WHAT IS ACUPUNCTURE?
Acupuncture is an Asian technique treating many medical problems by inserting fine needles into various active points on the body. Legend has it that acupuncture is 4,000 to 5,000 years old. The first written reference to acupuncture dates back to somewhere between the 5th and 3rd centuries B.C. Acupuncture began in China, but soon spread to other Oriental countries and in the past century has been practiced in Europe and the Soviet Union. Acupuncture is now practiced in China side-by-side and in cooperation with Western medicine. Many conditions have been found to benefit greatly from treatment using a combination of Eastern and Western medicine. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine’s theory, the basic energy force of life which flows through all living things is called Qi – meaning energy flows. When this force flows through the human body, it travels along twelve primary and two secondary channels or meridians. As Qi flows through the channels, it helps circulate the blood and also affect the nervous system. Along these channels there are 365 major acupuncture points.
Qi (energy flow) has two aspects to it: Yin is the negative aspect and Yang is the positive aspect. The twelve primary channels through which Qi flows are divided into six Yin and six Yang channels. For each Yin channel, there is a Yang channel. Despite their negative and positive nature, Yin and Yang are two aspects of the same force and one is no more desirable than the other. Yin and Yang must be in balance for Qi to flow freely and for all living beings to function properly. When Yin and Yang are out of balance, the body is susceptible to pain and illness. The traditional Chinese medical theory says that disease is usually caused by functional disorder first. When we mention functional disorder, we mean poor blood circulation and an imbalance of the nervous system. Only if Qi flows freely through the channels, when Yin and Yang are well balanced, can the function of the body be maintained in good condition.
An acupuncturist, in observing symptoms of disease, is able to locate the points on the body that govern a particular section of the channel that is blocked. The acupuncturist then stimulates those points so as to clear the channel to allow the life energy to flow freely again. By placing and manipulating the needles in the proper points, the skilled acupuncturist brings Yin and Yang back into balance. This restores good blood circulation and a healthy nerve system.
WHAT ARE ACUPUNCTURE POINTS AND MERIDIANS?
Qi circulates through the human body along certain pathways or channels, called meridians. Along these meridians, there are certain places, called acupoints, or simply points, which have been shown to have some influence on pain perception or bodily function when stimulated.
The physicians of ancient China discovered these points over thousands of years of close observation and meditation. Under certain conditions, specific areas of the skin can become tender to the touch. It has also been found that traditional acupoints, as identified thousands of years ago, are areas of reduced electrical resistance on the skin’s surface, and can be detected electronically.
The names of the classic meridians are lung, large intestine, stomach, spleen-pancreas, heart, small intestine, bladder, kidney, pericardium or circulation-sex, triple-heater, gall bladder and liver.
Most people think of hypodermic needles when they hear that acupuncture uses needles. Unlike the stiff, hollow, and thick needles used for injections, acupuncture needles are fine and flexible, in most cases no thicker than a thread or a human hair. The unique construction and design of these single-use disposable needles all but guarantee a smooth and painless treatment.
WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF BEING HELPED?
No doctor can cure all of the people who come to him, and no individual can be assured of success with a particular medicine or type of treatment.
Acupuncture is not a panacea, nor does it claim to be one, but research conducted here in the States and abroad seems to indicate that in many conditions in which pain is being treated, up to two-thirds of patients may be helped.
Any competent acupuncturist knows and respects the limits of acupuncture, and will frankly advise patients in cases where he cannot help them.
HOW DOES ACUPUNCTURE WORK?
From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, acupuncture helps to keep Qi flowing properly through the meridians or channels of the human body. When Qi flows properly, it carries its life force to all of the organ networks, encouraging them to work harmoniously to promote good health.
Obstructions at one point in a meridian cause a deficiency of Qi downstream, and an excess upstream which can cause diminished activity in some organs, and hyperactivity in others. This unhealthy state of affairs manifests itself as illness, pain, and other symptoms of disease.
An acupuncturist, in observing the symptoms of a disease, identifies the specific meridians or channels which are blocked, and attempts to normalize the flow of Qi by stimulating certain points along the meridians.
From a purely Western scientific perspective, when a needle is inserted into the skin, it sends a signal to the spinal cord and brain which instructs the nerve system to ignore pain which is present or to modify a particular body function.
WILL IMPROVEMENT BE LONG LASTING?
As a general rule, acute conditions require fewer treatments than chronic conditions.
Some patients respond favorably after only one or two treatments, others show little or no improvement until their eight or ninth visit. And sometimes, despite the practitioner’s best effort and skill, the patient does not respond to treatment.
Many patients who have been helped by acupuncture retain their improvement for months or even years after treatment. In cases where the symptoms return, people may be helped again with just a few more sessions.
Chronic conditions, especially those involving pain, may require a regular course of acupuncture as part of an overall pain management strategy.
WHAT ARE THE SIDE EFFECTS?
One of the great advantages of acupuncture is the absence of serious side effects associated with its use. This is in contrast to many potent Western medicines in which severe side effects in certain cases may be worse than the disease being treated.
As anyone who has been to an acupuncturist for stress can tell you, acupuncture is very soothing in its effects. Patients are as likely to fall asleep after the needles are inserted as they are to stay awake during their treatments. Very few report a slight tenderness at the point of insertion, and there is occasionally a feeling of heaviness in the head and limbs following treatment. In most cases, this is little more than the result of the deep and profound relaxation that most people experience as a side-effect of treatment.
So mild is acupuncture that it is often used in order to help treat the side-effects of more conventional Western medical interventions and practices. Patients receiving treatment for cancer, for example, frequently use acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine to help treat the side-effects of their radiation and chemotherapy regimens.
DOES THE TREATMENT HURT?
Following insertion of the needles, patients usually experience only a sensation of pressure, followed sometimes by a slight tingling. In some cases, patients can actually feel the Qi flowing at or near the acupoint, and some even report feeling the free circulation of their Qi as it is restored.
The needles remain in place for anywhere from twenty minutes to nearly an hour; typically, the patient is simultaneously relaxed and invigorated, and it is as common to fall into a light sleep as it is to become energized. At the end of the treatment, the needles are removed, and in most cases there is no bleeding following treatment.