Long a stepchild in U.S. medicine, the ancient Chinese needle therapy acupuncture got a limited endorsement Wednesday from federal experts for treatment of some types of pain and nausea.
A committee of medical experts selected by the National Institutes of Health cited "clear evidence" that acupuncture effectively treats pain after surgery or dental procedures and controls nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy or pregnancy.
"We came to the clear-cut decision that the treatment . . . really did work" for those limited uses, said Dr. David J. Ramsay, president of the University of Maryland-Baltimore and chairman of the NIH panel.
"I view this as a beginning to a better integration of acupuncture into traditional Western medicine," Ramsay said.
The committee report said evidence has been found that acupuncture also is effective in some patients for tennis elbow, muscle pain and menstrual cramps but the studies lack convincing proof. The report recommended more research.
Organizations representing some 4,000 doctors licensed to practice acupuncture viewed the report as an indication that their ancient art is becoming part of mainstream medicine.
"It can now be called real medicine," said Dr. Bradley J. Williams, president of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, an organization of about 3,000 doctors certified to perform acupuncture.
Williams said he hopes the action will encourage more insurance companies to include acupuncture in health policies. About 10 percent of health plans offer acupuncture benefits, he said. Medicare doesn't cover the therapy.
Treatments generally cost from $95 to $125.
Many medical acupuncture practitioners lack medical degrees and often advertise in telephone books with claims of solutions for a long list of illnesses and disorders.
Dr. Gary Kaplan, an officer in the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, said his organization favors using the Chinese therapy only as part of a comprehensive medical treatment that includes physicians.
Acupuncture, practiced in China for more than 2,000 years, involves sticking thin, sharpened rods into specific nerve junction points on the body. The needles often are rotated or electrically stimulated.