Acupuncture — Sham or Shazam ..
I figured this being my first blog, I might share something that is close to my heart- Acupuncture.
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture originated in China centuries ago, and this form of therapy involves inserting thin fine steel needles into various acupressure points or meridian points situated throughout the human body.
How does it work ?
There are 405 acupuncture points present in the human and depending on the type of ailment that you are suffering from, the doctor will prescribe acupuncture on the relevant acupuncture points.
This method is thought to restore the flow of life force or “qi” within the human body. When a person’s “qi” has been disrupted, it will result in the person suffering from various health conditions.
What does it treat ?
Acupuncture has been claimed to treat in areas such as depression, headaches, gastrointestinal disorders, men/women’s fertility issues, asthma, chronic neck and back pain, and lastly sports injuries.
How acupuncture has helped me
Being an extremely active person, I am frequently engaged in various activities which include competitive basketball, gyming, rock climbing, snow boarding, outdoor trekking, bootcamp training and obstacle courses.
So along the way I have accumulated a substantial number of injuries, which have tormented me both physically and mentally one way or another.
I remembered I was 10 when I sustained my first major injury.
I had just finished my shower, I stepped out of the bathroom and I slipped. The end result of that was slipping down the flight of stairs on my back and developing a massive swollen bruise like the size of my fist (Back when I was 10 of course).
I felt like the hunchback of Notre Dame, except I was also in a lot of pain and tears.
Coming from an Asian background, my parents were firm believers of embracing Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). That was when I was first introduced to acupuncture and massage (Tui Na).
Based on my faint distant memory, the acupuncture treatment was still bearable however it was the second part of the treatment that really took me by surprise.
He reassured me that this would only hurt a little as he got me into the appropriate posture for the next phase and then it happened.
After maintaining this position for like an eternity, I must have been deeply traumatized as I do not recall the subsequent events of this treatment.
However I do remember scenes after the treatment.
I recalled my mum embracing me tightly.
She looked at me lovingly and whispered, “You’re alright now”.
When we reached home, I alighted the car feeling less pain and I was able to walk in an upright position.
My mum took a look at my back and she said the swelling had subsided by heaps.
This was after a single session.
So perhaps, this wasn’t the most ideal story to illustrate how great acupuncture was but it did its job.
As I approached my 30s, the frequency at which I injured myself increased significantly, once every 2–3 months; hence I sought different therapeutic methods such as physiotherapy or therapeutic massage.
I have to admit acupuncture was surely the most effective method when it came to alleviating my pain.
The doctor I go to prefers performing electroacupuncture in the presence of a heat lamp, followed by vaccum cupping to aid in dissipating the blood clots. The cupping therapy was heavily endorsed by a number of olympians most recently during the Rio 2016 games, in particular Michael Phelps.
What is the science behind acupuncture?
The science behind acupuncture has always been shrouded in mystery. Since I came from a research background, I was quite intrigued at how acupuncture was aiding in this healing process from a scientific point of view.
So after digging through the scientific journals, I finally found a paper published in Nature Neuroscience in 2010 that shed some light on the mechanisms of acupuncture.
Dr Nedergaard led a team of researchers and discovered that when they injected a chemical into the rodents right paw to mimick an inflammatory pain, followed by acupuncture treatment around the acupuncture point (Zusanli), it resulted in the increase in adenosine (a neurotransmitter) around that region. The increase of adenosine binds to the Adenosine A1 receptor to trigger an analgesic effect.
Conversely when they repeated this experiment in rodents that did not express the Adenosine A1 receptor, the same acupuncture treatment failed to elicit a pain relief effect in the rodents. This complimentary study implied that the mechanisms responsible for pain relief effect through acupuncture was dependent on the interaction between adenosine and the adenosine A1 receptor.
Subsequently the research team performed a similar experiment on a small cohort of “Healthy” volunteers to examine if they would recapitulate a similar result and they did. The researchers detected higher levels of adenosine after performing acupuncture on the Zusanli point.
Before I start getting all fist pumped, and exclaim eureka!
There were some caveats with these 2 studies.
First, I am quite skeptical how they could accurately pinpoint the acupuncture point Zusanli on the tiny limb of the rodent.
Second, even though they performed a similar experiment on healthy volunteers and also obtained a higher reading of adenosine.
But, they did not bother investigating if the increase of adenosine post acupuncture was truly the cause of the analgesic effect that renders relief to patients.
We need to bear in mind that the physiology of man and mice are distinctly different and we should not easily infer that the result seen in mice would necessary translate to the same outcome in humans.
Currently there are a lot of clinical trials being performed to investigate the therapeutic effects of acupuncture (https://clinicaltrials.gov/), ranging from urinary incontinence to managing post-menopausal pain and post trauma stress disorder.
I sat down and looked through some of the data from the clinical trials and I’ll be honest with you.
The beneficial effects of acupuncture weren’t very convincing.
Very often when compared to the control group, there wasn’t any difference or minimal difference.
It seemed like the medical benefits of acupuncture treatment resembled a placebo effect.
However saying so, a number of these studies have got small patient sample size making it difficult to quantify the difference and substantiate that acupuncture works in that particular ailment.
In addition, the duration of those acupuncture treatments typically ranged from 4 to 6 weeks, which is reasonable short. It is plausible that we might be able to observe a more potent effect of acupuncture if the treatment was prolonged.
Furthermore let us not forget the level of experience of these TCM doctors involved in these clinical trials can vary quite a bit.
I’ve came across some shoddy TCM doctors who were pretty bad when it came to acupuncture, and I have also encountered some very experienced doctors who performed wonders.
Despite these pieces of evidence, I still firmly believe that acupuncture is the most effective method in terms of treating sport injuries as well muscular pains based on my personal experience.
At least the black Mumba has got my back on this. (Fist bump~)
I just want to make a final point.
Even if its due to the placebo effect that makes acupuncture seem like a wonder drug in certain less serious health conditions, why can’t we embrace this effect if it indeed has some form of positive therapeutic benefit for the patient who is suffering.
Perhaps its the combination of these 2 factors that can reduce the pain and improve the debilitating conditions for these patients.
Anyway this just my 2 cents worth, that I thought I would share this with everyone else who might be seeking ways to alleviate their pain and discomfort from especially lower back injuries.