Acupuncture is the ancient Chinese technique of inserting very fine needles into certain points (there are over 2000) in the body, also called acupoints. The belief is that Qi (chi), or energy, flows throughout the body along certain meridians and that if these are blocked in any way, illness can result. Acupuncture is meant to unblock these channels, treating different conditions and diseases. The word acupuncture means “to puncture with a needle,” but different techniques are used to stimulate these points, including simple pressure.
For What Can Acupuncture Be Used?
Acupuncture is practiced widely in many areas of the world, especially China, Japan, and other East Asian countries. In 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) reviewed the extensive research studies done on acupuncture and published a list of illnesses and conditions that they believe have been proven to respond favorably to the technique. These conditions are as follows, according to AcupunctureToday.com (Amaro, 2004).
Low back pain
Periarthritis of the shoulder
Facial pain (including craniomandibular disorders)
Temporomandibular (TMJ) dysfunction
Induction of labor
Correction of malposition of a fetus (breech presentation)
Nausea and vomiting
Adverse reactions to radiation or chemotherapy
Allergic rhinitis, including hay fever
Depression (including depressive neurosis and depression following stroke)
Acute bacillary dysentery
Acute and chronic gastritis
There are also many disorders for which the WHO felt there was evidence of acupuncture’s efficacy but determined that further study is necessary for definitive recognition.
New Evidence for Using Acupuncture to Relieve Stress
A study published in 2013 showed that rats that were treated with electronic acupuncture (to be sure that each rat received the same amount of pressure on the point) prior to being exposed to stress did not show increases in stress hormone levels after the stressful stimulus. Rats that were not treated with acupuncture prior to the stressor or that were given a sham acupuncture technique in a different spot did have increases in those stress hormone levels (Eshkevari L1, 2013).
The acupuncture point used in the study was one just below the knee, a point reported by TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) practitioners to reduce stress.
Stress hormones that are present in the body at consistently high levels can result in or contribute to many different health concerns such as depression, anxiety, heart disease, and insomnia. This research study indicates that receiving acupuncture prior to stressors may decrease the resultant negative effects. Whether or not acupuncture can decrease stress when it is performed after the stressor (as treatment rather than prevention) is the subject of current research.