Acupuncture is a therapeutic technique in which special needles are placed on superficial or deep tissues of the body or in specially selected sensitive or pressure-sensitive areas of the skin to treat functional reversible conditions, syndromes or symptoms. Biomedical acupuncture is the historical development of traditional Chinese acupuncture when neurophysiology and neuroendocrinology managed to clarify the acupuncture-induced neural and hormonal way of action.
Today, the national health councils of most Western countries (UK, France, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Norway etc.) recognise acupuncture as a medical procedure. In the UK, acupuncture is provided at 34% of primary health centres, 86% of chronic pain clinics and 40% of general practitioners. In Germany, 15% of doctors practice acupuncture. In Italy, there are at least 120 state-owned or state-sponsored institutions that offer acupuncture to citizens with health problems. In the USA it is applied to hospitals of medical schools such as Mayo Clinic, UCLA, Stanford University.
Studies have shown that needle insertion at certain points activates central nervous system centres that in turn reduce pain and stress sensitivity. The mechanisms by which its anti-inflammatory action is produced are studied. Acupuncture appears to stimulate the nervous system and causes the release of neurotransmitters. The following biochemical changes regulate the homeostatic mechanisms of the body (the mechanisms that ensure the balanced functioning of its systems), thus causing emotional and physical health.
Its main indications in the West are acute pain and chronic pain syndromes (where it has been shown to be effective in 55-85% of patients). There is sufficient evidence of its beneficial effect on patients with knee osteoarthritis, chronic lumbar pain, migraine and chronic tension-type headaches, postoperative nausea and vomiting, and the reduction of adverse events following chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Additionally, acupuncture is recommended as an adjunctive treatment to idiopathic pain syndromes, such as irritable bowel syndrome, temporomandibular joint syndrome, chronic pelvic pain, fibromyalgia and chronic headaches.
In addition to the above, for women, acupuncture appears to produce beneficial effects in many cases such as infertility, premenstrual syndrome, menopausal flashes, dysmenorrhea, polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, sexual dysfunction, induction and analgesia in childbirth, nausea and dyspepsia of pregnancy, postpartum depression and urinary incontinence.
It is concluded that acupuncture is another therapeutic tool that the obstetrician – gynaecologist may propose in cases where the other treatments may be ineffective, inadequate or even dangerous.