Last Updated on February 18, 2021 by
Acupuncture’s history extends thousands of years to the Stone Age, when primitive medical practitioners used sharpened tools to drain abscesses and stop infections. During the Ming Dynasty in ancient China,* medical practitioners refined the practice of acupuncture, using very thin sterilized needles to activate specific pressure points on the human body. The practice eventually reached Japan and slowly spread across the known world, first appearing in European medical records in the early 1800s.
Today, acupuncture remains a viable and trusted holistic treatment for various medical ailments without the use of addictive substances or invasive procedures. In 1995 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officially recognized acupuncture needles as medical devices. In 1997, the National Institute of Health (NIH) officially acknowledged acupuncture as a viable therapy for various medical conditions, and more than 40 states have official licensing programs for aspiring acupuncturists.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
The human nervous system is extraordinarily complex, composed of a vast network of nerves and nerve endings spanning almost the entire human body. Different points on the body interact with other points in various ways, and acupuncture effectively opens these communication channels to help stressed nerves and address pain in various parts of the body. Acupuncture needles barely penetrate the skin, and most people who undergo the procedure feel little to no sensation at all as the acupuncturist applies each needle carefully to specific target areas of the body.In traditional Chinese medicine, the belief behind acupuncture is that the needles restore the body’s natural flow of spiritual energy, commonly called “chi,” “ki,” or “qi.”
Effective Alternative to Addictive Painkillers
Modern medicine acknowledges that acupuncture gently manipulates neurohormonal pathways,** effectively restoring healthy nerve function and improving blood flow.
In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncturists believed that the needles released the body’s qi from blocked points on the body, restoring the flow of qi to “meridians,” or qi centers within the body. Restoring qi flow improves overall health, diminishes pain symptoms, and provides a reliable and relatively safe alternative to addictive painkillers.
How Effective Is Acupuncture?
The Archives of Internal Medicine conducted a meta-study of 29 different well-conducted medical studies with over 18,000 participants concerning the safety and efficacy of acupuncture, and the conclusion of this meta-analysis was that acupuncture is a reasonably effective treatment for chronic pain.
Most doctors who practice outside the realm of traditional Chinese medicine still doubt the healing power of acupuncture and put little stock in supposedly faith-based treatments. Acupuncture is not a placebo, however. While those who believe strongly in natural healing techniques may find the practice more effective than very skeptical patients, these same differences exist in many conventional treatments. Many modern western doctors would not prescribe acupuncture as a first treatment option for specific diseases, but they would likely approve of the use of acupuncture in coordination with other treatments or as an alternative treatment for drug-resistant conditions.
Acupuncture As An Opioid Alternative
In light of the ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States, many medical professionals have acknowledged that acupuncture could prove a useful and effective alternative to dangerous opioid medications for treating chronic pain. Many of the people who suffer from opioid addictions and overdoses do not fit the usual profile of a drug user. Many of them suffered sports-related injuries, workplace accidents, or car accident injuries requiring surgery. Individuals who develop chronic pain of any kind may need pain management and then become addicted without realizing it before it is too late.
Modern interpretations of acupuncture revolve around its neurohormonal properties. Essentially, activating a nerve with an acupuncture needle triggers a hormonal response in the brain. People undergoing acupuncture may feel slight sensations of euphoria and relaxation thanks to the brain’s release of beta-Endorphins and other neurotransmitters. This effectively increases the patient’s pain threshold and diminishes pain sensations.
The main benefit of acupuncture procedures as opioid alternatives is that the acupuncture process itself does not introduce any chemicals into the patient’s body. The placement of the needles activates the body’s natural hormones and healing process. Acupuncture relieves stress, reduces inflammation, and improves mood without any chemical introduction into the patient’s body. This fact alone means that anyone struggling with chronic pain should consider the potential healing power of acupuncture as a potent alternative to dangerous opioid medications.
Potential Risks of Acupuncture
The risks of acupuncture are minimal as long as a patient visits a licensed and experienced acupuncturist. Unlicensed practitioners may cause nerve damage to patients or surface wounds from mishandling needles. Additionally, unlicensed and shoddy practitioners may mistakenly use damaged or degraded needles that injure patients. Modern acupuncture considers single-use sterile needles the standard for safe acupuncture treatment. Any facility that reuses needles risks severe patient harm, even if they use thorough sterilization procedures. Repeated use of acupuncture needles can erode the needles and impair proper function.
When done correctly by an experienced acupuncturist, acupuncture rarely causes any adverse side effects or negative symptoms. Some patients may experience very mild surface bleeding, bruising, or soreness but these symptoms usually fade very quickly.
Why Choose Acupuncture Over Opioids?
Anyone currently taking opioid pain medications must acknowledge the risks these substances entail, especially with repeated use.
Risks of taking opioids include:
- Opioids can create a dependency after only a few doses.
- Patients may not fully understand the risk of addiction that accompanies opioid medications.
- Opioid dependency is one of the most dangerous forms of addiction.
- Opioid addiction carries a very high risk of overdose and death, and the risk increases the longer the addiction continues.
- Opioid users eventually develop tolerance to opioids, requiring larger doses to feel the desired effects.
Acupuncture does not involve introducing any chemicals into the body. It is an entirely holistic process with thousands of years of history behind it, and it continues to be a trusted pain management treatment to this day. Acupuncture can help various medical conditions, so consider how it may benefit your unique medical situation and function as an alternative for potentially dangerous opioid drugs.