A Guide to Understanding Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a natural medical system originating in China over 2,000 years ago. Although known in Europe as far back as the 1600’s. It started gaining acceptance in the West in the 1900’s. Over the last 20 years it has spread and is steadily gaining in popularity. It is now accepted as an effective and safe form medicine, with no side-effects. Most countries both regulate and license its practice.

Acupuncture is the most well-known branch of Chinese medicine, which includes herbal medicine, Qi Gong and Tui Na (a form of bodywork similar to osteopathy and massage). Other approaches like acupressure, which doesn’t use needles, and reflexology, are based on the theories and model of acupuncture. Chinese medicine views the body as an integrated self-regulating system. It has the inherent ability to heal and balance itself. When the body is in balance, and all parts are connected and in dynamic harmony, health is its natural state. Acupuncture treats the person as a whole. A similar problem, such as backspin, could have a different cause for each individual. Or different diseases could have the same cause.

Acupuncture uses thin solid needles of various sizes, about the thickness of a hair. They are inserted at specific locations to stimulate and regulate the body. These location are called “acupoints” and exist along pathways called channel-networks (or meridians) which traverse the body. The needles are prepackaged and sterile and are used only one time. There is more than one style of acupuncture. Some styles, such as Japanese acupuncture, don’t insert the needles, but only touch the skin. When a needle is inserted you feel a slight pick initially, but some people hardly feel anything at all. Once inserted you may feel a sense of distention or heaviness, or a slight achiness in the location of the needle, but no pain. The sensation and effect increases over time. Sometimes the needles are manipulated, sometimes they are not. Treatments last anywhere from twenty minutes to one hour. Depending on the health condition, successful outcome will require will require multiple visits.

Acupuncture needles are an effective way to regulate what is called Qi in China, which is by standard analogous to energy. It also affects the flow of blood and oxygen. Qi and blood can either be deficient, excessive or stagnant. Think of a small stream of water like a stream or river; the water can pool up which results in stagnation. Like a crimped water hose the water cannot flow through, and it gets backed up. If the water does not move or flow, because of debris is blocking its path, it is obstructed and you can have pain. Or it there is a lack of water the flow is called deficient. Ultimately the goal is to facilitate and balance the flow Qi and blood. Health is judged according the state of overall Qi and blood. Qi relates to all areas of one’s life, emotional, physical and mental. Acupuncture is particular effective in treating pain. According to this medical system, pain is caused by an obstruction (stagnation) or blockage.

Acupuncture theory explains that it works because needles can affect the flow of energy and blood along pathways in the body, which connect to various organs. Science provides a number of complementary theories to explain acupuncture.

  • Needles stimulate the brain to produce endorphins, which naturally suppresses pain.
  • Needles trigger the nervous system and interrupt pain signals to the brain.
  • Threadlike semi-transparent microscopic anatomical structures have been identified called channels. They are found inside blood and lymphatic vessel and overlay the organs. These have not yet been recognized in western anatomy.
  • Acupoints are located at located along connective-tissue planes  The needle interacts with and bind to connective tissue. Through manipulation of the needle fibroblast cells change states over time.
  • ATP (Adenosine 5’-triphosphate) acts as an extracellular signaling molecule and is released through needle manipulation (Medical Hypotheses 73:470-72, 2009)

When looking for an acupuncturist be sure to find one who is professionally trained and certified to practice. Since there are different styles, not all professionals may be right for you.  If you discover that one style is not working, it is recommended that you try another.

Even though it is ones profession, there are different styles so if you don’t like one style or find that it is not helping, you can try another. Some well known styles are Korean, Japanese, Meridian, classical and traditional Chinese acupuncture.

There are many alternative healing technique commercially available to the public. Most of these approaches require no professional training or certification and are not regulated by associations or government agencies. You can even find some physical therapists and psychotherapists who claim to be practicing a form of therapy based on Acupuncture theory. Don’t be mislead; it is not acupuncture nor is what they do the same. Although some medical physicians have adopted the limited use of acupuncture as an adjunct, the majority have not completed a full training program, which takes many years to compete, and, therefore, they do not have the same qualification as a professional acupuncturist. Always ask a physician or health practitioner about their training and certification. You’ll get better results from someone with a full training background.

According the the World Health Organization (2003 “Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials.”) here are some of the conditions and symptoms acupuncture can effectively treat:

  • neck, shoulder and back pain
  • sciatica
  • tennis elbow
  • sprain and pull muscles
  • arthritis
  • headaches
  • TMJ
  • hypertension
  • side-effects to radiation and chemotherapy
  • nausea
  • depression and anxiety
  • PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder)
  • allergic rhinitis and hay fever
  • peptic ulcer
  • dysentery
  • gastritis
  • renal colic (caused by kidney stones)
  • dysmenorrhea, PMS, menopause
  • cramps
  • stroke

As a safe and effective form of treating illness and a way of promoting health consider acupuncture as one of your first options.

© 2016 Keyvan Golestaneh