Acupuncture Really Relieves Pain, Study Finds

By Amir Khan on September 12, 2012 10:14 AM EDT

Acupuncture
Acupuncture may seem like a scary idea, but according to a new study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, it actually works. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Acupuncture may seem like a scary idea, but according to a new study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, it actually works. Researchers found that the ancient Chinese technique of putting needles into key places on the body is effective at relieving pain from headaches, arthritis and a host of other problems.

"In general, we were interested in acupuncture because clearly it's very controversial," Dr. Andrew Vickers, study author, told ABC News. "It comes from and involves ideas that aren't found in conventional books of anatomy and physiology."

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While some people believe acupuncture to simply be a placebo, researchers found that's not the case. They randomly assigned patients to acupuncture and fake acupuncture, in which the needles were randomly placed on the body, and found that people who underwent traditional acupuncture reported significantly less pain.

"There is now a solid evidence base for referring patients for acupuncture," Vickers said.

However, some specialists still aren't convinced.

"The problem with acupuncture is that it doesn't last very long; it's like taking a pill," Dr. Joshua Prager, a board-certified pain specialist at UCLA, told ABC News. "I do see it as something worth trying, but it only works in a small percentage of my patients."

Researchers are still unsure of the exact mechanism of how acupuncture relieves pain, but Dr. Jun Mao, a licensed physician and acupuncturist at the University of Pennsylvania, said part of it is mental.

"I think [acupuncture] can help patients regain some sense of control in managing their own illness, help them relax and shift focus away from their pain," he said.

Regardless of how it works, researchers said it should be considered a viable option for people with chronic pain. Some insurance companies even cover it.

"We are significantly closer to understanding how this complex and controversial intervention may help to achieve pain relief, including the specific effects of needling as well as ritual surrounding it," Dr. Josephine P. Briggs, director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, told CBS News.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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