Lymphedema occurs when the movement of the fluids in the lymphatic system slows down or stagnates. This causes the fluids that are loaded with protein to well-up leading to swelling that in turn causes the movement of oxygen to the tissues to slow down as well. Without an adequate supply of oxygen, the affected tissues and cells cannot function normally. Lymhpedema usually is a side effect of cancer and toxic cancer treatments.
Acupuncture Lymphedema Treatment
Studies done as the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center have suggested that acupuncture to be an effective and safe treatment for lymphedema. Breast cancer in women often causes this condition and it usually affects the side or arm of the part of the body where the cancerous tissue is located. The studies revealed that conventional therapies were ineffective in reducing the swelling; acupuncture treatments, however, was found to significantly lessen the swelling (by around 30%).
Acupuncture is a major component of an ancient Chinese medical codex known as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). It works by inserting ultra fine needles at certain points known as acupuncture points (or acupoints, for short) located over energy channels called meridians. When a needle is inserted, it stimulates a meridian just underneath an acupoint to help readjust and restore balance in the body.
Studies show that acupuncture stimulates the production and release of neurotransmitters known as endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals that have pain-killing properties that helps neutralize pain. Acupuncture also stimulates the pituitary gland that causes the activation of the adrenal gland causing it to release anti-inflammatory chemicals.
Because of the extreme thinness of the needles used in acupuncture, the procedure itself is painless. Most of the patients going for acupuncture treatment keep on coming back merely because it help calms their mind and relaxes their body. When an acupuncture needle is inserted into the skin, the sensation that is generated is akin to a mosquito bite which may be uncomfortable but not painful. However, if the needle is inserted into an incorrect point in the body, this may indeed generate pain. Licensed acupuncturists are not prone to this error and so if you do intend to try out acupuncture, make sure that you find a licensed and preferably a well-experienced practitioner.
Acupuncture treatments are considered very safe modalities especially when they are performed by a licensed practitioner. The needles used ought to be sterile, single-use, disposable and pre-packaged ones. Data from one study of 1140 treatments revealed no incidence of infections transpiring from the insertion of needles.
Scott Paglia is a licensed and board certified acupuncturist in Bellingham, WA and provides master level pulse diagnosis, Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture in Whatcom County, WA.