Acupuncture is a very ancient form of healing which pre-dates recorded history. The philosophy is rooted in the Taoist tradition which goes back over 8000 years. The people of this time period would meditate and observe the flow of energy within and without. They also were keen to observe man’s relations with nature and the universe.
Traditional Chinese Medicine views a person as an energy system in which body and mind are unified, each influencing and balancing the other. Unlike Western medicine which attempts to isolate and separate a disease from a person, Chinese Medicine emphasizes a holistic approach that treats the whole person.
Acupuncture is a method of encouraging the body to promote natural healing and improve function. This is done by inserting sterilized, stainless-steel needles (that are as fine as a human hair) into specific points located near or on the surface of the skin which have the ability to alter various biochemical and physiological conditions in order to treat a wide variety of illnesses.
Qi – The basic foundation for Oriental medicine is that there is a life energy flowing through the body which is called “Qi” (pronounced chee). This energy flows through the body on channels known as meridians that connect all of our major organs. According to Chinese medical theory, illness arises when the cyclical flow of Qi in the meridians becomes unbalanced or is blocked.
Acupuncture points are areas of designated electrical sensitivity that have been shown to be effective in the treatment of specific health problems. They have been mapped out by the Chinese over a period of over 2000 years.
WHAT’S A TREATMENT LIKE? (AKA “DOES IT HURT”?)
Does Acupuncture Hurt?
Acupuncture is done with extremely thin flexible needles that are 25-50 times thinner than a hypodermic needle. There is little sensitivity to the insertion of acupuncture needles.
While some people feel nothing at all; others experience a brief moment of discomfort as the needle passes through the skin that can be followed by a mild sensation of cramping, tingling, numbness, traveling warmth, or heaviness. The needles are left in place for twenty to forty minutes. Most people find the experience extremely relaxing and uplifting and even fall asleep for the duration of the treatment.
That being said, some conditions will respond better to a thicker gauge acupuncture needle. It is common to experience soreness during and after an acupuncture treatment. It is important to let your acupuncturist know immediately so that they can make you more comfortable. If you are sensitive to acupuncture or ‘needle-phobic’ your acupuncturist can use thinner needles and be gentler. Be sure to speak up and let the practitioner know how you are feeling!
Is It Safe?
Acupuncture has an incredible history of over 5000 years of successfully treating people all over the world. All needles are pre-packaged, sterile and are disposed of after each use. In the hands of a properly trained licensed acupuncturist, there are few risks. A side effect that I have seen in my own practice is the original symptoms worsening for a few days after an acupuncture treatment. Sometimes other general changes in appetite, sleep, bowel or urination patterns, or emotional state may be triggered. These should not cause concern, as they are simply indications that the acupuncture is starting to work. My teacher explained it to me like this: Acupuncture is smoothing out blocked Qi (energy) that is stuck in areas of your body. When a garden hose gets a kink in it, the water stops flowing. When you straighten the hose, the built up pressure makes the water burst out in the beginning. This is what can happen when you first have acupuncture.
It is also common with the first one or two treatments to have a sensation of deep relaxation or even mild disorientation immediately following the treatment. These effects should wear off within 24-48 hours.
How many treatments will I need?
Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to this question. The length, number and frequency of treatments will vary from person to person depending on the conditions being treated, your age and health, and how you respond to acupuncture. Acupuncture is a natural medicine that is assisting your body to make changes. This can be a gradual process. A consultation with an experienced practitioner about you and your condition will offer the best guide for the length of treatment. Generally, acute problems require less time and frequency of treatment. For example, an acute sprain may require only one or two treatments, whereas more chronic or severe ailments may require several (or several dozen) treatments.
How long will it take for the treatments to work?
A positive response to acupuncture treatments is generally seen after the first to fourth treatment. If you are being treated for a menstrual problem or infertility, give the treatments three menstrual cycles for your body to respond. You will schedule your appointments further and further apart after you have achieved optimal response.
How often should I be treated?
Again, this depends on what you are being treated for and your practitioner. It is common for treatments to be scheduled one or two times a week in the beginning to obtain optimal response and then once every other week. If you are not able to schedule appointments that frequently, your acupuncturist may prescribe Chinese herbs, dietary changes, exercises or pressure points for you to use at home.
Acupuncture is also often used as a preventative medicine. Many people see their acupuncturist only 2-4 times a year for a “tune up” or “balancing” treatment. This can prevent disease and promote health, energy and vitality.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
The Eastern Explanation for how Acupuncture works is that the life energy flowing through the body which is termed Qi (pronounced chee) can be influenced and balanced by stimulating specific points on the body. These points are located along channels of energy known as meridians that connect all of our major organs. According to Chinese medical theory, illness arises when the cyclical flow of Qi in the meridians becomes unbalanced or is blocked.
Definition of Acupuncture: Acupuncture is the stimulation of specific points located near or on the surface of the skin which have the ability to alter various biochemical and physiological conditions in order to achieve the desired effect.
Explanation of How Acupuncture Works: Acupuncture points are areas of designated electrical sensitivity. Inserting needles at these points stimulates various sensory receptors that, in turn, stimulate nerves that transmit impulses to the hypothalamic-pituitary system at the base of the brain. The hypothalamus-pituitary glands are responsible for releasing neurotransmitters and endorphins, the body’s natural pain-killing hormones. It is estimated that endorphins are 200 times more potent than morphine. Endorphins also play a big role in the functioning of the hormonal system. This is why acupuncture works well for back pain and arthritis and also for P.M.S. and infertility. The substances released as a result of acupuncture not only relax the whole body, they regulate serotonin in the brain which plays a role in human and animal disposition. This is why depression is often treated with acupuncture. Some of the physiological effects observed throughout the body include increased circulation, decreased inflammation, relief from pain, relief of muscle spasms and increased T-cell count which stimulates the immune system.
MODERN RESEARCH ON ACUPUNCTURE
Physiological Effects of Acupuncture
The National Institute of Health (NIH) states that “studies have demonstrated that acupuncture can cause multiple biological responses, mediated mainly by sensory neurons, to many structures within the central nervous system. This can lead to activation of pathways, affecting various physiological systems in the brain, as well as in the periphery.” NIH also suggests that acupuncture “may activate the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, resulting in a broad spectrum of systemic effects. Alteration in the secretion of neurotransmitters and neurohormones, and changes in the regulation of blood flow, both centrally and peripherally, have been documented. There is also evidence of alterations in immune functions produced by acupuncture.”
Current Theories on the Mechanism of Acupuncture
- Neurotransmitter Theory- Acupuncture affects higher brain areas, stimulating the secretion of beta-endorphins and enkephalins in the brain and spinal cord. The release of neurotransmitters influences the immune system and the antinociceptive system.
- Autonomic Nervous System Theory- Acupuncture stimulates the release of norepinephrine, acetylcholine, and several types of opioids, affecting changes in their turnover rate, normalizing the autonomic nervous system, and reducing pain.
- Gate Control Theory- Acupuncture activates non-nociceptive receptors that inhibit the transmission of nociceptive signals in the dorsal horn, “gating out” painful stimuli.
- Vascular-interstitial Theory – Acupuncture manipulates the electrical system of the body by creating or enhancing closed-circuit transport in tissues. This facilitates healing by allowing the transfer of material and electrical energy between normal and injured tissues.
- Blood Chemistry Theory – Acupuncture affects the blood concentrations of triglycerides, cholesterol, and phospholipids, suggesting that acupuncture can both raise and diminish peripheral blood components, thereby regulating the body toward homeostasis.