The Benefits of Acupuncture for Seniors: What Studies ShowSeptember 7, 2022
In recent years, acupuncture has become increasingly popular in the United States as an alternative or complementary therapy for seniors.
A growing body of research suggests it can be effective for treating a number of conditions common in older adults. What’s more, acupuncture is generally considered safe, with few side effects. Here’s a look at some of the studies that have been done on the use of acupuncture for seniors.
How acupuncture works
Acupuncture is an ancient healing practice that has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine. The basic premise is that there are energy pathways or meridians in the body through which vital energy, or Qi, flows. When these pathways become blocked or out of balance, it can lead to illness and disease.
Acupuncture works to restore balance and health by stimulating specific points along these meridians with thin needles. Studies have shown that this can be effective in treating pain, migraines, nausea, anxiety, and depression, among other things.
While more research is needed to understand exactly how and why acupuncture works, there is no doubt that this centuries-old healing practice can be a powerful tool in promoting health and well-being.
Benefits of acupuncture for seniors
Adding acupuncture to your current health program can deliver positive results, but the level of improvement will vary from one individual to another.
- Reduces pain caused by arthritis
Studies published by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) state that acupuncture can ease symptoms of arthritis such as chronic neck, low back, and knee pain.
A 2009 study published in the journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders also suggests that acupuncture is effective in reducing pain and improving function in people with knee osteoarthritis. In such cases, the treatment is believed to promote anti-inflammatory reactions that can reduce swelling and joint pain.
- Helps relieve tension and migraine headaches
A review of studies by the American Migraine Foundation found that headache frequency in patients undergoing acupuncture treatments dropped significantly, with results lasting for over six months. Acupuncture was also effective in treating tension headaches and cluster headaches.
Scientists believe that acupuncture triggers the release of endorphins and other hormones that reduce pain levels and increase feelings of well-being.
- Promotes better sleep
As we age, our bodies produce less of the hormones that help regulate sleep. This can lead to insomnia and other sleep disorders. Seniors are also more likely to have health conditions that can cause or worsen sleep problems. These include arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Medications used to treat these conditions can also cause insomnia.
Targeted acupuncture treatments can quiet the mind, reduce discomfort and relieve stress by stimulating the body’s production of melatonin. Those benefits are felt almost instantly after treatment and can last two to four weeks; however, studies show that combining acupuncture with medications is the most effective in treating sleep deprivation issues.
- Improves respiratory function
A 2016 study suggests that acupuncture can be used as an adjunctive therapy to reduce dyspnea in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The study followed 65 participants, who were randomly assigned to either an acupuncture group or a control group. The researchers found that those in the acupuncture group had significantly better respiratory function than those in the control group.
“Acupuncture relaxes all the muscles around the chest wall. It’s consistent with what we’re trying to do conventionally, which helps patients with their breathing exercises and relaxation techniques,” says Professor George Lewith, from the University of Southampton’s Complementary and Integrated Medicine Research Unit. “When people feel less breathless their quality of life improves dramatically.”
- Helps ease back pain
Acupuncture practitioners believe that it triggers the release of endorphins in the spine, muscles, and brain that reduce inflammation and ease tension. As such, acupuncture is presented as an effective way for seniors to experience relief from from chronic back pain.
“Acupuncture is about as effective as other treatments for chronic back pain that have been found helpful,” says Dr. Daniel C. Cherkin of the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute. His team has also found that simulated acupuncture, without penetrating the skin, produced as much benefit as needle acupuncture.
Acupuncture is generally considered safe when performed by a trained and licensed practitioner. However, there are some risks associated with the procedure. Be sure to discuss any concerns you may have with your practitioner before undergoing treatment.
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