Why You Should Try Acupuncture—Even If You Don’t Need Pain Relief

The next prescription from your doctor just might be for acupuncture instead of pain meds. As the science increasingly shows that the ancient Chinese therapy can be as effective as drugs, more doctors are acknowledging its legitimacy. At the same time, exciting new discoveries about how acupuncture works are also boosting its standing as a bona fide medical treatment overall. “There’s plenty of quality research supporting the use of acupuncture for a number of health conditions,” says Joseph F. Audette, M.D., the chief of the department of pain management at Atrius Health in Boston and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. (Related: Does Myotherapy for Pain Relief Really Work?)

For starters, one groundbreaking new study from Indiana University School of Medicine found that acupuncture prompts the release of stem cells, which can help tendons and other tis­sues repair, and also produces anti­-inflammatory substances that are associated with healing. According to research at UCLA Medical Center, the needles cause the skin to trigger the release of molecules of nitric oxide—a gas that improves circulation in the smallest blood vessels in the skin. By carrying substances that can help dull pain and reduce inflam­mation, this microcirculation is essential to the healing process, says Sheng­Xing Ma, M.D., Ph.D., the lead author.

Acupuncture also has a dramatic effect on your nervous sys­tem, calming you down so your body can rejuvenate faster, Dr. Audette says. When a needle is inserted, it stimulates small nerves beneath the skin, setting off a chain reaction that shuts down your fight ­or­ flight response. As a result, your stress lev­els plummet. “It’s basically what’s supposed to happen when you meditate, except it’s even stronger and faster,” Dr. Audette says. “Acupuncture relaxes your muscles, slows your heart rate, and reduces inflammation to promote healing.” (One study found that acupuncture and yoga both relieve back pain.) And it has minimal side effects—there’s a slight risk of minor bleeding and increased pain—so you can’t go wrong trying it. Here’s everything you need to know before scheduling your treatment. [Full Article]