Written by Tommy Li and Jerry Lau
China, a country from where many Eastern medical practices originated, has been practicing the field of acupuncture for over more than three thousand years. What exactly is acupuncture? In a very simplified definition, it is a technique used by medical professionals in Eastern medicine to treat pain, alleviate stress, reduce anxiety, and improve overall wellness. Practitioners of this therapy use thin, solid, metallic needles to penetrate patients' skin at crucial meridian points in the body to enhance health. It is believed that meridians are part of an energy pathway throughout the body that is responsible for overall health. By applying needles at the proper key places, the body's energy flow is improved, thus improving general health. From the perspective of Western medicine, it is believed that acupuncture, in the hands of the right certified practitioner, stimulates the body's central nervous system; this releases chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain, which in turn stimulates the body's natural healing abilities and promotes physical and emotional well being (4).
Although research towards acupuncture was initiated hundreds of years ago and with rapid development, there is still no conclusive evidence regarding all the positive acupuncture claims in clinical studies. Physicians tend to apply acupuncture to clinical practice, while scientists crave to discover the possible underlying logic of acupoints and the meridians. The actual effectiveness of acupuncture and its physiological and biological mechanisms are being evaluated in modern society. A large amount of research is being done as we witness more patients willing to move from Western views of medicine to adopt more alternative therapies such as this one. There is much evidence that points to the potential benefits of acupuncture treatment. For example, in one study, acupuncture in allergic asthma patients was shown to increase disease-specific and health-related quality of life compared to patients that received routine treatment (1). In another study, acupuncture was shown to be potentially beneficial for patients who have Bortezomib Induced Peripheral Neuropathy (BIPN), with the therapy alleviating associated sensory and pain-related symptoms. However, further randomized controlled studies are needed to determine the effectiveness of acupuncture to treat BIPN (2). Furthermore, acupuncture has been shown to provide significant relief in back pain, one of the most common musculoskeletal complaints in the adult population (approximately seventy-five percent of adults) (3).
Today, scientists and medical professionals are searching for new ways to treat the plethora of conditions that have arisen from modern society. As a result, the present research available on acupuncture will have to be transformed into proven and effective clinical outcomes. At the same time, providers need to be willing to understand the needs of their patients who would be suitable for such alternative therapies and not be hung up on primarily using Western therapies. Based on the state of current achievements, we believe that although challenges and difficulties exist for broader adoption of this practice, a more collaborative, innovative, and integrated approach to alternative therapies will help us achieve further progress for the future prospects of acupuncture.
(1) Leem J, Kim H, Jo HG, et al. Efficacy and safety of thread embedding acupuncture combined with conventional acupuncture for chronic low back pain: A study protocol for a randomized, controlled, assessor-blinded, multicenter clinical trial. Medicine (Baltimore). 2018;97(21):e10790.
(2) Zhi WI, Ingram E, Li SQ, Chen P, Piulson L, Bao T. Acupuncture for Bortezomib-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy: Not Just for Pain. Integr Cancer Ther. 2018;17(4):1079-1086.
(3) Brinkhaus B, Roll S, Jena S, et al. Acupuncture in Patients with Allergic Asthma: A Randomized Pragmatic Trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2017;23(4):268-277.
(4) Acupuncture. Health. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/acupuncture. Accessed Aug 25, 2021.