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Does acupuncture actually heal conditions or is it just a painkilling system?

A:  We tend not to like words like 'heal' and 'cure', partly because the former lends itself to pejorative interpretations of what we actually do and the latter begs the question of what counts as a 'cure' anyway. However, that aside, traditional acupuncture came into prominence in the popular consciousness in the West after Nixon's visit to China in the 1970s mainly as a form of pain relief, but has a 2500 year history of being used to treat a huge range of conditions, many very successfully. The World Health Organisation, for example, publishes a list
 
 
http://apps.who.int/medicinedocs/en/d/Js4926e/5.html
 
of all the conditions for which evidence of acupuncture's benefits can be demonstrated.
 
One of the principal reasons that acupuncture treatment has not received the recognition we believe it deserves in the UK healthcare system is that the standard of evidence required, the randomised double blind control trial, is more suitable for testing drugs, not dynamic interactions like acupuncture. Setting up trials is both costly and difficult, and at the moment no-one is particularly interested in funding them. It is interesting, though, that the NICE guidelines for conditions like lower back pain and some forms of headache now recommend acupuncture as an option.
 
Of course, a fundamental difference between Chinese medicine and orthodox medicine is that CM treats the person, not simply the illness or disease which they have, and to that extent to say that it deals with conditions is to miss the point slightly. Every patient with a named western condition will probably receive a different treatment because the presentation will be unique to each patient and with that the combination of points used and the reasons for using them. There is quite a large amount of background material on our website which explains this more thoroughly.
 



Why the emphasis on pain relief? Well, one certainty in measuring the effects of acupuncture in pain relief is that there are some very specific chemicals whose levels can be determined exactly, and for the purposes of research this is a very exact outcome measure. When acupuncture was first tested scientifically it was an obvious choice, and because the results were good, pain relief became associated with acupuncture as a primary reason for its use. For some types of pain acupuncture is a good choice, although from a Chinese medicine perspective pain arises from specific changes in the system. If the treatment did no more than provide temporary relief, a master practitioner would be asking themselves what else they could do to effect lasting change, and if that did not happen, would be talking to the patient about whether the extent of the relief and the time it lasted were worthwhile and whether other options for treatment might be more advisable.    
 
 


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