By Alexandra Garcia
The verdict is in: acupuncture works.
It’s been half a decade since the landmark 2012 study that definitively proved acupuncture works to treat pain. This Sloan Kettering research included results from over 17,000 patients and established that acupuncture is not simply a placebo effect.
The Joint Commission - the major accreditation body for hospitals - now includes acupuncture as a standard non-pharmacological care that can be used for pain management in hospitals.
Now that we’ve cleared up the basic “does it work?” question we can start talking about the really interesting stuff - because anyone who's up-to-date with the literature knows that acupuncture significantly impacts the body’s anatomy and physiology.
One of the coolest recent studies shows that acupuncture not only works at a local anatomical level, but that it actually causes the brain to rewrite its mental map of the body. In this randomized control experiment, researchers looked at patients suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome. What they found was that acupuncture relieved the local pain symptoms in the wrist, and led the brain’s cortical map of the hand to change shape into a healthier looking version of the wrist.
When compared to fake, “sham,” acupuncture, real acupuncture literally reshaped the way the brain saw the wrist. These changes at the brain level were correlated with longer lasting positive effects from the real acupuncture treatments than the fake intervention.