5 health conditions helped by acupuncture
This ancient therapy has been found to calm and relax its patients. Here are five more conditions that may be improved with acupuncture treatments
The benefits of acupuncture
Of all the natural treatments available out there, acupuncture – an ancient Chinese therapy that involves using tiny needles – is one of the most studied and has proven success for a wide array of medical concerns. Traditional practitioners say these special needles work with your natural energy channels to either calm or energize different parts of the body and help the body heal itself. Modern scientific research confirms that these energy channels do work and that acupuncture works with the body’s nervous system.
Acupuncture shouldn’t hurt; in fact, most people find it the opposite. “They leave feeling really relaxed and calm; it’s a natural byproduct of the treatment,” says Angela Foran, a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine from Vancouver.
Here are five different conditions that you might consider trying acupuncture for:
Acupuncture has a studied track record in treating neck tension, low back pain and headaches. It’s also used to help ease pain and increase mobility after an injury or accident. “It encourages cortisol to come into painful spots, it helps mobilize joints, creating some movement, and it helps relax and release muscles,” says Gayle Hulme, owner of Lakeview Physiotherapy & Acupuncture in Calgary. Acupuncture’s ability to help pain has inspired many trained physiotherapists such as Hulme to incorporate it into their practices.
Sometimes, the needles will go to the pain site to help relax a muscle or make a weak one perk up and begin working again. Practitioners also look to other places in the body that might be feeding the pain – such as tight feet or shoulders throwing off the spine – and treat there.
We get an allergic reaction when our immune system kicks into overdrive in response to some pollen or cat dander. Foran specializes in using acupuncture to calm that immune reaction and also help symptoms like a runny nose and puffy eyes. “I can help relieve symptoms, but I’m also trying to create harmony between the different systems of the body,” she says.
Foran suggests her clients come in just before their worst time of year for seasonal allergies. She zeros in on certain points on the face to help congestion, while points on the hands and legs work with overall balancing of the body. Her success with allergies is backed up by clinical studies. A 2008 trial of more than 5,000 people out of Germany found those with allergic rhinitis (an inflamed and runny nose due to allergies) getting 15 acupuncture treatments had better symptom control than those who didn’t have acupuncture.
3. Mental Health
A good acupuncture treatment by a trained professional will leave you, by the end, deeply relaxed. That’s what makes it such a great stress reliever and a natural choice for those who need to calm down or cope with concerns such as insomnia. But its effects go deeper – acupuncture can help many mental health concerns such as problems with addiction and depression.
In particular, Foran has had good success treating anxiety. In her office, she uses many acupuncture points, particularly those on the ear, to help her patients overcome anxious feelings.
But since she can’t be with her clients during attacks, she has a way of having them help themselves. She either tapes tiny plant seeds to points on their ear or uses acupuncture tacks, which are tiny needles that stay in place – the person can touch them during an anxious moment to trigger a calming reaction.
The calming effects of acupuncture, along with its ability to wake up body parts that are not working well and calm those down that are inflamed, make it a perfect match for digestive concerns. Many people come to acupuncture seeking help for other concerns and mention issues such as stomach problems, constipation or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as a secondary concern. Foran says acupuncturists often treat a few issues at once and clients feel better when their systems, including the digestive one, are in better harmony thanks to acupuncture needles.
As well, Hulme specializes in combining acupuncture with physiotherapy exercises to help pelvic concerns such as urinary incontinence. Needles are never used in the pelvic area itself, but on other points in the body that support strengthening pelvic floor muscles.
Increasingly, fertility doctors are recommending acupuncture either on its own, or to boost the effectiveness of intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in-vitro fertilization (IVF). “Acupuncture works for fertility by rebalancing the body, which includes rebalancing your hormones, your circulation and your metabolism,” says Linda Xu, an acupuncturist with Total Wellness Centre in Toronto, a clinic that specializes in acupuncture for fertility. Needles for this treatment might go in the belly, but also in the feet, knees, head and hands. (Acupuncture can also help guys with sperm problems that impede fertility.)
While acupuncture for fertility is customized based on your concern – be it an unexplained problem, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), premature ovarian failure or recurring miscarriages – practitioners have a standard protocol for helping during IVF. That usually includes treatment for a few months in advance, then once before egg retrieval, once after, once after the egg’s been transferred to the uterus and then twice a week until 13 weeks into a pregnancy.