Most treatments and therapies for hip pain, like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or hip replacement surgery, are relatively modern. However, 1 form of treatment has existed for over 2,500 years: acupuncture, or the insertion of thin needles at specific points.

This therapy first gained attention in the United States after President Nixon visited China in the 1970s and his personal physician saw the benefits of acupuncture. Since then, acupuncture has steadily increased in popularity. Studies have been conducted concerning the ability of acupuncture to treat conditions such as nausea, addiction, and asthma, but the most common reason for pursuing acupuncture treatment is pain.

Multiple theories exist explaining why acupuncture is an effective treatment.

Traditional Chinese acupuncture was devised based on the premise that energy called Qi or Chi (pronounced “chee”) flows through the body along meridians. Disruptions of the energy flow are thought to lead to disease or painful conditions. Recent studies have suggested other possible reasons for acupuncture’s effectiveness.

3 of the central theories concerning the reasons for acupuncture’s success are:

  • The insertion of needles along the body’s meridians corrects disrupted energy flow and restores balance to the body
  • The needles stimulate muscles and nerves, which alert the central nervous system and cause the release of pain-relieving endorphins and neurotransmitters
  • Some acupuncturists theorize that muscles are connected by “myofascial chains” through the sheath-like fascia around muscles, so that stimulating an acupuncture point in 1 area might transmit a message along the fascia and affect an entirely different part of the body

Although researchers don’t agree on whyacupuncture works, it is generally agreed upon that acupuncture is a viable treatment for hip pain.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) suggests that 7 out of 10 individuals who pursue acupuncture treatment do so because of pain. A survey conducted in 2007 showed than an estimated 3.1 million U.S. citizens used acupuncture treatment over the previous year. In fact, the Cleveland Clinic had this to say regarding acupuncture:

“Although acupuncture is not a “cure-all” treatment, it is very effective in treating several diseases and conditions. Acupuncture is most effective at treating chronic pain, such as headaches, menstrual cramps and low back, neck or muscle pain. It can also be used to treat osteoarthritis, facial pain, spastic colon, and repetitive strain conditions.”

This suggests that acupuncture is a realistic treatment for many types of pain, as well as for some of the specific types of hip pain like osteoarthritis and muscle strain. A 2011 article, published by Acupuncture Today, also focused solely on the ability of acupuncture to treat hip pain from osteoarthritis. According to the article, acupuncture can provide relief for as many as 75% of people suffering from mild to moderate osteoarthritis-related hip pain.

Additionally, if a hip pain condition should necessitate surgery, acupuncture has been proven as very effective for the treatment of post-operative nausea. In some cases, acupuncture has also been utilized to help with post-operative physical therapy, which is a necessity of hip replacement surgery.

Acupuncture has less associated risks than most hip pain treatments.

The 1st attempt at managing hip pain is usually medication, like NSAIDs or opioids. However, all medications have potential side effects, such as nausea or dependency. For most individuals, acupuncture has very few risks. Soreness, along with minor bruising or bleeding, is possible with any procedure involving needles, and acupuncture is no different.

Another potential risk of acupuncture is infection. If the needles are contaminated beforehand, that contamination can be transmitted to the person undergoing acupuncture. However, licensed acupuncturists are required by law to use sterile, disposable needles, so this is very unlikely when the procedure is performed by a reputable professional.

Organ damage is also a risk of acupuncture, because if the needles are pushed in too far, they can pierce the organs. However, this is extremely rare for practiced acupuncturists. For acupuncture treatment of hip pain, particularly, organ damage is unlikely, since most of the acupuncture points used to treat hip pain are over bone and muscle, not organs.

There are some individuals who are not good candidates for acupuncture.

For example, people who are on blood thinners and at a high risk of bleeding should hesitate before undergoing acupuncture. Some forms of acupuncture use light electrical charges, so people who have any sort of implanted electrical device, like a pacemaker or spinal cord stimulator (SCS), should also be careful. To make sure that acupuncture is a safe treatment for an individual’s hip pain, he or she should discuss it both with his or her physician and with a potential acupuncturist.

Physicians are often able to suggest reputable acupuncturists, and the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) provides a searchable database of certified professionals. Additionally, an increasing number of insurance providers are covering acupuncture treatment, so an insurance agent might be able to provide a list of trusted acupuncturists.

Because of the benefits of acupuncture, it’s worth considering.

A big benefit of acupuncture is the low number of risks associated with it. Another plus for acupuncture is that it’s a quick and convenient treatment for hip pain. A typical schedule to treat hip pain includes 2 to 3 procedures per week, for about 6 weeks.  During each treatment, the needles will often be left in place for 15 to 30 minutes. After the acupuncture procedure, it’s possible to return immediately to normal daily life.

Have you ever undergone acupuncture for hip pain?

Image by Victoria Garcia via Flickr

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