Acupuncture

Summer 2002 CSANews Issue 43  |  Posted date : Apr 06, 2007.Back to list

The Chinese healing art of acupuncture is a system of a number of medical treatments that are thousands of years old. Some authorities maintain that acupuncture has been practised in China for four thousand years. Though its exact age is vague, what is certain is that up until the recent 20th century, much of the world's population was uninformed about acupuncture, its origins and its capacity to promote and maintain good health. The first record of acupuncture is found in the 4,700-year-old Huang Di Nei Jing (Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine). "This is said to be the oldest medical textbook in the world. It is said to have been written down from even earlier theories by Shen Nung, the father of Chinese medicine. Shen Nung documented theories about circulation, pulse and the heart over 4,000 years before European medicine had any concept about them."1

What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is an alternative method of treatment that has been used for ailments varying from the common cold to diabetes and even cancer. Acupuncture is widely used to help relieve chronic pain, but it is becoming more recognized that a wide range of conditions respond well to acupuncture. It can also be used for health enhancement, to assist in sports performance and addiction withdrawal, and to improve your sense of well-being and vitality.

How does it work?
Acupuncture affects the physiological functioning of the body by the insertion of very fine needles, sometimes in conjunction with electrical stimuli, into specific points all over the body. Medically, acupuncture works by regulating various systems in the body ­ hormonal, nervous, immune, circulatory and muscular. In traditional Chinese medicine theory, the body has an energy force running through it known as Qi (pronounced Chee); an electromagnetic force travelling in a system of meridians or channels which connect acupuncture points to tissues and organs. This theory believes that Qi takes on many forms in the body; it is the force that warms us, digests our food, moves our limbs and basically keeps us alive. The Qi consists of all essential life activities, which include the spiritual, emotional, mental and physical aspects of life. Chinese medicine theory holds that a person's health is influenced by the flow of Qi in the body and that acupuncture can affect the flow of Qi in the channels and organs, thereby affecting hormones, nerves, muscles, immunity, circulation and so on.

What kind of treatment can I expect?
Individual acupuncturists' techniques can vary slightly; however, all involve the insertion of fine needles into the skin. To determine where and how to insert these needles, practitioners of acupuncture refer to the ancient Chinese theories concerning Qi and its system of meridians. The meridians (or channels) are symmetrical and paired. There are 14 main meridians running vertically up and down the surface of the body. Of these, there are 12 organ meridians in each half of the body (remember, they are in pairs). There are also two unpaired midline meridians.

The acupuncture points are specific locations at which the meridians come to the surface of the skin, and are easily accessible by "needling." The needles are inserted quickly to minimize skin pain and, when correctly stimulated, there is a feeling of tingling, mild cramping or an electric sensation at the point of insertion. Acupuncturists can use as many as nine types of acupuncture needles, though only six are commonly used today. These needles vary in length, width of shaft and shape of head. There are a few different precise methods by which acupuncturists insert needles. Points can be needled anywhere in the range of 15 degrees to 90 degrees relative to the skin surface; however, because acupuncture points are located on the patient according to the patient's unique anatomy, the ruler length among different people will vary widely depending on the treatment that is required. In most cases a sensation, not likened to pain, felt by the patient is desired. The point at which this sensation is felt will be the deciding factor used to determine where "needling" should occur.

Are the needles sterile?
Most needles used by acupuncturists today are disposable. They are used once and disposed of in accordance with medical biohazard regulations and guidelines.

Can acupuncture treat more than just pain?
A wide range of conditions respond well to acupuncture. The World Health Organization has deemed acupuncture to be a useful form of primary-care medicine for the following types of conditions:
  • Ear, nose & throat disorders: the common cold, sinusitis, tonsillitis, hay fever, rhinitis and dental pain.
  • Respiratory disorders: acute bronchitis and bronchial asthma.
  • Gastrointestinal disorders: gastritis, indigestion, duodenal ulcer, hiccoughs, colitis, constipation and diarrhea.
  • Eye disorders: acute conjunctivitis (pink eye), central retinitis, juvenile myopia and mild cataract. 
  • Neurological & musculo-skeletal disorders: trigeminal neuralgia, headache and migraines, facial palsy, shingles, peripheral neuritis, post-stroke syndromes, Meniere's disease, neuralgia, bladder dysfunction, frozen shoulder, tennis elbow, sciatica, lower back pain and osteoarthritis. In addition to this list, other problems commonly treated include menstrual, menopausal and pregnancy-related problems, stress and depression, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, sports and other injuries, and aching muscles.
Is acupuncture suitable for seniors?
Yes, age is not a barrier to treatment. In some cases, massage and laser may be used instead of needles but, when they are required, only a few needles are used, usually for a very short time. Acupuncture treatment of elderly persons is most commonly directed towards managing a chronic condition and reducing discomfort.

What will I notice after my acupuncture treatments?
Although individual responses vary, after receiving acupuncture treatments most people experience a sense of general well-being and relaxation that may last for days. Most people also experience an improvement in sleep, digestion and energy levels.

Are there side-effects?
There are seldom any side-effects from treatment. In some cases, symptoms may seem worse for a day, but they improve with additional treatment. In other cases, seemingly unrelated symptoms may disappear without direct treatment.

Health practitioners recommend that you never self-diagnose and always seek the advice of your doctor before trying any new treatment. Acupuncture should be  considered as a form of treatment alongside not only other "alternative" forms of treatment and traditional medicine, but as part of a holistic approach to your health and overall lifestyle.

Resources:
1) Singer, Jeffrey A. "Acupuncture, A Brief Introduction"
2) Web Site - http://www.lifeclinic.com.au/
3) Web Site - http://www.acupuncture.ca/

What different techniques are used in acupuncture?
There are many techniques used in acupuncture. In its basic form, several "needling" techniques are used by an acupuncturist immediately following insertion: Raising and Thrusting, Twirling or Rotation, Combination of Raising/Thrusting and Rotation, Plucking, Scraping (vibrations sent through the needle), and Trembling (another vibration technique). Techniques are carefully chosen based on the ailment. The number and frequency of treatments depend on the severity of the condition, the length of time the condition has been present, and how well a particular patient responds to therapy. Other forms of acupuncture built upon the same theories include:

Electro-Acupuncture - This technique uses very small electrical impulses through the acupuncture needles. This method is generally used for analgesia (pain relief or prevention). The amount of power used is only a few microamperes, but the frequency of the current can vary from 5 to 2,000 Hz. The higher frequencies are generally used for surgery (usually abdominal), and the lower frequencies for general pain relief.

Auriculotherapy or Ear Acupuncture ­ This technique is based on the theory that, since it has a rich nerve and blood supply, the ear has connections all over the body. For this reason, the ear has many acupuncture points which correspond to many parts and organs of the body. This therapy utilizes lasers and sound waves. Auricular acupuncture has been successful in treating problems ranging from obesity to alcohol and drug addiction.

Moxibustion ­ This is the treatment of diseases by applying heat to acupuncture points. Acupuncture and moxibustion are considered complementary forms of treatment, and are commonly used together. Moxibustion is used for such ailments as bronchial asthma, bronchitis, certain types of paralysis, and arthritic disorders.

Cupping ­ This is a method of stimulating acupuncture points by applying suction through a metal, wood or glass jar, in which a partial vacuum has been created. Blood congestion is produced at the site of suction, which stimulates the acupuncture point. Cupping is used for lower backache, sprains, soft tissue injuries, and in helping to relieve fluid from the lungs in chronic bronchitis.

Acupressure - One of the most popular alternatives to acupuncture, acupressure is simply acupuncture without needles. Stimulation of the acupuncture points is performed with the fingers or an instrument with a hard, ball-shaped head. Another variation of acupressure is reflexology (also called zone therapy). This involves the stimulation of the soles of the feet and the posterior-inferior regions of the ankle joints. Many diseases of the internal organs can be treated in this manner.