Acupuncture is a form of treatment that involves inserting very thin needles through a person’s skin at specific points on the body, to various depths.
Traditional Chinese medicine explains that health is the result of a harmonious balance of the complementary extremes of “yin” and “yang” of the life force known as “qi,” pronounced “chi.” Illness is said to be the consequence of an imbalance of the forces.
Qi is said to flow through meridians, or pathways, in the human body. These meridiens and energy flows are accessible through 350 acupuncture points in the body.
There is no scientific proof that the meridians or acupuncture points exist, and it is hard to prove that they either do or do not, but numerous studies suggest that acupuncture works for some conditions.
Some experts have used neuroscience to explain acupuncture. Acupuncture points are seen as places where nerves, muscles, and connective tissue can be stimulated. The stimulation increases blood flow, while at the same time triggering the activity of the body’s natural painkillers.
It is difficult to set up investigations using proper scientific controls, because of the invasive nature of acupuncture. In a clinical study, a control group would have to undergo sham treatment, or a placebo, for results to be compared with those of genuine acupuncture.
Some studies have concluded that acupuncture offers similar benefits to a patient as a placebo, but others have indicated that there are some real benefits.
They list additional disorders that may benefit from acupuncture, but which require further scientific confirmation.
In 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed a number of conditions in which they say acupuncture has been proven effective.