Acupuncture Now Mainstream – Why doctors are increasingly prescribing acupuncture to help their patients.
T. Mc., MD, is sticking needles in her patients more than ever before. Just three years ago, the Cleveland Clinic OB/GYN completed a physician’s course in acupuncture. With it, she says, she has had increased success in treating problems resistant to Western medicine, such as female sexual dysfunction and compulsive overeating. “Doctors feel helpless in these areas,” Mc. says. “I needed something more helpful for my patients.”
Acupuncture, which has been practiced for thousands of years in China, is a small part of her own practice. But she makes frequent referrals to the clinic’s Center for Integrative Medicine. There, acupuncture, which uses needles to stimulate specific parts of the body along things called meridians, is increasingly popular for problems like chronic pain, allergies, and asthma. Well Over 5,000 patients underwent acupuncture at the facility in 2009, up from 3,600 in 2007.
It’s a growing trend that is seen across the country, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), part of NIH. In 2007, 3.1 million people tried acupuncture, a million more than tried it in 2002, to relieve discomfort caused by fibromyalgia, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, low back pain, and other ailments.
“The demand is out there,” says the assistant professor of physiology and biochemistry at Georgetown University and director of Georgetown’s master’s of science degree in complementary and alternative medicine. But “there is an overall lack of an education in this area for physicians and future physicians,” she says.
There is also a lack of mainstream science research on the effectiveness of acupuncture treatments. A recent study, for example, reported that acupuncture outperformed conventional medicine in relieving chronic back pain, but the same study also found that placebo acupuncture was nearly as effective as the real thing.
Still, more than 3,000 U.S. physicians integrate acupuncture into their clinical practice, including the founder of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine and author. When he began studying acupuncture 40 years ago, “acupuncture was considered at best a superstition,” he recalls. “Now, it’s increasingly being accepted as part of mainstream medicine.”
“I use acupuncture on nearly every patient I see,” so says the man who treats his own arthritic knees with needles every day. He offers these tips for people interested in pursuing acupuncture treatment.
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Pursue the big picture.
Acupuncture is only one part of traditional Chinese medicine, which also stresses the importance of herbal medicine, nutrition, massage, and other practices.
He often includes these other approaches in his patients’ care.
Do your research. There are as many as 20,000 licensed acupuncturists at work in the United States. Practitioners in almost all states must pass an exam administered by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Find an acupuncturist who is well-credentialed, he advises. The right person should also be able to put you at ease, answer your questions, and make you feel you are progressing in your treatment.