lumbar, sciatic and iliac regions.

Musculoskeletal Conditions

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The musculoskeletal system includes your bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments, along with connective tissues that provide structure and support. Auto accidents, sports injuries and wear and tear due to aging can all cause problems with the musculoskeletal system, resulting in chronic pain. Acupuncture is used to treat several musculoskeletal conditions, including arthritis, neck pain and muscle cramps.

Researchers from multiple universities reviewed more than two dozen studies on the use of acupuncture to treat chronic pain caused by joint and muscle problems. These studies included around 18,000 participants, with the participants who received acupuncture reporting a 50% reduction in their pain. Acupuncture is thought to relieve musculoskeletal pain by activating the immune system, balancing a person's hormone levels or triggering the release of neurotransmitters in the brain.

Mental Health Conditions

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Acupuncture is also useful for treating the symptoms of certain mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety and nervousness. The reason acupuncture works for these symptoms is because it triggers the release of endorphins, the "feel-good" chemicals released in response to high levels of stress. Acupuncture also reduces the amount of cortisol, a stress hormone, circulating through the body. 

Try Acupuncture for Pain Relief

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NorthEast Spine and Sports Medicine offers acupuncture in multiple New Jersey locations, including Neptune, Manchester, Point Pleasant and Barnegat. Our skilled acupuncturists insert each needle carefully, stimulating just the right area of the body to relieve pain and reduce stress.You may even be able to combine acupuncture with other treatments, including chiropractic care and cold laser therapy, to ease pain associated with musculoskeletal disorders, fibromyalgia and a wide range of medical problems. To schedule your first acupuncture appointment or learn more about how acupuncture can help relieve your symptoms, call (732) 653-1000.