Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a collection of procedures which involves the stimulation of points on the body using a variety of techniques, such as penetrating the skin with needles that are then manipulated manually or by electrical stimulation. It is one of the key components of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), and is among the oldest healing practices in the world. According to the traditional Chinese medicine approach, stimulating specific acupuncture points corrects imbalances in the flow of qi through channels known as meridians. Scientific investigation has not found any histological or physiological correlates for traditional Chinese concepts such as qi, meridians, and acupuncture points, and some contemporary practitioners use acupuncture needles without following the traditional Chinese approach.

Current research suggests that traditional forms of acupuncture are more effective than placebos in the relief of certain types of pain and post-operative nausea. Recent systematic reviews found that acupuncture also seems to be a promising treatment option for anxiety, sleep disturbances, and depression, but that further research is needed in these regards. Although minimally invasive, the puncturing of the skin with acupuncture needles poses problems when designing trials that adequately controls for placebo effects. A number of studies comparing traditional acupuncture to sham procedures found that both sham and traditional acupuncture were superior to usual care but were themselves equivalent; findings apparently at odds with traditional Chinese theories regarding acupuncture point specificity.

Acupuncture’s use for certain conditions has been endorsed by the United States National Institutes of Health, the National Health Service of the United Kingdom, the World Health Organization, and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Some scientists have criticized these endorsements as being unduly credulous and not including objections to or criticisms of the research used to support acupuncture’s effectiveness. There is general agreement that acupuncture is relatively safe when administered by qualified practitioners using sterile needles and carries a very low risk of serious adverse effects.

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