What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is an ancient healing technique whereby the acupuncturist inserts very fine, sterile needles into specific points on the body, to strengthen the flow of qi (the life force of the body) or remove blockages along the energy pathways called meridians. Acupuncture originated in China almost five thousand years ago.
What are meridians?
The body’s vital energy is called qi or chi. Qi flows up and down along specific pathways or meridians connecting the organs deep in the body. Qi regulates spiritual, emotional, mental and physical balance and is comprised of two opposite forces called Yin and Yang. When these forces are balanced, the body’s energy is in harmony. Any upset in this balance will result in disease.
There are fourteen main meridians which includes one for each of the twelve internal organs: Lung (LU), Pericardium (PC), Heart (HT), Large Intestine (LI),Triple Energizer (TE) or Triple Heater (TH), Small Intestine (SI), Spleen (SP), Liver (LR), Kidney (KI), Stomach (ST), Gallbladder (GB), Bladder (BL), one along the spine (called the governing vessel) and one along the midline of the abdomen (called the conception vessel). When the acupuncture needle is inserted, the acupuncturist can either manipulate the needle to build qi if there is a deficiency in energy, or drain qi when there is an excess of energy.
How does acupuncture work?
There are several theories as to how acupuncture works. The gate control theory of pain suggests that acupuncture works through the nervous system to alleviate pain. In the nervous system, there are large fast conducting, low volt threshold fibers called A-beta fibers and small, slow conducting, high volt threshold fibers called C nerve fibers.
These fibers come together in the substantia gelatinosa of the spinal cord which sends pain signals to the brain. Pain signals go through “gates” moving from the injury site to the spinal cord and then to the brain. Acupuncture stimulates the points which affect the A-beta fibers. When the gate is hit with too many impulses, it causes the gate to close which blocks the slow pain signals. As a result, pain is relieved.
The Electrical Theory states that there is a correlation between the electromagnetic fields in the body and the meridians. Acupuncture points have certain electrical properties. Stimulating these points alters serotonin and noradrenalin, the body’s chemical neurotransmitters. Acupuncture stimulates the body to produce endorphin, which reduces pain.
The Augmentation of Immunity Theory states that acupuncture raises the levels of triglycerides, specific hormones, prostaglandin, white blood counts, gamma globulins, and antibody levels.
The Circulatory Theory states that acupuncture constricts or dilates blood vessels. This may be caused by the release of vasodilators (such as histamine) by the body, in response to the acupuncture treatment.
The Counter-Pain Treatment Theory states that when pain is inputted on one part of the body, pain felt on another part of the body will be less noticeable.
Can acupuncture be used during pregnancy?
Yes. During pregnancy, it can be very helpful in alleviating heartburn, hemorrhoids, backache and stress. It can alleviate pain during labor and stimulate contractions.
Is anything in or on the needles?
There are no drugs on the needles. Sometimes, the acupuncturist may place the herb mugwort on the needle and burn it.
Are the needles clean?
The needles are sterilized, individually packaged and disposable.
How are the needles inserted?
The needle is placed in a guide tube which is shorter than the needle itself. The acupuncturist taps it with his or her right index finger and the needle is inserted at a range of 15 to 90 degrees relative to the skin’s surface.
Following insertion of the needles, the acupuncturist may use these techniques: raising and thrusting, twirling or rotation, raising/thrusting and rotation, plucking, scraping (sending vibrations through the needle), and trembling (a vibration technique). Rotating a needle slowly or turning it to the left increases the tonification effect. Rotating a needle rapidly or turning it to the right creates a sedative effect.
Does acupuncture hurt?
There is no pain. Some people feel a slight sensation of heat or numbness and occasionally a sharp prick but these are only momentary sensations. There may be a little bleeding at the acupuncture points after the needles are withdrawn. Bruising may later occur at the acupuncture points.
How long are the needles and how deep are they inserted?
The needles vary in length from one-half inch to four inches. They are inserted just below the skin’s surface. The width of the shaft and the shape of the head vary. Some needles may be inserted from a depth of a quarter inch to as much as three inches.
How many needles are used and how long are the needles left in the body?
The number of needles is determined by the treatment plan but may vary from one to several dozen needles. The treatment time varies from 15 to 40 minutes.
How does the acupuncturist determine where to insert the needles?
The acupuncturist examines the patient’s tongue and performs a pulse examination which establishes the condition of the organs and meridians. In addition, the acupuncturist asks the patient questions in regard to his symptoms and the background of the problem. Needles are placed on the points that will help bring the body back into balance.
What conditions does acupuncture treat?
Studies have found acupuncture to be helpful in numerous conditions and many more are currently being studied. The United Nations World Health Organization has also recognized acupuncture as being effective in treating various diseases, by itself or in combination with other therapies.
Acupuncture helps various circulatory disorders, including: high blood pressure, angina pectoris, palpitations, poor circulation, etc.
Acupuncture has been effective in treating emotional conditions, such as: depression, anxiety, insomnia and stress.
Acupuncture also helps eye, ear, nose, throat and respiratory disorders including: cataracts, dizziness, tinnitus, sinusitis, tonsillitis, allergies, etc.
People with gastrointestinal disorders, such as ulcerative colitis and constipation, may find relief.
For women with gynecological problems, such as: hormonal imbalances, PMS, cramps and infertility, acupuncture has helped.
Men can find relief from prostate problems.
Acupuncture has also been shown to help muscular problems, such as: sciatica, neck, shoulder, knee and low back pain, etc. and neurological conditions, including: headaches, strokes and Parkinson’s disease.
Acupuncture reduces the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation and also helps relieve cancer pain.
In addition to treating conditions and providing pain relief, acupuncture is helpful in preventing illnesses by placing the body’s energy system into balance and also strengthening the immune system. Studies have shown that acupuncture causes a rise in interferon (an immune system messenger hormone). When the immune system is boosted, the body can fight off infections, viruses, toxins, parasites, etc.
How does a person feel during and after an acupuncture treatment?
Many people report a feeling of deep relaxation. Some people fall asleep during the treatment.
Do people get results right away?
The healing time varies according to each individual. The number of treatments recommended depends upon the nature, severity and duration of the illness. More than one treatment is usually needed. By the fourth treatment, a person may notice a change.
What modalities are used with acupuncture for treatment?
Moxibustion, cupping, electroacupuncture and Chinese herbs are sometimes used along with an acupuncture treatment.
Moxibustion involves the application of heat to acupuncture points. The practitioner places a small ball of moxa (the dried leaves from the plant, Artemesia Vulgaris) on the end of the needle or on the skin and ignites it. Moxibustion has been used to treat many ailments including: bronchial asthma, bronchitis and arthritis.
Cupping stimulates acupuncture points by applying suction through a metal, wood or glass jar in which a partial vacuum has been created. Cupping produces blood congestion at the site and stimulates circulation.
Electroacupuncture involves the use of very small electrical impulses through the acupuncture needles. This method is used for pain relief. The electrostimulation machine uses only a few microamperes of power. The current’s frequency varies from five to 2,000 Hz.
Chinese herbs are often prescribed by an acupuncturist to help speed up the healing process.
What are the risks or side effects of acupuncture?
Acupuncture is considered safe and effective when performed by a licensed and properly-trained practitioner. Acupuncture that is done improperly may sometimes result in these conditions: fainting, local hematoma due to bleeding from a punctured blood vessel, punctured lung, local infections, hepatitis B from unsterile needles, nerve damage, and contact dermatitis.