Page 6 2011-12 Summer
Spotlight on… acupuncture
What is it?
Acupuncture involves inserting very fine needles into specific points (acupoints) on the skin. As part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acupuncture aims to heal various ailments and conditions by restoring balance to the body’s energy flow (Qi, pronounced ‘chee’).
Will it hurt?
Acupuncture needles are much finer than ordinary hypodermic needles, (0.2mm wide) and should not cause any pain when inserted correctly. Often the only sensation you may feel is a slight discomfort. Naturopath Sandra Villella, who has a Masters of Applied Science degree in acupuncture, says, “I often tell my patients that it is not ‘pain-free’ but it is not painful.”
Is it safe?
As with all therapies, it is important to understand the potential risks involved. These include allergic reaction, infection, injury to the skin (i.e. bruising, bleeding) and unwanted side effects such as increased pain and rarely depression, insomnia or convulsions. Despite this, most systematic reviews conclude that acupuncture is a relatively safe therapy when conducted by a skilled practitioner. A qualified TCM practitioner should be accredited by a recognised TCM association or a suitably endorsed healthcare provider.
Does it work?
For most medical conditions treated with acupuncture, results are mixed and further research is needed. One of the biggest issues is trying to eliminate the ‘placebo effect’, where participants are given a dummy treatment. This is difficult to do in the case of acupuncture, although the use of sham needles, placed in non-therapeutic sites, may help to solve this dilemma.
Another difficulty is that acupuncture treats conditions based on ‘syndromes’ made up of a collection of signs and symptoms specific to that syndrome. One condition may actually have several syndromes to describe it. For example, headaches may be diagnosed according to several different syndromes with corresponding different acupuncture points. One set of acupuncture points will not treat all headaches, and therefore the patients in a study would have to satisfy the specific symptoms of the one syndrome to treat it appropriately. If this treatment according to syndromes is not applied, it would influence the efficacy of the treatment.
Acupause: a study on the effects of acupuncture on hot flushes in post-menopausal women
Researchers in Melbourne are conducting a trial on whether acupuncture can reduce hot flushes in women who have been through menopause. Eligible volunteers will be randomly allocated into either a ‘true’ acupuncture group or a ‘placebo’ acupuncture group, and will need to attend 10 treatment sessions over 8 weeks.
Participants will be asked to record the number of hot flushes they experience at different times before, during and after the treatment. If you would like to know more about the study,
Content Updated November 2011