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Getting to the Point of Acupuncture

By Nick Jacobs


Let me get right to the, uh, point, on acupuncture: while this practice has been shown to be a safe, effective method to reduce pain, hasten healing and even kick some nasty habit for many people, it remains an under-used form of medical treatment.

Despite countless studies regarding its effectiveness, acupuncture remains shrouded in mystery for many Americans, who often view this key component of traditional Chinese medicine as too antiquated, too painful, too simple or too mysterious to offer any real or long-term positive health improvements.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth. While acupuncture might not prove effective for everyone, it is providing pain relief and other benefits for an increasing number of individuals. In fact, more than 19,000 papers have been written about the efficacy or effectiveness of acupuncture.

In a recent Time Magazine article titled “The Mystery of Acupuncture,” author Jeffrey Kluger said, “The World Health Organization has declared acupuncture a useful adjunct for more than 50 medical conditions, including chronic stress.”

Kluger also said that the National Institute of Health (NIH) agrees with this opinion and has endorsed acupuncture as a potential treatment for migraines, menstrual cramps, abdominal pain, tennis elbow, nausea from chemotherapy and more.

“The fact the Mayo and Cleveland Clinics have embraced acupuncture and groups like the AMA have gotten states to designate acupuncture as an essential health benefit is more than significant,” Kluger said. He added that more than 3.5 million adults and 80,000 children use acupuncture in the U.S. annually and that the military is using it for PTSD, pain disruption and an assortment of ailments, not the least of which is lower back pain.

As someone who once suffered regularly from bouts of lower back pain, I became alarmed when I saw statistics on lower back surgery that were less than encouraging, showing the procedure as sometimes as low as 30 percent effective. For me, osteopathic manipulation, exercise, weight loss and, yes, acupuncture, have all been medical gifts that have worked beautifully for me over the years.

Possibly the most powerful potential use for acupuncture is in the treatment of addiction. Considering that more than 50 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, acupuncture is one possible alternative to OxyContin and other addictive pain drugs.

So why wouldn’t someone suffering from debilitating or chronic pain give acupuncture a try?

For some, hesitation is caused by ignorance, exacerbated perhaps because someone—maybe even a medical professional—ridiculed the practice, perhaps even labeling it “woo-woo” medicine. Yet simply explained, traditional Chinese medicine describes acupuncture as a technique for balancing the flow of energy or life force thought to travel through the body’s pathways, also called meridians. Very thin needles are inserted along these pathways to “rebalance” energy flow. Western practitioners see these points as places to stimulate nerves, muscles and connective tissue, perhaps with the added benefit of boosting a body’s natural painkillers.

Or perhaps your hesitancy is more basic: the thought of little needles dotting your body like a pincushion sounds gross and painful. Yet this fear, while understandable to a degree, is overblown. The needles couldn’t be any smaller or less noticeable. Patients most often report very little to no discomfort, especially when balanced against the pain relief they gained.

But what of any risks associated with acupuncture?

Any risks are minimized if you have a competent, certified acupuncture practitioner who uses sterile needles. Since one-time-use, disposable needles are now common practice, risk of infection is minimal and most common side effects include soreness, very minor bleeding or bruising.

As is true with many treatments, acupuncture might not prove effective for everyone. But given the potential it offers, why not give it a try?

In many articles and speeches, I often quote the book Change or Die by Alan Deutschman, who suggests many of us would simply prefer the latter rather than change. Sound unbelievable? Just consider that every day we are inundated with advertising, political narratives and scientific positions that encourage us to remain loyal, to continue to behave in a certain way, even though we should question if doing so is in our best interest.

I recall a conversation I had with a scientist who told me that hydrogenated fats were the biggest medical experiment perpetrated on mankind without our knowledge. Yes, it prolonged the shelf life of food. It also created an inflammatory disease that was harmful to half a million American annually.

So maybe, when it comes to our individual health, we need to be more open minded and willing to try options that, while showing positive impacts, veer just a little from the usual path of suggested treatments.

The point is, acupuncture is a valid option to consider to relieve pain and encourage healing. Even if it’s done incorrectly, it releases endorphins. And that’s a good thing.

What have you got to lose by giving it a try?

Nick Jacobs is a partner with SMR, LLC, a senior leadership healthcare consulting firm. He is a founder of the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine, former board member and officer of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine and served on the Executive Committee of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium. A former hospital CEO and founder of two genetic research institutes, Jacobs maintains a website, Healinghospitals.com.



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