By Justine Myers, Lic. Ac.
The use of acupuncture for health conditions beyond muscle and joint pain (i.e. knee pain, neck pain, lower back pain, etc.) isn’t widely known by many people, yet acupuncture is exceptionally effective for so much more. I do not at all wish to discount the fact that pain is miserable and that acupuncture is typically an excellent treatment for most types of the aforementioned conditions, but for the purposes of this article I would like to discuss broader applications of acupuncture. As I have progressed in my career as a community acupuncturist, I’m happy to say that I’ve witnessed many examples of the power of acupuncture in people’s lives. I want to share this information with you, because you ought to know that acupuncture is a viable treatment option for many health conditions.
For this article I am relying on my own clinical observations. I have been in practice since 2007 and I estimate that I’ve given roughly 43,000 treatments in this time. The vast majority (I would estimate 80% or more) of patients I have treated with the following conditions have reported substantial improvement with acupuncture (substantial improvement meaning greatly reduced severity and/or greatly reduced frequency of episodes for chronic conditions, and complete recovery for acute conditions). These conditions are ones I feel very confident about treating with good success following a suggested course of treatments, which I will get into later:
- Allergic Rhinitis & Sinusitis
- Bell’s Palsy
- Frozen shoulder
- Hives (Urticaria)
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
- Restless Legs Syndrome
- TMJ Dysfunction
There are many other conditions which I would estimate have closer to a 50% success rate with acupuncture treatments (meaning about 50% of people experience significant results from acupuncture, and 50% experience a little improvement or no change), so in my opinion it’s definitely worth giving acupuncture a try. Many of these conditions have fairly complex underlying causes, which contributes to the fact that there’s less consistency in achieving good results. Some of these conditions have higher success rates with Chinese herbal medicine in addition to acupuncture rather than acupuncture alone (i.e. gastrointestinal problems and menstrual irregularities). These conditions with approximately 50% success rates include, but are not limited to:
- Breech Baby (turn a baby in breech position to be head down)
- Elevated liver enzymes
- GERD/Acid Reflux/Heartburn
- Hypertension (particularly borderline hypertension)
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Ulcerative Colitis & Crohn’s Disease)
- Interstitial Cystitis
- Irregular and/or painful menstruation
- Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
- Smoking cessation
Finally, there are many neurological conditions, chronic illnesses and subclinical diseases in which acupuncture can be used as an effective support for reduction of severity and management, such as, but not limited to:
- Autoimmune/Rheumatic diseases
- Cancer support
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Heart Arrhythmias
- Immune Support (i.e. for prevention of common colds, urinary tract infections, etc.)
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Parkinson’s Disease
Before I go on to discuss treatment frequency, I want to point out that acupuncture can be used for all of the above health conditions and more, but it is imperative that there also be physician involvement particularly for more serious or potentially life threatening health conditions (i.e. heart disease, COPD, cancer, etc.). For example, if you want to use acupuncture as a way to manage borderline hypertension, it is important to be regularly checking your blood pressure and checking in with your primary care physician (many doctors encourage their patients to try acupuncture and other diet/lifestyle changes for the management of borderline hypertension before going on medications).
As mentioned previously, an important part of achieving good results with acupuncture for any health condition relies on the adherence to an appropriate course of treatments. Typically when a patient first comes to our office to address a health condition we assess the severity of the condition and how long it has been present, and then recommend a course of treatments. Acupuncture isn’t a quick fix, but more of a process; however, for most people the acupuncture experience is very relaxing and enjoyable, and people often notice additional benefits as a result of acupuncture such as improved sleep, improved mood and an overall sense of well-being, even when that wasn’t an original goal of treatment.
Oftentimes we will suggest 1, 2 or 3 treatments per week (depending on the severity of the condition) for a total of 6 to 9 treatments at that rate, then continue with less frequent treatments once there are good results lasting from treatment to treatment. Some conditions will resolve in that time (perhaps with a total of 10-15 treatments altogether, or less treatments for a condition that hasn’t been problematic for very long before trying acupuncture). Chronic conditions/illnesses typically require some level of maintenance for sustained relief. Once our patients have completed an initial suggested course of treatments (i.e. 6-9 treatments) we encourage them to experiment with the frequency of treatments to find a routine that feels right for them. Many of our patients who have chronic pain or other chronic health conditions will come in once every 1-2 weeks, and/or more often if they have a flare-up and less often when they’re feeling well. We can always offer a recommendation for frequency of treatments to anyone who asks, but we also like to offer our patients a sense of autonomy so that they can feel free to do what works for them, listen to their bodies and get in for treatments when they feel they’re in need.
In conclusion, it’s helpful to remember that acupuncture is useful for a wide variety of health conditions, is safe and without side-effects, so when (non life-threatening) health conditions crop up, it’s often worth a try.