Acupuncture

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Acupuncture (from Lat. acus, "needle" (noun), and pungere, "prick" (verb) or in Standard Mandarin, zhēn jiǔ (針灸) is a technique of inserting and manipulating needles into "acupuncture points" on the body. According to acupunctural teachings this will restore health and well-being. The definition and characterization of these points is controversial. Acupuncture is thought to have originated in China and is most commonly associated with Traditional Chinese medicine. Other types of acupuncture (Japanese, Korean, and classical Chinese acupuncture) are practiced and taught throughout the world.

Whether acupuncture is efficacious or a placebo is subject to scientific research. There is no scientific consensus over whether or not evidence supports efficacy. Reviews of existing clinical trials have been conducted by the Cochrane Collaboration and Bandolier according to the protocols of evidence-based medicine; some reviews have found efficacy for headache and nausea, but for most conditions have concluded a lack of effectiveness or lack of well-conducted clinical trials. The World Health Organisation (WHO), the National Institute of Health (NIH), the American Medical Association (AMA) and various government reports have also commented on acupuncture. These groups disagree on what is acceptable evidence and on how to interpret it.

Acupuncture chart from the Ming dynasty

History

For a very long time, it has been thought that Acupuncture had originated in China then spread into Asia,Template:Citeneeded spawning a variety of techniques, treatment styles, and theoretical frameworks. This is until in 1991 when a 5,000-year-old mummified man was found in the Otz valley along the mountainous border between Austria and Italy. The mummy's body is remarkably well preserved and displays a complicated system of bluish-black tattoos running along its back, right knee and left ankle. A group of scientists from the University of Graz in Austria have theorized a possible relationship between the tattoos and traditional acupuncture points. Their findings, first published in The Lancet in 1999 and updated in Discover magazine in 2000, purport to show that a system of healing quite similar to traditional acupuncture may have been in use in central Europe more than 2,000 years earlier than previously believed.

In China, the practice of acupuncture can perhaps be traced as far back as the 1st millennium BC,Template:Citeneeded and archeological evidence has been identified with the period of the Han dynasty (from 202 BC to 220 AD)Template:Citeneeded. Forms of it are also described in the literature of traditional Korean medicine where it is called chimsul. It is also important in Kampo, the traditional medicine system of Japan.

Recent examinations of Ötzi, a 5000-year-old mummy found in the Alps, have identified over fifty tattoos on his body, some of which are located on acupuncture points that would today be used to treat ailments Ötzi suffered from. Some scientists believe that this is evidence that practices similar to acupuncture were practiced elsewhere in Eurasia during the early bronze age[1], [2].

Acupuncture's origins in China are uncertain. The earliest Chinese medical texts (Ma-wang-tui graves 68 BC) do not mention acupuncture. The Chinese medical text that first describes acupuncture is The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine (History of Acupuncture), which was compiled around 305–204 B.C. Some hieroglyphics have been found dating back to 1000 B.C. that may indicate an early use of acupuncture.Template:Citeneeded Bian stones, sharp pointed stones used to treat diseases in ancient times, have also been discovered in ruins (History of Acupuncture in China); some scholars believe that the bloodletting for which these stones were likely used presages certain acupuncture techniques [3].

RC Crozier in the book Traditional medicine in modern China (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1968) says the early Chinese Communist Party expressed considerable antipathy towards classical forms of Chinese medicine, ridiculing it as superstitious, irrational and backward, and claiming that it conflicted with the Party’s dedication to science as the way of progress. Acupuncture was included in this criticism. Reversing this position, Communist Party Chairman Mao later said that "Chinese medicine and pharmacology are a great treasure house and efforts should be made to explore them and raise them to a higher level"[4]. Representatives were sent out across China to collect information about the theories and practices of Chinese medicine. Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM is the formalized system of Chinese medicine that was created out of this effort. TCM combines the use of Acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, tui na and other modalities. After the Cultural Revolution, TCM instruction was incorporated into university medical curricula under the "Three Roads" policy, wherein TCM, biomedicine and a synthesis of the two would all be encouraged and permitted to develop. After this time, forms of classical Chinese medicine other than TCM were outlawed, and some practitioners left China. The first forms of acupuncture to reach the United States were brought by non-TCM practitioners, many employing styles that had been handed down in family lineages, or from master to apprentice (collectively known as "Classical Chinese Acupuncture").

Traditional theory

File:449px-Acupuncture1.jpg
Traditional acupuncture involves the use of high-quality stainless steel, silver, or copper needles

Chinese medicine is based on a different paradigm than scientific biomedicine. Its theory holds the following explanation of acupuncture:

Acupuncture treats the human body as a whole that involves several "systems of function" that are in many cases associated with (but not identified on a one-to-one basis with) physical organs. Some systems of function, such as the "triple heater" (San Jiao, also called the "triple burner") have no corresponding physical organ. Disease is understood as a loss of homeostasis among the several systems of function, and treatment of disease is attempted by modifying the activity of one or more systems of function through the activity of needles, pressure, heat, etc. on sensitive parts of the body of small volume traditionally called "acupuncture points" in English, or "xue" (穴, cavities) in Chinese. This is referred to as treating "patterns of disharmony".

The acupoints used may or may not be in the same area of the body as the targeted symptom. The TCM theory for the selection of such points and their effectiveness is that they work by stimulating the meridian system to bring about relief by rebalancing yin, yang and qi (also spelled "chi"). This theory is based on the paradigm of TCM, not that of science.

Treatment of acupuncture points may be performed along the twelve main or eight extra meridians, located throughout the body. Of the eight extra meridians, only two have acupuncture points of their own. The other six meridians are "activated" by using a master and couple point technique which involves needling the acupuncture points located on the twelve main meridians that correspond to the particular extra meridian. Ten of the main meridians are named after organs of the body (Heart, Liver, etc.), and the other two are named after so called body functions (Heart Protector or Pericardium, and San Jiao). The meridians are capitalized to avoid confusion with a physical organ (for example, we write the "Heart meridian" as opposed to the "heart meridian"). The two most important of the eight "extra" meridians are situated on the midline of the anterior and posterior aspects of the trunk and head. The twelve primary meridians run vertically, bilaterally, and symmetrically and every channel corresponds to and connects internally with one of the twelve Zang Fu ("organs"). This means that there are six yin and six yang channels. There are three yin and three yang channels on each arm, and three yin and three yang on each leg.

The three yin channels of the hand (Lung, Pericardium, and Heart) begin on the chest and travel along the inner surface (mostly the anterior portion) of the arm to the hand.

The three yang channels of the hand (Large intestine, San Jiao, and Small intestine) begin on the hand and travel along the outer surface (mostly the posterior portion) of the arm to the head.

The three yang channels of the foot (Stomach, Gallbladder, and Bladder) begin on the face, in the region of the eye, and travels down the body and along the outer surface (mostly the anterior and lateral portion) of the leg to the foot.

The three yin channels of the foot (Spleen, Liver, and Kidney) begin on the foot and travel along the inner surface (mostly posterior and medial portion) of the leg to the chest or flank.

The movement of qi through each of the twelve channels is comprised of an internal and an external pathway. The external pathway is what is normally shown on an acupuncture chart and it is relatively superficial. All the acupuncture points of a channel lie on its external pathway. The internal pathways are the deep course of the channel where it enters the body cavities and related Zang-Fu organs. The superficial pathways of the twelve channels describe three complete circuits of the body.

The distribution of qi through the meridians is said to be as follows: Lung channel of hand taiyin to Large Intestine channel of hand yangming to Stomach channel of foot yangming to Spleen channel of foot taiyin to Heart channel of hand shaoyin to Small Intestine channel of hand taiyang to Bladder channel of foot taiyang to Kidney channel of foot shaoyin to Pericardium channel of hand jueyin to San Jiao channel of hand shaoyang to Gallbladder channel of foot shaoyang to Liver channel of foot jueyin then back to the Lung channel of hand taiyin

Chinese medical theory holds that acupuncture works by normalizing the balance of qi "vital energy" throughout the body. Pain or illnesses are treated by attempting to remedy local or systemic accumulations or deficiencies of qi. Pain is considered to indicate blockage or stagnation of the flow of qi, and an axiom of the medical literature of acupuncture is "no pain, no blockage; no blockage, no pain".

Many patients claim to experience the sensations of stimulus known in Chinese as "deqi" (得氣 "obtaining the qi"). This kind of sensation was historically considered to be evidence of effectively locating the desired point. There are some electronic devices now available which will make a noise when what they have been programmed to describe as the "correct" acupuncture point is pressed.

The acupuncturist decides which points to treat by questioning the patient to make a diagnosis according to the tradition which he or she utilizes. In Traditional Chinese Medicine these include observation of the left and right radial pulses at three levels of imposed pressure and analysis of the tongue coating, color and the absence or presence of teeth marks around the edge. Other forms of acupuncture employ additional diagnosic techniques. In many forms of classical Chinese acupuncture, as well as Japanese acupuncture, palpation of the muscles and the hara (abdomen) are central to diagnosis.

There are also theories being developed to explain effects observed for acupuncture within the orthodox Western medical paradigm.

Categories of acupuncture points

Certain acupuncture points are ascribed different functions according to different systems within the TCM framework.

  • Five Transporting Points system describes the flow of qi in the channels using a river analogy, and ascribes function to points along this flowline according to their location. This system describes qi bubbling up from a spring and gradually growing in depth and breadth like a river flowing down from a mountain to the sea.
  • Jing-well points represent the place where the qi "bubbles" up. These points are always the first points on the yang channels or last points on the yin channels and with exception of Kid-1 YongQuan all points are located on the tips of fingers and toes. The Nan Jing and Nei Jing described jing-well points as indicated for "fullness below the heart" (feeling of fullness in the epigastric or hypochondrium regions) and disorders of the zang organs (yang organs).
  • Ying-spring points are where the qi "glides" down the channel. The Nan Jing and Nei Jing described ying-spring points as indicated for heat in the body and change in complexion.
  • Shu-stream points are where the qi "pours" down the channel. Shu-stream points are indicated for heaviness in the body and pain in the joints, and for intermittent diseases.
  • Jing-river points are where the qi "flows" down the channel. Jing-river points are indicated for cough and dyspnoea, chills and fever, diseases manifesting as changes in voice, and for diseases of the sinews and bones.
  • He-sea points are where the qi collects and begins to head deeper into the body. He-sea points are indicated for counterflow qi and diarrhea, and for disorders resulting from irregular eating and drinking.
  • Five Phase Points ascribe each of the five phases - wood, fire, earth, metal and water - to one of the Five Transporting points. On the yin channels, the jing-well points are wood points, the ying-spring points are fire, shu-stream points are earth, jing-river points are metal, he-sea points are water points. On the yang channels, the jing-well points are metal, ying-spring are water, shu-stream are wood, jing-river points are fire and he-sea points are earth points. These point categories are then implemented according to Five Phase theory in order to approach the treatment of disease.
  • Xi-cleft points are the point on the channel where the qi and blood gather and plunge more deeply. These points are indicated in acute situations and for painful conditions.
  • Yuan-source points are points on the channel from where the yuan qi can be accessed.
  • Luo-connecting points are located at the point on the channel where the luo meridian diverges. Each of the twelve meridians have a luo point that diverges from the main meridian. There are also three extra luo channels that diverge at Sp-21, Ren-15 and Du-1.
  • Back-shu points lie on the paraspinal muscles either side of the spine. Theory says that the qi of each organ is transported to and from these points, and can be influenced by them.
  • Front-mu points are located in close proximity to the respective organ. They have a direct effect on the organ itself but not on the associated channel.
  • Hui-meeting points are a category of points that are considered to have a "special effect" on certain tissues and organs. The hui-meeting points are:
  • zang organs - Liv-13 Zhang Men
  • fu organs - Ren-12 Zhong Fu
  • qi - Ren-17 Shang Fu
  • blood - Bl-17 Ge Shu
  • sinews - GB-34 Yang Ling Quan
  • vessels - Lu-9 Tai Yuan
  • bone - Bl11 Da Zhu
  • marrow - GB-39 Xuan Zhong

TCM perspective on treatment of disease

Although TCM is based on the treatment of "patterns of disharmony" rather than biomedical diagnoses, practitioners familiar with both systems have commented on relationships between the two. A given TCM pattern of disharmony may be reflected in a certain range of biomedical diagnoses: thus, the pattern called Deficiency of Spleen Qi could manifest as chronic fatigue, diarrhea or uterine prolapse. Likewise, a population of patients with a given biomedical diagnosis may have varying TCM patterns. These observations are encapsulated in the TCM aphorism "One disease, many patterns; one pattern, many diseases". (Kaptchuk, 1982)

In 1979, an interregional seminar in Beijing sponsored by World Health Organization drew up the following provisional list of diseases that lend themselves to acupuncture treatment. The compilers of the list stated that "(t)he list is based on clinical experience, and not necessarily on controlled clinical research: furthermore, the inclusion of specific diseases are not meant to indicate the extent of acupuncture's efficacy in treating them" [5].

This list is based on TCM and not on science. Since 1979, large, randomized controlled studies have for the most part failed to demonstrate acupuncture's efficacy for these conditions. Thus, this list is not a scientific endorsement of efficacy, but rather reflects of the clinical experience of TCM practitioners. These indications are still taught in TCM curricula in China, the United States, Great Britain and elsewhere. Classically, "(i)n clinical practice, acupuncture treatment is typically highly-individualized and based on philosophical constructs, and subjective and intuitive impressions" and not on controlled scientific research [6].

Upper respiratory tract
  • Acute sinusitis
  • Acute rhinitis
  • Common Cold
  • Acute tonsillitis
Respiratory system
  • Acute bronchitis
  • Bronchial asthma (most effective in children and in patients without complicating diseases)
Disorders of the eye
  • Acute conjunctivitis
  • Central retinitis
  • Myopia (in children)
  • Cataract (without complications)
Disorders of the mouth
  • Toothache, post-extraction pain
  • Gingivitis
  • Acute and chronic pharyogitis
Gastro-intestinal disorders
  • Spasms of esophagus and cardia
  • Hiccough
  • Gastroptosis
  • Acute and chronic gastritis
  • Gastric hyperacidity
  • Chronic duodenal ulcer (pain relief)
  • Acute duodenal ulcer (without complications)
  • Acute and chronic colitis
  • Acute bacillary dysentery
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Paralytic ileus
Neurological and musculo-skeletal disorders
  • Headache and migraine
  • Trigeminal neuralgia
  • Facial palsy (early stage, i.e., within three to six months)
  • Pareses following a stroke
  • Peripheral neuropathies
  • Sequelae of poliomyelitis (early stage, i.e., within six months)
  • Meniere's disease
  • Neurogenic bladder dysfunction
  • Nocturnal enuresis
  • Intercosral neuralgia
  • Cervicobrachial syndrome
  • "Frozen shoulder," "tennis elbow"
  • Sciatica
  • Low back pain
  • Osteoarthritis

Criticism of TCM theory

TCM theory is not based on science. Philosopher Robert Todd Carroll deemed acupuncture a pseudoscience because it "confuse(s) metaphysical claims with empirical claims".[7] Carroll states that:

...no matter how it is done, scientific research can never demonstrate that unblocking chi by acupuncture or any other means is effective against any disease. Chi is defined as being undetectable by the methods of empirical science.[8]

A report for CSICOP on pseudoscience in China written by by Wallace Sampson and Barry L. Beyerstein said:

A few Chinese scientists we met maintained that although Qi is merely a metaphor, it is still a useful physiological abstraction (e.g., that the related concepts of Yin and Yang parallel modern scientific notions of endocrinologic and metabolic feedback mechanisms). They see this as a useful way to unite Eastern and Western medicine. Their more hard-nosed colleagues quietly dismissed Qi as only a philosophy, bearing no tangible relationship to modern physiology and medicine.[9]

Stephen Barrett, founder of the website Quackwatch.org, writes:

"Chinese medicine," often called "Oriental medicine" or "traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)," encompasses a vast array of folk medical practices based on mysticism. It holds that the body's vital energy (chi or qi) circulates through channels, called meridians, that have branches connected to bodily organs and functions. ... Most acupuncturists espouse the traditional Chinese view of health and disease and consider acupuncture, herbal medicine, and related practices to be valid approaches to the full gamut of disease. Others reject the traditional approach and merely claim that acupuncture offers a simple way to achieve pain relief. Some acupuncturists ... claim that acupuncture can be used to treat conditions when the patient just "doesn't feel right," even though no disease is apparent.
In 1995, George A. Ulett, M.D., Ph.D., Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, University of Missouri School of Medicine, stated that "devoid of metaphysical thinking, acupuncture becomes a rather simple technique that can be useful as a nondrug method of pain control." He believes that the traditional Chinese variety is primarily a placebo treatment, but electrical stimulation of about 80 acupuncture points has been proven useful for pain control.[10]

Ted Kaptchuk, author of The Web That Has No Weaver, refers to acupuncture as "prescientific". Regarding TCM theory, Kaptchuk states:

These ideas are cultural and speculative constructs that provide orientation and direction for the practical patient situation. There are few secrets of Oriental wisdom buried here. When presented outside the context of Chinese civilization, or of practical diagnosis and therapeutics, these ideas are fragmented and without great significance. The "truth" of these ideas lies in the way the physician can use them to treat real people with real complaints. (1983, pp.34-35)

According to the NIH consensus statement on acupuncture:

Despite considerable efforts to understand the anatomy and physiology of the "acupuncture points", the definition and characterization of these points remains controversial. Even more elusive is the basis of some of the key traditional Eastern medical concepts such as the circulation of Qi, the meridian system, and the five phases theory, which are difficult to reconcile with contemporary biomedical information but continue to play an important role in the evaluation of patients and the formulation of treatment in acupuncture.[11]

Legal and political status

Acupuncturists may also practice herbal medicine or tui na, or may be medical acupuncturists, who are trained in allopathic medicine but also practice acupuncture in a simplified form. Acupuncturists who are not Western medical practitioners usually complete three years of acupuncture school, with a fourth year often required for those who wish to practice herbal medicine. License is regulated by the state or province in many countries, and often requires passage of a board exam.

In the United States, acupuncturists are generally referred to by the professional title "Licensed Acupuncturist", abbreviated "L.Ac.". The abbreviation "Dipl. Ac." stands for "Diplomate of Acupuncture" and signifies that the holder is board-certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Professional degrees are usually at the level of a Master's degree and include "M.Ac." (Master's in Acupuncture), "M.S.Ac." (Master's of Science in Acupuncture), "M.S.O.M" (Master's of Science in Oriental Medicine), "M.A.O.M." (Master's of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine). "O.M.D." signifies Oriental Medical Doctor, and may be used by graduates of Chinese medical schools, or by American graduates of postgraduate programs. (However, the OMD degree is not currently recognized by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, which accredits American educational programs in acupuncture).

In the USA, acupuncture is practiced by a variety of healthcare providers. Practitioners who specialize in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine are usually referred to as "licensed acupuncturists", or L.Ac.'s. Other healthcare providers such as physicians, dentists and chiropractors sometimes also practice acupuncture, though they may often receive less training than L.Ac.'s. L.Ac.'s generally receive from 2500 to 4000 hours of training in Chinese medical theory, acupuncture, and basic biosciences. Some also receive training in Chinese herbology and/or bodywork. The amount of training required for healthcare providers who are not L.Ac.'s varies from none to a few hundred hours, and in Hawaii the practice of acupuncture requires full training as a licensed acupuncturist. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine tests practitioners to ensure they are knowledgeable about Chinese medicine and appropriate sterile technique. Many states require this test for licensing, but each state has its own laws and requirements. In some states, acupuncturists are required to work with an M.D. in a subservient relationship, even if the M.D. has no training in acupuncture.

Acupuncture is becoming accepted by the general public and by doctors. Over fifteen million Americans in 1994 tried acupuncture. A poll of American doctors in 2005 showed that 60% believe acupuncture was at least somewhat effective, with the percentage increasing to 75% if acupuncture is considered as a complement to conventional treatment [12].

In Australia, the legalities of practicing acupuncture also vary by state. In 2000, an independent government agency was established to oversee the practice of Chinese Herbal Medicine and Acupuncture in the state of Victoria. The Chinese Medicine Registration Board of Victoria [13] aims to protect the public, ensuring that only appropriately experienced or qualified practitioners are registered to practice Chinese Medicine. The legislation put in place stipulates that only practitioners who are state registered may use the following titles: Acupuncture, Chinese Medicine, Chinese Herbal Medicine, Registered Acupuncturist, Registered Chinese Medicine Practitioner, and Registered Chinese Herbal Medicine Practitioner.

In the United Kingdom, British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) members observe the Code of Safe Practice with standards of hygiene and sterilisation of equipment. Members use single-use pre-sterilised disposable needles. Similar standards apply in most jurisdictions in the United States and Australia.

In Ontario, Canada bill #50 defines "Traditional Chinese Medicine" (TCM) and includes standards for accreditation. It may become law.

In the province of British Columbia the TCM practitioners and Acupuncturists Bylaws were approved by the provincial government on April 12, 2001. The governing body, College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of British Columbia provides professional licensing. Acupuncturists began lobbying the B.C. government in the 1970s for regulation of the profession which was achieved in 2003.

Many other countries do not license acupuncturists or require they be trained.

Clinical practice

Most modern acupuncturists use disposable stainless steel needles of fine diameter (0.007" to 0.020", 0.18mm to 0.51 mm), sterilized with ethylene oxide or by autoclave. The upper third of these needles is wound with a thicker wire (typically bronze), or covered in plastic, to stiffen the needle and provide a handle for the acupuncturist to grasp while inserting. The size and type of needle used, and the depth of insertion, depend on the acupuncture style being practiced.

Warming an acupuncture point, typically by moxibustion (the burning of mugwort), is a different treatment than acupuncture itself and is often, but not exclusively, used as a supplementing treatment. The Chinese term zhēn jǐu (針灸), commonly used to refer to acupuncture, comes from zhen meaning "needle", and jiu meaning "moxibustion". Moxibustion is still used in the 21st century to varying degrees among the schools of oriental medicine. For example, one well known technique is to insert the needle at the desired acupuncture point, attach dried mugwort to the external end of an acupuncture needle, and then ignite the mugwort. The mugwort will then smolder for several minutes (depending on the amount adhered to the needle) and conduct heat through the needle to the tissue surrounding the needle in the patient's body. Another common technique is to hold a large glowing stick of moxa over the needles. Moxa is also sometimes burned at the skin surface, usually by applying an ointment to the skin to protect from burns.

An example of acupuncture treatment

In western medicine, vascular headaches (the kind that are accompanied by throbbing veins in the temples) are typically treated with analgesics such as aspirin and/or by the use of agents such as niacin that dilate the affected blood vessels in the scalp, but in acupuncture a common treatment for such headaches is to stimulate the sensitive points that are located roughly in the center of the webs between the thumbs and the palms of the patient, the hé gǔ points. These points are described by acupuncture theory as "targeting the face and head" and are considered to be the most important point when treating disorders affecting the face and head. The patient reclines, and the points on each hand are first sterilized with alcohol, and then thin, disposable needles are inserted to a depth of approximately 3-5 mm until a characteristic "twinge" is felt by the patient, often accompanied by a slight twitching of the muscle between the thumb and hand. Most patients report a pleasurable "tingling" sensation and feeling of relaxation while the needles are in place. The needles are retained for 15-20 minutes while the patient rests, and then are removed.

In the clinical practice of acupuncturists, patients frequently report one or more of certain kinds of sensation that are associated with this treatment, sensations that are stronger than those that would be felt by a patient not suffering from a vascular headache:

  1. Extreme sensitivity to pain at the points in the webs of the thumbs.
  2. In bad headaches, a feeling of nausea that persists for roughly the same period as the stimulation being administered to the webs of the thumbs.
  3. Simultaneous relief of the headache. (See Zhen Jiu Xue, p. 177f et passim.)

Scientific research

Evidence-based medicine

There is scientific agreement that an evidence-based medicine (EBM) framework should be used to assess health outcomes and that systematic reviews with strict protocols are essential. Organisations such as the Cochrane Collaboration and Bandolier publish such reviews.

For the following conditions, the Cochrane Collaboration concluded there is insufficient evidence that acupuncture is beneficial, often because of the paucity and poor quality of the research and that further research would be needed to support claims for efficacy:

For headache, Cochrane concluded that "(o)verall, the existing evidence supports the value of acupuncture for the treatment of idiopathic headaches. However, the quality and amount of evidence are not fully convincing. There is an urgent need for well-planned, large-scale studies to assess the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of acupuncture under real-life conditions." [14]. Bandolier states: "There is no evidence from high quality trials that acupuncture is effective for the treatment of migraine and other forms of headache. The trials showing a significant benefit of acupuncture were of dubious methodological quality. Overall, the trials were of poor methodological quality."[15]

For nausea and vomiting: The Cochrane review on the use of the P6 acupoint for the reduction of post-operative nausea and vomiting concluded that "compared with anti emetic prophylaxis, P6 acupoint stimulation seems to reduce the risk of nausea but not vomiting" [16]. Bandolier said “P6 acupressure in two studies showed 52% of patients with control having a success, compared with 75% with P6 acupressure."[17]and that one in five adults, but not children showed reduction in early postoperative nausea[18]. A review published by the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, however, argued that [19], at the time of writing (2005) the data 'are insufficiently reliable to confirm such an effect'.

According to Cochrane: "Electroacupuncture is effective for first day vomiting after chemotherapy, but trials considering modern antivomiting drugs are needed." [20].

Bandolier also stated: [21] "There were no high quality trials of acupuncture for stroke that showed that it was beneficial."

In practice, EBM does not demand that doctors ignore research outside its "top-tier" criteria [22].

NIH consensus statement

In 1997, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued a consensus statement on acupuncture that concluded that

there is sufficient evidence of acupuncture's value to expand its use into conventional medicine and to encourage further studies of its physiology and clinical value[23].

The statement was not a policy statement of the NIH [24] but rather the assessment of a panel whose impartiality has been questioned by members of the The National Council Against Health Fraud (NCAHF) [25]. (The NCAHF has itself been accused of bias [26], and two of their lawsuits against alternative medicine advocates were dismissed by courts as SLAPP-suits[27] [28] [29].)

The NIH consensus statement said that

the data in support of acupuncture are as strong as those for many accepted Western medical therapies

and added that

there is clear evidence that needle acupuncture is efficacious for adult postoperative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting and probably for the nausea of pregnancy... There is reasonable evidence of efficacy for postoperative dental pain... reasonable studies (although sometimes only single studies) showing relief of pain with acupuncture on diverse pain conditions such as menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, and fibromyalgia...

The NIH consensus statement summarized and made a prediction:

Acupuncture as a therapeutic intervention is widely practiced in the United States. While there have been many studies of its potential usefulness, many of these studies provide equivocal results because of design, sample size, and other factors. The issue is further complicated by inherent difficulties in the use of appropriate controls, such as placebos and sham acupuncture groups. However, promising results have emerged, for example, showing efficacy of acupuncture in adult postoperative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting and in postoperative dental pain. There are other situations such as addiction, stroke rehabilitation, headache, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and asthma, in which acupuncture may be useful as an adjunct treatment or an acceptable alternative or be included in a comprehensive management program. Further research is likely to uncover additional areas where acupuncture interventions will be useful.

The NIH's National Center For Complementary And Alternative Medicine continues to abide by the recommendations of the NIH Consensus Statement [30].

American Medical Association statement

In 1997, the following statement was adopted as policy of the American Medical Association (AMA) after a report on a number of alternative therapies including acupuncture:[31]

"There is little evidence to confirm the safety or efficacy of most alternative therapies. Much of the information currently known about these therapies makes it clear that many have not been shown to be efficacious. Well-designed, stringently controlled research should be done to evaluate the efficacy of alternative therapies."

A note on scientific methodology and acupuncture

One of the major criticisms of studies which purport to find that acupuncture is anything more than a placebo is that most such studies are not (in the view of critics) properly conducted. Many are not double blinded and are not randomised. However, double-blinding is not a trivial issue in acupuncture: since acupuncture is a procedure and not a pill, it is difficult to design studies in which the person providing treatment is blinded as to the treatment being given. The same problem arises in double-blinding procedures used in biomedicine, including virtually all surgical procedures, dentistry, physical therapy, etc.; the NIH Consensus Statement notes such issues with regard to sham acupuncture, a technique often used in studies purporting to be double-blinded. See also Criticism of evidence-based medicine. Tonelli, a prominent critic of EBM, argues that complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) cannot be EBM-based unless the definition of evidence is changed. Tonelli also says "the methods of developing knowledge within CAM currently have limitations and are subject to bias and varied interpretation. CAM must develop and defend a rational and coherent method for assessing causality and efficacy, though not necessarily one based on the results of controlled clinical trials." [32].

Safety and risks

Because acupuncture needles penetrate the skin, many forms of acupuncture are invasive procedures, and therefore not without risk. However, injuries are rare among patients treated by trained practitioners. Forms of acupuncture such as the Japanese Tōyōhari and Shōnishin often use non-invasive techniques, in which specially-designed needles are rubbed or pressed against the skin. These methods are common in Japanese pediatric use.

Hematoma may result from accidental puncture of any circulatory structure. Nerve injury can result from the accidental puncture of any nerve. Brain damage or stroke is possible with very deep needling at the base of the skull. Also rare but possible is pneumothorax from deep needling into the lung, and kidney damage from deep needling in the low back. Needling over an occult sternal foramen (an undetectable hole in the breastbone which can occur in up to 10% of people) may result in a potentially fatal haemopericardium.

Certain acupuncture points have been shown to stimulate the production of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and oxytocin; these points are contraindicated for use on pregnant women to avoid inducing abortion or harming the fetus.

The Parliamentary Committee on the Health Care Complaints Commission in the Australian state of New South Wales commissioned a report investigating Traditional Chinese medicine practice. [33] They recommended the introduction of a government appointed registration board that would regulate the profession by restricting use of the titles "acupuncturist", "Chinese herbal medicine practitioner" and "Chinese medicine practitioner". The aim of registration is to protect the public from the risks of acupuncture by ensuring a high baseline level of competency and education of registered acupuncturists, enforcing guidelines regarding continuing professional education and investigating complaints of practitioner conduct. The registration board will hold more power than local councils in respect to enforcing compliance with legal requirements and investigating and punishing misconduct. Victoria is the only state of Australia with an operational registration board. [34] Currently acupuncturists in NSW are bound by the guidelines in the Public Health (Skin Penetration) Regulation 2000 [35]which is enforced at local council level. Other states of Australia have their own skin penetration acts. The act describes explicitly that single-use disposable needles should be used wherever possible, and that a needle labelled as "single-use" should be disposed of in a sharps container and never reused. Any other type of needle that penetrates the skin should be appropriately sterilised (by autoclave) before reuse.

The report noted that:

Environmental Health Team leaders classified acupuncture as a high-risk area. Procedures like bloodletting were being performed in one council area using un-sterilised needles. Other breaches of a serious nature include the re-use of single use needles. and - - :The evidence provided by City of Sydney Council concerning their results of their regular hygiene inspections convinced the Committee that the public would best be protected by leaving acupuncturists under local council jurisdiction until the profession as a whole has been upgraded to higher clinical and professional standards.[36]

Dr Stephen Li, Senior Vice President of the Australian Chinese Medical Association, in supporting the recommendations of the report, said:

we often have to deal with patients who develop very serious adverse side effects because of TCM or other herbal medicine … most of the complaints that we receive from the Chinese Australian community are that they have been victimised, they have been ripped off by people who claim to be TCM practitioners … Some of these patients have terminal illnesses and they rip them off before they die.[37]

The NIH consensus panel said:

"Adverse side effects of acupuncture are extremely low and often lower than conventional treatments."

and

"the incidence of adverse effects is substantially lower than that of many drugs or other accepted medical procedures used for the same condition. For example, musculoskeletal conditions, such as fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, and tennis elbow... are conditions for which acupuncture may be beneficial. These painful conditions are often treated with, among other things, anti-inflammatory medications (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.) or with steroid injections. Both medical interventions have a potential for deleterious side effects but are still widely used and are considered acceptable treatments."

Needles that are not properly sterilized can transfer diseases such as HIV and hepatitis. Most acupuncturists in the USA use sterile one-time-use needles (rather than resterilizing needles after use). In 1996, the Food and Drug Administration changed the status of acupuncture needles from Class III to Class II medical devices, meaning that needles are regarded as safe and effective when used appropriately by licensed practitioners [38] [39].

See also

External links

Professional organizations and advocacy sites

Regulatory organizations

Criticism

UK Schools

Bibliography

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