Article contributed by Mayo Clinic acupuncturist Sara Bublitz, L.Ac
What can acupuncture treat?
Acupuncture can treat a myriad of conditions. It not only treats physical symptoms but helps with mental and emotional support as well. The World Health Organization [Who] published an official report listing 31 symptoms, conditions and diseases that have been shown, in controlled trials, to be effectively treated with acupuncture. The top conditions treated with acupuncture on the WHO list are:
-Chemotherapy-induced and postoperative nausea and vomiting
-Headaches, including tension headaches and migraines
-Labor pain and pregnancy support
-Low back pain
-Respiratory disorders, such as allergic rhinitis
How does acupuncture work?
While there is not one mechanism of action for how acupuncture works, studies show that it releases endorphins [the body’s natural pain killers], reduces inflammation, increased circulation and relieves pain. It also relaxes the central nervous system and helps relax the fight or flight response within the body [also called the sympathetic nervous system] and allows the body to go into rest and digest stage [the parasympathetic nervous system response] which may help patients with anxiety, depression and insomnia by allowing for a sense of calm. Recent studies show that acupuncture is also working on the connective tissues, nerve bundles, muscles and fascia to relieve musculoskeletal conditions.
The risks of acupuncture are very low if you have a competent, licensed acupuncture practitioner using sterile needles. Acupuncture is virtually painless. Common side effects may include soreness and minor bleeding or bruising where the needles were inserted. Single-use, disposable needles are now the practice standard, so the risk of infection is minimal.
Choosing a practitioner
If you're considering acupuncture, take the same steps you would to choose a doctor:
-Ask people you trust for recommendations.
-Check the practitioner's training and credentials. Most states require that non-physician acupuncturists pass an exam conducted by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Licensed acupuncturists have at least three to four years of training with at least 2,500 hours and a Master’s Degree or a Doctorate in Acupuncture. Physicians that receive acupuncture certification have 300 hours of training. Certified acupuncture Chiropractors have 100 hours of training.
-Interview the practitioner. Ask what is involved in the treatment, how likely it is to help your condition and how much it will cost.
-Find out whether your insurance covers the treatment or if it is an out of pocket expense.
How often should one get treatments?
Acupuncture treatments work in a cumulative fashion. The more treatments one receives, typically, the better results they will obtain. It is recommended that patients try at least six sessions to see how they will respond. It is recommended to have treatments once a week or every two weeks for the first few sessions with the goal of spreading sessions out to a maintenance plan, depending on the condition. Chronic, degenerative disorders may need regular acupuncture to keep symptoms at bay, whereas acute conditions may only require one to six sessions without continued maintenance. As a general rule, the more recent the condition, the faster you will respond to acupuncture.
How often should oncology patients receive acupuncture care?
Research shows that weekly sessions are beneficial for treating nausea and vomiting as well as for pain management. It is also recommended that patients continue with care after receiving cancer treatments as to help support the body during the healing stage. Maintenance would be every three to five weeks.
Acupuncture options at Mayo Clinic:
Outpatient- The patient will need a referral form their Rochester Mayo Clinic provider to be seen for acupuncture in the outpatient clinic. Insurance may cover treatments.
Inpatient- The patient will need an order from their provider or nurse to receive hospital inpatient acupuncture. Insurance may cover treatments.
Rejuvenate Spa within the Healthy Living Program- no order is required. The patient may call the spa as needed for a session and it is an out of pocket cost. Insurance is not accepted at this location.
To hear Sara talk about how acupuncture can help with cancer treatment symptoms watch this acupuncture video.
Chat with others on ways you are managing cancer symptoms in the Cancer: Managing Symptoms group.