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Medical Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a time honored healing art with a history dating back over 2000 years. Research performed in the last half-century has elucidated many of acupuncture’s mechanisms of action and sparked interest in its use as a low risk alternative to prescription drugs and invasive procedures.

As a medical acupuncturist, Dr. Martin has the distinction of being a board certified physician who specializes in acupuncture. His understanding of anatomy, physiology, and disease processes, along with his knowledge of the most up to date acupuncture research, enable him to apply the ancient healing techniques of acupuncture within the context of modern science.

Clinical trials support the value of acupuncture for a variety of conditions which include the following:

Allergies

A 2013 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine evaluated the effects of acupuncture in patients with seasonal allergies. 422 patients were randomly assigned to one of 3 treatments: acupuncture, simulated acupuncture or antihistamine alone. Results showed that 8 weeks of acupuncture provided significantly better symptom relief than either simulated acupuncture or anti-histamine therapy.

Anxiety

Acupuncture has been shown to balance the autonomic nervous system, reducing over activity of the sympathetic (fight or flight) arm, and stimulating the parasympathetic (calming) arm. As such, acupuncture should be beneficial in the treatment of anxiety.

Indeed a study of 40 patients with chronic, treatment resistant anxiety published in “Acupuncture in Medicine” in January 2015, found that 10 weeks of acupuncture resulted in significant reductions in anxiety scores.

Arthritis

Acupuncture appears to be of benefit for osteoarthritis (also known as degenerative arthritis) of the knee. It has not been widely studied for degenerative arthritis of other joints but likely is of benefit for locations other than the knee.

For Rheumatoid arthritis, 2 separate groups of researchers conducted detailed reviews of 8 randomized controlled trials and found beneficial effects for acupuncture in this condition.

Bell’s Palsy (facial nerve paralysis)

A 2013 study from China found a 90% cure rate in patients with acute Bell’s Palsy who underwent acupuncture with manual needle manipulation (twirling or flicking) vs. patients who had simple needling without manipulation

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Several good studies have shown that acupuncture can be effective for reducing symptoms of mild to moderate carpal tunnel syndrome.

Chronic pain

A systematic review of multiple controlled trials of acupuncture for 4 chronic pain conditions (back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, chronic headaches, and shoulder pain) was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2012. The authors concluded that acupuncture is effective for chronic pain.

Depression

Research has shown that acupuncture stimulates release of serotonin, norepinephrine and endorphins, and thus should have significant potential for treatment of depression.

Research appears to support this, with a number of studies showing that acupuncture reduces symptoms of depression.

Acupuncture can be effective as monotherapy (by itself) or when combined with traditional antidepressant medication. Indeed, some research suggests that acupuncture may enhance the response to SSRIs (antidepressant medicines such as paroxetine and fluoxetine), and thus may be most effective when administered in conjunction with SSRI therapy.Acupuncture also appears to be effective in the treatment of depression associated with pregnancy. This is of particular importance given questions about the safety of taking SSRI antidepressants during pregnancy.

Dry mouth (xerostomia)

Multiple studies have demonstrated that acupuncture is of benefit for dry mouth resulting from radiation therapy for cancer of the head and neck. Acupuncture enhances saliva flow, improves swallowing, and reduces the need to drink liquids with meals and at night.

Fibromyalgia

One study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings in 2006 showed acupuncture produced significant benefit (as compared with simulated acupuncture) in a group of 25 patients suffering from fibromyalgia.Unfortunately a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2005 found that acupuncture was no better than sham acupuncture at relieving pain in fibromyalgia.

More studies are needed to settle the question of acupuncture’s usefulness for fibromyalgia.

Headaches

Multiple studies have shown the benefits of acupuncture for treating both migraine and tension-type headaches. One of the largest of these enrolled 3400 patients with chronic headaches (both migraine and tension headache sufferers were included) and demonstrated that 3 months of acupuncture resulted in significantly fewer headache days and significant reduction in headache pain intensity.Acupuncture has also been found to be effective in treatment of acute migraines.

Hot flashes

Research shows acupuncture is beneficial for hot flashes due to chemotherapy administered for breast cancer and prostate cancer.
Studies examining acupuncture’s benefits for post menopausal hot flashes have shown mixed results, with some reporting significant benefits and others finding no conclusive evidence for benefit.

Infertility

Studies show that combining acupuncture with in-vitro fertilization results in higher rates of pregnancy and an increase in numbers of live births.
Acupuncture appears to facilitate pregnancy by reducing stress.

Insomnia

A number studies report significant benefits of acupuncture for insomnia. Unfortunately many of these studies are of poor quality. Large, high quality trials are needed to answer this question definitively.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Studies have shown that acupuncture is superior to “usual care” in relieving symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.Unfortunately, studies comparing acupuncture with sham acupuncture have shown that both appear to relieve IBS symptoms equally well. This has led some to conclude (incorrectly in my opinion) that acupuncture’s benefits in IBS are entirely due to placebo effect (please see Acupuncture FAQs where I address this issue).

Low back pain and sciatica

Multiple studies have demonstrated that acupuncture is effective for chronic low back pain. One of the largest of these was the “German Acupuncture Trials for Chronic Low Back Pain” published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2007. In this study, 1162 patients were randomly assigned to receive either acupuncture, “sham” acupuncture (superficial needling at non-traditional acupuncture points), or conventional therapy (medications, physical therapy, etc). Both acupuncture and sham acupuncture significantly outperformed conventional therapy after 6 months, with response rates of 48%, 42%, and 27% respectively. (Please see comments in the Acupuncture FAQs for insight as to why sham acupuncture often produces significant benefits).Results of 33 studies of acupuncture in lower back pain were pooled and analyzed in a paper published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2005. The authors concluded that for short term relief of chronic back pain, acupuncture is significantly more effective than simulated (placebo) acupuncture or no additional treatment.

Regarding acupuncture for sciatica, the results of 12 studies examining this issue were combined and analyzed in a review article published in August 2015 in the journal “Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine”. The authors concluded that acupuncture was more effective than conventional therapy in reducing sciatica pain but called for more trials with standardized methodologies to allow better comparison of results.

Menstrual pains

A number of studies have investigated acupuncture’s effects on reducing menstrual pain. Most (but not all) have shown benefit.

Migraines

Acupuncture is beneficial for prevention and treatment of migraine headaches. Please see “Headaches” above for specifics.

Nausea and vomiting

Multiple studies have demonstrated that acupuncture is effective for prevention of post-operative nausea and vomiting.A number of studies also report that acupuncture reduces chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting.

For pregnancy related nausea and vomiting, results are mixed. Some studies report benefit and others are equivocal.

Neck pain

Research shows that acupuncture can be an effective treatment for neck pain.A study involving 517 patients with chronic neck pain was published in the highly reputable “Annals of Internal Medicine” in November 2015 and showed that acupuncture significantly reduced neck pain as compared with usual care.

Peripheral neuropathy

Many studies report acupuncture’s benefits for treatment of painful neuropathy induced by chemotherapy.There are only a few studies in the Western literature which examine acupuncture’s effect on diabetic neuropathy. Results have been mixed.

Unfortunately acupuncture is not effective for restoring sensation in numb hands and/or feet.

Plantar fasciitis/heel pain

A small study from Walter Reed Army Hospital published in 2001 showed that 9 of 11 patients (all of whom were suffering from heel pain unresponsive to conventional treatment) had greater than 50% reduction in pain after 6 acupuncture sessions.

Another study published in 2012 in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine, enrolled 30 patients with chronic, refractory heel pain and assigned 15 to receive 2 sessions of acupuncture per week for 5 weeks and the other 15 to receive 5 weeks of conventional treatment. The acupuncture group showed significantly greater reduction in pain and improvement in function as compared with the non-acupuncture group.

Post operative pain

Several studies have shown benefits of acupuncture in managing post-operative pain, including significant reductions in post-tonsillectomy pain, oral surgery pain, and pain from total knee replacement.This is an area of great promise for acupuncture.

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

Research suggests that acupuncture may be an effective treatment for post traumatic stress disorder. A small study of 73 patients with PTSD published in 2007 found that acupuncture therapy was of significant benefit.Similarly, in a study of 55 veterans with PTSD published in the journal “Medical Care” in 2014, the authors reported “Mean improvement in PTSD severity was significantly greater in those receiving acupuncture vs. usual PTSD care. Acupuncture was also associated with significantly greater improvements in depression, pain, and physical and mental health functioning.”

Shingles

A study published in 2011 compared 52 patients with acute shingles assigned to treatment with acupuncture vs. 50 shingles patients assigned to drug therapy. Acupuncture was as effective as drug therapy in reducing shingles pain, suggesting that it is a potentially viable alternative to analgesic medication.

Shoulder pain

Multiple studies have shown that acupuncture is helpful for reducing pain and increasing range of motion in rotator cuff tendinitis.

Tennis elbow

A 2004 systematic review of 5 studies on acupuncture for tennis elbow concluded that “strong evidence” supports the use of acupuncture for this condition.

TMJ (temporomandibular) syndrome

Very good evidence suggests acupuncture can treat TMJ pain. Several well designed studies found that acupuncture can provide long term pain relief for TMJ problems.

Trigeminal neuralgia (Tic doloreaux)

One well designed (albeit small with only 65 patients) study showed benefit with a 28% cure rate reported.