Acupuncture is used for a wide range of conditions, from arthritis and low back pain to infertility. Over the past 10 years, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has supported extensive research on acupuncture. Studies have looked at its effect on specific health conditions and how it affects the brain and nervous system.
Scientific evidence suggests it may be helpful for some conditions but not for others. Acupuncture also may be useful by itself or in combination with conventional medical treatments.
Recent studies have found that acupuncture:
- Helps alleviate nausea in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
- Relieves pain and improves function for some people with osteoarthritis of the knee and complements standard medical care.
- Helps in treating chronic lower-back pain.
- Can be useful in treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.
- May improve pregnancy rates following in-vitro fertilization.
- May or may not be of value for many other conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome and some neurologic disorders.
“The NIH also has stated that acupuncture may be useful as an adjunctive treatment, or an acceptable alternative, or be included in a comprehensive management program for addiction, stroke rehabilitation, headache, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and asthma,” said Cooper physiatrist and medical acupuncturist Jerrold A. Friedman, M.D., in Cooper’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. He uses manual medicine and acupuncture, along with other methods, in his treatment of patients with many musculoskeletal issues.
“Personally, I have seen great responses in patients with muscular conditions, especially sprain and strain, myofascial pain and muscle imbalances,” Dr. Friedman said. “I’ve also seen more rapid and dramatic improvement than otherwise expected in rash and sinus symptoms. Additionally, many of my colleagues have had impressive success with improving fertility issues and complementing in-vitro fertilization.”
While acupuncture typically works best on symptoms or injuries that are relatively new, it also can help in treating more chronic conditions. “The longer something has been present, the less likely it will improve; however, many conditions can still improve. I’ve treated many patients with symptoms of many years duration. Typically, these patients need more frequent treatments over a longer time frame than someone with acute symptoms or injuries.”
Dr. Friedman added that acupuncture, just like medication, can be used to manage an illness or provide a cure. “The answer depends on the specific illness and how long the condition has been present,” he said. He also noted that acupuncture has been demonstrated to improve the body’s natural defenses (immunoglobulins), improve wound healing and speed recovery time from trauma. “Acupuncture has clearly been shown to modify the immune system,” Dr. Friedman said.
Below is the World Health Organization’s list of diseases, symptoms or conditions for which acupuncture has been proven – through controlled trials – to be an effective treatment.
- Adverse reactions to radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy
- Allergic rhinitis (including hay fever)
- Biliary colic
- Depression (including depressive neurosis and depression following stroke)
- Dysentery, acute bacillary
- Dysmenorrhoea, primary
- Epigastralgia, acute (in peptic ulcer, acute and chronic gastritis, and gastrospasm)
- Facial pain (including craniomandibular disorders)
- Hypertension, essential
- Hypotension, primary
- Induction of labour
- Knee pain
- Low back pain
- Malposition of fetus, correction of
- Morning sickness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Neck pain
- Pain in dentistry (including dental pain and temporomandibular dysfunction)
- Periarthritis of shoulder
- Postoperative pain
- Renal colic
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Tennis elbow