Highly trained and experienced acupuncturists, years of research and a multidisciplinary approach make the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine a leader in the field.
Acupuncture: it's one of the oldest, most commonly used healing systems in the world but research is now finding that that it can be used to treat a variety of conditions, from back pain, headaches, and menstrual cramps to simply maintaining wellness. In fact, a four-year study conducted by University of Maryland School of Medicine researchers -- published in the Dec. 21 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine -- found that traditional Chinese acupuncture significantly reduces pain and improves function for patients with osteoarthritis of the knee who have moderate or more severe pain despite taking medication.
Originating in China more than 2,500 years ago, acupuncture involves the insertion of needles into the body to promote health. The needles can be manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation.
Currently, there are a variety of acupuncture techniques and treatments used by American acupuncturists, some of which originated in different countries, including China, Japan, Korea and France.
Modern scientific research has shown that acupuncture stimulates the nervous system to release chemicals in the muscles, spinal cord and brain. These chemicals decrease inflammation and pain and may restore balance to the hormone system. The energy and biochemical balance produced by acupuncture stimulates the body's natural healing abilities and promotes physical and emotional well-being.
"There is a lot of research to show that different neurotransmitters are released in the brain and those have different effects throughout the body, including pain reduction and reducing inflammation," says Dr. Brian Berman, who is director of the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine and a professor of family medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Lixing Lao, Ph.D., L.Ac., associate professor and director of Traditional Chinese Medicine Research at the Center for Integrative Medicine (CIM), located at Kernan Hospital, refers to the theory of Chinese medicine to explain how it works. "The Chinese view is that the healthy condition of our body is balance between Ying and Yang (inside and outside) and that the energy, called "chi" or qui, which flows in the channels (meridians) through the body, keeps the balance," says Dr. Lao.
"Energy (chi) flows to maintain the balance. When you have illness the energy is blocked. So instead of treating after the blockage occurs, very often we use acupuncture treatment to prevent the blockage in order to maintain well-being," Dr. Lao explains.
Dr. Lao says acupuncture can act as preventive medicine and “nip illnesses in the bud.” He refers to a transition time between the health and the illness. “This period of time is referred to as a ‘sub-health condition’, before the illness appears,” says Dr. Lao. "This 'edge of illness' is the time that acupuncture could help to correct the imbalance and prevent illness."
Most research has focused on the use of acupuncture to treat pain, (especially from muscles and bones) and nausea, resulting from chemotherapy, anesthesia and pregnancy. Clinically, its applications range from treating back pain, joint pain, menstrual cramps and headaches to helping people maintain wellness.
In 1997, the National Institutes of Health issued a consensus statement after reviewing the research on acupuncture. Based on the research, the report said acupuncture may be an acceptable treatment, in addition to regular medical treatment, as part of a comprehensive management program or as an acceptable alternative in the areas of:
Acupuncturist Lixing Lao, Ph.D., L.Ac. treats a patient at the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine
The report also concluded that acupuncture can be effective for treating postoperative chemotherapy nausea and postoperative dental pain. Dr. Lao was the principal investigator for these two trials. Dr. Lao and Dr. Berman have also been the principal investigator and co-investigator on a number of other acupuncture clinical trials and pre-clinical studies funded by the NIH and Department of Defense.
Researchers at the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine (CIM) recently found that traditional Chinese acupuncture significantly reduces pain and improves function for patients with osteoarthritis of the knee who have moderate or more severe pain despite taking pain medication.
The four-year study was published in the December 21, 2004 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine. Dr. Berman was the principal investigator and Dr. Lao was a co-investigator of the study, which is the largest acupuncture clinical trial in the U.S, and one of the biggest alternative medicine studies ever done. For more information on the study, click here.
Dr. Berman says the CIM has been involved in other acupuncture studies throughout the years. "It was one of our first efforts when we established the program in 1991, so we have been researching acupuncture for 14 years and we have now built up a program of research of both preclinical/basic science studies and clinical trials looking at the mechanism of acupuncture."
Dr. Berman says at the CIM, practitioners are integrating conventional, family, and primary care medicine with different forms of complementary therapies, such as mindfulness based stress reduction, nutrition, Chinese medicine and Western herbs.
"I think the advantage is that we have both forms of care here -- they are not being split -- and we have a multidisciplinary approach. We also have practitioners, such as Dr. Lao, who are quite experienced," said Dr. Berman.
Dr. Berman also stresses that these alternative therapies are carefully evaluated, another strength of the Center.
"We're also looking at it (complementary therapies) in a critical way," says Dr Berman. "We're not just using every form of complementary medicine that exists, we are looking at things we feel have an evidence base to them as well as ones that we've had good clinical experience with."
And, according to Dr. Lao, what makes the Center special is the academic setting and the integrated approach taken by the staff. "We all meet as a team to discuss cases so we can all improve our skills and knowledge,” says Dr Lao. "We have case discussions with all integrative medicine staff, and we bring all the different aspects together. This is what makes our center unique."
Dr. Berman and Dr. Lao both have dual backgrounds in research and in Western and Chinese medicine.
"I have been trained in Western and Chinese medicine. And also I’m involved in research so I better understand acupuncture treatment," states Dr. Lao. “I often incorporate the findings in research into my practice and also bring my experience in practice to the research."
Drs. Lao and Berman have given over 200 presentations about acupuncture across the country and around the world. But helping his patients is what gives Dr. Lao the greatest satisfaction.
"In the last 10 years I've seen so many patients treated, recovered and getting better," said Dr. Lao. "So if patients tell you they’re getting better after treatment it makes you happy because you’re helping people, and that means that your knowledge and skills are useful."
Find the answers to some commonly asked questions about acupuncture
Read news releases about the latest University of Maryland Acupuncture studies about in vitro fertilization, osteoarthritis of the knee, and back pain. Plus, read about new acupuncture research findings at an international acupuncture conference held at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.