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Acupuncture – 8 Common Myths Debunked

Despite the fact that the world now embraces complementary and alternative medicine far more readily since the pandemic, I still find it surprising that many of the myths and misconceptions that surrounded acupuncture generations ago still persist today.

Acupuncture has gained popularity in the West over the past few decades, but in spite of its rise to become a respected option for those seeking alternative solutions to treatment, it has failed to shake some of the misleading assumptions that have plagued it over the years.

We now live in a world where significant numbers of GPs and consultants work in partnership with acupuncture clinics to treat conditions and wellbeing issues that historically were treated solely by clinical healthcare approaches.

Maybe, then, it’s time to debunk some of the most common myths surrounding acupuncture, and provide a clearer understanding of its principles, efficacy, and limitations.

Myth 1: Acupuncture is a Placebo

One of the most persistent myths is that acupuncture is merely a placebo, with any perceived benefits arising from patients’ beliefs rather than the treatment itself. While the placebo effect is a powerful phenomenon and can contribute to the effectiveness of many treatments, scientific studies have shown that acupuncture has measurable physiological effects beyond placebo.

Research indicates that acupuncture can stimulate the release of neurotransmitters like endorphins and serotonin, which can reduce pain and improve mood. Functional MRI scans have demonstrated that acupuncture can activate specific brain regions associated with pain and sensory processing. These findings suggest that acupuncture’s effects are not solely due to placebo but also involve real physiological changes.

Myth 2: Acupuncture is Painful

The idea of needles being inserted into the skin can understandably evoke fear and apprehension. However, acupuncture needles are much thinner than hypodermic needles used for injections, often as thin as a human hair. Most people report feeling minimal to no pain during acupuncture sessions. Instead, they may experience sensations like tingling, warmth, or a mild ache, which are indications that the treatment is stimulating the body’s healing processes.

Acupuncturists are trained to insert needles gently and to ensure the patient’s comfort. If discomfort occurs, the practitioner can adjust the needle placement or technique. For those who are particularly needle-phobic, alternative methods such as acupressure or laser acupuncture are available.

Myth 3: Acupuncture is Only for Pain Relief

While acupuncture is widely recognized for its effectiveness in pain management, its applications extend far beyond this area. TCM views acupuncture as a holistic therapy that can address a variety of health issues, including digestive disorders, respiratory conditions, hormonal imbalances, and mental health problems.

Studies have shown that acupuncture can be beneficial for conditions such as chronic migraines, osteoarthritis, nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, and even anxiety and depression. By promoting the flow of Qi (vital energy) and restoring balance in the body’s systems, acupuncture can support overall health and well-being.

Myth 4: Acupuncture is Unscientific

Critics often dismiss acupuncture as unscientific, citing a lack of understanding of how it works within the framework of modern medicine. However, this perspective overlooks the growing body of scientific research supporting acupuncture’s efficacy and mechanisms of action.

While the concept of Qi and meridians may not align with Western medical paradigms, researchers have identified plausible explanations for acupuncture’s effects. For example, acupuncture points often correspond to areas with high densities of nerve endings, blood vessels, and connective tissue. Stimulating these points can influence the nervous system, immune response, and blood flow.

Moreover, numerous clinical trials and systematic reviews have provided evidence for acupuncture’s effectiveness in treating various conditions. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recognise acupuncture as a valid therapeutic option for certain health issues.

Myth 5: Acupuncture is Dangerous

Some people fear that acupuncture could cause harm, such as infections, organ punctures, or other complications. While any medical procedure carries risks, acupuncture performed by a licensed and trained practitioner is generally safe.

Acupuncturists follow strict hygiene protocols, including using sterile, single-use needles to prevent infections. Adverse effects are rare and usually mild, such as slight bruising or temporary soreness at the needle sites. Serious complications, such as organ punctures, are extremely uncommon and are typically the result of improper technique by unqualified practitioners.

To minimise risks, it is crucial to seek treatment from a licensed acupuncturist who has undergone comprehensive training and adheres to professional standards.

Myth 6: Acupuncture Works Instantly

Another common misconception is that acupuncture provides immediate relief after a single session. While some individuals may experience rapid improvement, especially for acute conditions, most require multiple sessions to achieve lasting results.

Acupuncture’s effects are cumulative, and consistent treatment is often necessary to address chronic or complex health issues. Treatment plans are tailored to each individual’s needs, and progress is monitored over time. Patients are encouraged to maintain realistic expectations and commit to the recommended course of treatment for optimal outcomes.

Myth 7: All Acupuncture is the Same

Acupuncture is a diverse practice with various styles and techniques. Different schools of thought within TCM, as well as modern adaptations, have led to a range of approaches to acupuncture.

For example, Japanese acupuncture tends to use finer needles and gentler techniques compared to traditional Chinese acupuncture. Auricular acupuncture focuses on points in the ear, while scalp acupuncture targets the scalp.

Additionally, some practitioners integrate acupuncture with other modalities, such as herbal medicine, cupping, moxibustion or mild electrical stimulation. It’s essential for patients to communicate their preferences and concerns with their acupuncturist to ensure the most appropriate and effective treatment.

Myth 8: Acupuncture Can Cure All Illnesses

While acupuncture can be a valuable component of a comprehensive healthcare plan, no reputable acupuncture therapist would ever claim it to be a cure-all.

It is most effective when used as part of an integrative approach that includes conventional medicine and other complementary therapies.

Acupuncture can enhance the body’s natural healing abilities, alleviate symptoms, and improve quality of life, but it is not a substitute for medical treatment in serious or life-threatening conditions.

Patients should maintain open communication with their healthcare providers and inform them of any complementary therapies they are using. This collaborative approach ensures that all aspects of their health are addressed and that treatments are coordinated effectively.

If you’d like to know more about the healing power of acupuncture, why not get in touch? We’d love to tell you more!


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