Western acupuncture (or dry needling) is the use of acupuncture after an assessment and diagnosis. It is based on scientific evidence that shows the treatment can stimulate nerves under the skin and in muscle tissue. This results in the body producing pain-relieving substances, such as endorphins. It is likely these substances are responsible for any beneficial effects seen with this form of acupuncture.
Traditional acupuncture is based on the belief that an energy, or “life force”, flows through the body in channels called meridians. This life force is known as Qi (pronounced “chee”). Practitioners who adhere to traditional beliefs about acupuncture believe that when Qi does not flow freely through the body, this can cause illness. They also believe acupuncture can restore the flow of Qi, and so restore health.
Acupuncture for Pain
It is often used to treat pain conditions such as headaches, lower back pain and osteoarthritis, but is also sometimes used in an attempt to help people with conditions ranging from infertility to anxiety and asthma. Pain or musculoskeletal complaints account for seven of the top ten conditions for which individuals use acupuncture. Currently, the most common pain conditions treated with acupuncture are;
Migraines and Headaches
A research review published in 2009 suggests that acupuncture is at least as effective as, or possibly more effective than, medication in protecting against migraines, while another review from the same year shows that acupuncture may be beneficial for people with frequent episodic or chronic tension headaches.
Research indicates that acupuncture may be useful for people with osteoarthritis (especially osteoarthritis of the knee). In a 2007 review and meta-analysis, for instance, researchers concluded that acupuncture administered in an intensive two- to four-week treatment regimen may offer significant short-term relief of osteoarthritis-related knee pain.
Low Back Pain
In a 2009 study of 638 adults with chronic lower back pain, participants undergoing 10 acupuncture sessions (administered over the course of seven weeks) had greater improvement in symptoms than those who received standard care. One year after treatment, study members in the acupuncture group were also more likely to show significant improvements in dysfunction, clinical trials have shown that acupuncture effectively relieves chronic low back pain.
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends acupuncture for these types of conditions on the basis of scientific evidence.