As more and more Baby Boomers enter the ‘geriatric’ ranks, interest in alternative health treatment options has skyrocketed. Leading the list of possible substitutes for traditional medicine is acupuncture though there are still misconceptions and misunderstandings floating around. For many, just the incorporation of the term ‘puncture’ in its name is enough to eliminate this therapy option from their vocabulary. Acupuncture is, however, so much more than just pointy needles and may, in fact, be a viable treatment option for sufferers of a variety of ailments.
Known as a traditional Chinese medical option now practiced throughout the world, the theory behind this method is to encourage the body to promote natural healing and improve function. As explained by Dr. G. Darryl Wieland, the Research Director for Geriatric Services and Palmetto Health Richland Hospital, the body’s life energy, Qi (pronounced chee), flows through the body on channels known as meridians. These meridians connect all major organs. When this energy is ‘stuck’, people feel pain and/or other symptoms of illness. Acupuncture’s goal is to restore balance and make the body’s energy flow normally again. The mild discomfort that the acupuncture needles cause (though most patients report absolutely no awareness of discomfort from the needles) stimulates the release of endorphins and other naturally occurring pain relieving chemicals from the brain.
While pain alleviation is one of the most frequently cited reason for treatment, acupuncture can be used to treat many other aliments including sinus problems, tonsillitis, colds, asthma, bronchitis, certain eye disorders, fibromyalgia, toothaches and other mouth problems, tennis elbow, sciatica, low back pain, rheumatoid arthritis, hiccups, diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowl syndrome and other gastrointestinal problems, headaches and other neurologic conditions. Acupuncture does not cure these aliments, but it can help relieve the pain and discomfort caused by these conditions.
A study published nearly a decade ago focused on assessing the effects of acupuncture as a adjunct to medical and physical rehabilitation specifically in geriatric patients (reference https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S200529010960008X). The study focused on several key elements of illness including pain control, restoration of bowel function, good sleep quality, appetite, general well being and return to pre-illness physical capabilities. and concluded that acupuncture had beneficial effects for elderly patients during their post acute illness rehabilitation.
One of the most frequently asked questions by people considering acupuncture is whether or not the therapy is safe. According to Dr. Wieland acupuncture is very safe in the hands of a trained specialist. Overall, older adults experience far fewer side effects with acupuncture than with most medications. Those individuals who are afraid of needles may feel lightheaded or faint when first undergoing treatment and patients taking blood thinners may develop bruising. Further, patients with a pacemaker or heart rhythm problems should let the acupuncturist know prior to treatments beginning.
So, is acupuncture right for you? As with everything health related, you need to have this discussion with your doctor. Most physicians are familiar with the pros and cons of this treatment option and can help you understand how it may be beneficial for your unique medical situation. What might be a great option for one person may be contraindicated for another. Always check with your doctor.