What is it?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Consensus Statement on Acupuncture, it “is a component of the health care system of China that can be traced back for at least 2000 years. The general theory of acupuncture is based on the premise that there are patterns of energy flow through the body that are essential for health.”
In Chinese medicine this life energy is known as qi (pronounced chee) and flows through invisible channels known as meridians. Illness can cause an imbalance in qi, and an out of balance qi can cause pain or illness. The acupuncturist is able to influence health and sickness by stimulating certain areas along these meridians to restore the flow of qi.
Most folks think of acupuncture and picture thin needles. But there are several different methods that can be used to stimulate the more than 300 acupuncture points that lie along the meridians. Heat, herbs, magnets, pressure, lasers and even bee stings or any combination may be used.
Does it work?
Depending on what condition you are attempting to treat, acupuncture just might be effective for you. A number of controlled trials have been conducted during the past several decades that suggest acupuncture is effective for the treatment of pain associated with osteoarthritis. Reports of at least seven published clinical trials have reported that acupuncture is effective in treating fibromyalgia pain. However, studies have yet to prove acupuncture has a positive effect on rheumatoid arthritis.
Is it safe?
It is an invasive medical procedure and the risks of bleeding and infection are always present, however if a qualified practitioner does it correctly, problems are very rare. The NIH Consensus Panel on Acupuncture states that the occurrence of adverse events in the practice of acupuncture has been documented to be extremely low.
How much does it cost?
Initial visits cost between $75 and $150, with follow up visits averaging about $50. Some insurance policies are now reimbursing part of acupuncture costs, check your policy.
Finding a Practitioner
Start with your doctor. As acupuncture becomes more accepted by modern physicians, many are establishing relationships with acupuncture practitioners. In fact, some medical doctors are being trained to perform acupuncture themselves.
If your doctor is unable to refer you to a qualified practitioner try the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). They are the major certifying board for acupuncturists.
The Arthritis Foundation’s Guide to Alternative Medicine
THE EVIDENCE FOR ACUPUNCTURE AS A TREATMENT FOR RHEUMATOLOGIC CONDITIONS, Berman et al, Rheumatic Diseases Clinics of North America, Volume 26, Number 1, February 2000