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Acupuncture is one of the oldest, most commonly used medical procedures in the world. A major component of the traditional Chinese health care system, it has been practiced clinically for at least 2500 years and is used widely throughout Asia and Europe today. Acupuncture works with the natural vital energy inherent within all living things to promote the body’s ability to heal itself. Acupuncture is probably the most famous modality within the umbrella system of Oriental medicine, which utilizes other techniques, such as herbal medicine, moxabustion, cupping, exercise and nutritional advice.
In recent years, acupuncture has gained acceptance in the West as scientific research confirms its effectiveness. In fact, almost 12 million patients are treated with acupuncture each year in this country. Acupuncture refers to the practice of inserting tiny threadlike needles at key points on the body. Acupuncture points are specific sites along the meridians. The meridian network is very complex, flowing throughout the surface of the body and deeper into the soft tissue and organs. Each point has a predictable effect upon the vital energy passing through it. Modern science has measured the electrical charge at these points, corroborating the locations of meridians. Acupuncture focuses on strengthening the physical condition, harmonizing the emotions, preventing disease, controlling pain, and promoting longevity. The goal of acupuncture treatment goes beyond alleviating or merely masking symptoms; it is to enhance the patient’s overall health and quality of life.
While western medicine is based upon a biochemical model, oriental medicine is based on an energetic model: a vital energy behind all life forms and functions that the ancient Chinese recognized and labeled “Qi” (pronounced ‘chee’). Acupuncture is an important method of balancing and regulating the activity of Qi in the body. Qi is the normal functional energy associated with all living processes. It flows through the body in the meridians. Disease occurs when the flow of Qi is disrupted in one or more meridians or areas of the body. Blockage or an irregular flow of Qi can result in pain, numbness, dysfunction of organs or uncomfortable emotions such as depression or frustration. When one sprains an ankle, for example, there may be pain alongside the entire leg, not just in the ankle. This is obstruction of the Qi from trauma. Although western science has not discovered a physiological understanding of the mechanics of the meridian system and specifically HOW acupuncture works, we do know the following:
- Acupuncture has the affect of stimulating the peripheral nerves, which send messages into the central nervous system along the spinal cord and into the brain.
- We are able to measure the effects of acupuncture stimulation by measuring and recording the various chemistry and electrical changes that result in the brain. So far, research has shown that acupuncture stimulation prompts a release of endorphins as well as other neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, can be associated with a host of brain changes and health benefits.
- From a western medical viewpoint, acupuncture stimulates blood circulation by dilating blood vessels all over the body. It has a regulating impact on the immune system, and likely also has a regulating impact on certain endocrine functions, which may be why acupuncture is so helpful in treating menstrual disorders and promoting fertility.
What Should You Expect in Treatment?
Most patients find the treatment very relaxing, with an accompanying feeling of well being. Most are surprised at how comfortable they feel during treatment and how easily the needles are placed. Many people even fall sleep during treatment. A patient may feel a slight sensation upon entry and then a pressure or a “dull” or ”’surging” reaction when the needle reaches the Qi or correct point. Acupuncture needles are far different from the hypodermic needles used for injections. The tiny, thin needles used in acupuncture treatments are specifically designed to be virtually painless.
How many treatments are necessary?
Each person is unique with an individualized treatment plan. No two conditions or people respond exactly the same. Some problems may be resolved within two to five treatments, others, such as chronic conditions, may require many months of care. The length of treatment depends on the type, severity and the physical state at the time of treatment. In lengthy cases, periodic evaluations are given to assess progress. In order to get the best therapeutic results it is important to follow the treatment plan and recommendations carefully. It is also vital to complete the entire course of therapy to restore health.
What are the advantages of acupuncture?
Acupuncture effectively treats a variety of health complaints with minimal to no adverse side effects. Acupuncture not only works to alleviate pain and other health disorders, but it helps the body to re-establish balance, enhance the immune system and reduce stress. Acupuncture can be used to treat already existing conditions and can be used preventively in coordination with a good diet and a healthy lifestyle to prevent more serious conditions from developing.
What types of illnesses can acupuncture treat?
- Acute and chronic sports injuries
- Acute sinusitis
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Constipation and diarrhea
- “Frozen Shoulder”
- Gastric hyperacidity
- Headaches and Migraine
- Low back pain
- Menstrual cramps
- Myofascial pain
- Nausea of pregnancy
- Peripheral neuropathies
- Postoperative dental pain
- Stroke rehabilitation
- Tennis elbow
Meridians and Qi
Acupuncture is an important method of balancing and regulating the activity of Qi in the body. Qi is the normal functional energy associated with all living processes. It flows through the body in the meridians. Disease occurs when the flow of Qi is disrupted in one or more meridians or areas of the body. Blockage or an irregular flow of Qi can result in pain, numbness, dysfunction of organs or uncomfortable emotions such as depression or frustration. When one sprains an ankle, for example, there may be pain alongside of the leg, not just in the ankle, but all the way to the hip, even. This is obstruction of the Qi from trauma.
Qi is also understood to be the life force-an insufficiency of Qi (or an excess) results in disease and the total absence of Qi results in death. Good health is completely dependent upon a balanced distribution of Qi throughout the meridian network that influences the organs and bodily systems: skeletal, muscular, endocrine, circulatory, digestive, respiratory, urinary, reproductive, and nervous. When Qi flows smoothly and harmoniously throughout the meridians, each bodily system and organ interacts in a like manner.
Several thousand years ago Chinese physicians discovered that Qi, the vital force, circulates throughout the body along fourteen major channels, twelve of which are duplicated on the left and right sides of the body. The two other major channels are located in the center of the body, one in the front, and the other in the back. There are a number of so-called extra channels and miscellaneous channels throughout the body. Today, English-speaking acupuncturists usually call the channels “meridians”. Meridians form a highly complex invisible network transporting and directing Qi to every part of the body including the head, arms, legs, torso, and organs. Good health depends on a balanced circulation of Qi throughout the meridians. Over centuries of trial and error and meticulous observation, the Chinese accurately mapped the locations of the meridians and identified hundreds of specific points in the meridians where Qi can be accessed and stimulated when there is an aberration of flow. Those points are commonly called “acupoints”.