Over three million Americans currently receive acupuncture each year, with the number increasing annually. Acupuncture is not a new flash in the pan treatment with its own infomercial. In fact, it is a practice of medicine that that has been evolving for many thousands of years. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has contributed a large amount of influence to today’s practiced acupuncture, but many other countries have developed acupuncture protocols from TCM, including Korea, Vietnam, Japan and France. There is even recent evidence, from the archeological remains of a 5,000-year-old mummified body found in the Alps, that acupuncture may have been practiced in Eurasia during the early Bronze Age, long before the oldest historical records in China.
Recently, Western science has devoted great effort to conclusively answer the question of whether acupuncture is an effective means of treating many common illnesses (illnesses that Western medicine has difficulty treating). Techniques such as neuro-imaging indicate acupuncture can quiet areas of the brain that cause us to perceive pain, while stimulating those areas that allow us to rest and regenerate damaged tissues. Both acupuncture points and meridians have been visualized using infrared imaging, LCD thermal photography, MRI, ultrasound and other CT (special x-ray equipment) imaging techniques. Doppler ultrasound has shown increased blood flow in areas treated by acupuncture, and thermal imaging shows that inflammation is resolved a minute after needles are inserted into specific acupuncture points.
In 2012, a systematic review of randomized controlled trials was conducted to determine if acupuncture was a viable means of treating chronic pain. This study was significant because it utilized the meta-analyses data of 17,922 patients, the largest conducted for acupuncture research. It found that acupuncture was effective for the treatment of chronic pain and can be considered a reasonable referral option for current healthcare treatment. Significant differences existed between actual acupuncture points and random points, indicating that acupuncture is more than a placebo effect.
How does it work?
Acupuncture is based on the concept of an energy force called “Qi” that courses through the body, allowing proper functioning of both organs and tissues. Without the proper flow of Qi in the body, stagnation can occur, causing pain, dysfunction, atrophy and disease. There are 14 meridians or pathways in the body that have been traced, possessing both superficial and internal channels. The acupuncture needle, when inserted in the right location, at the right depth and in a specific manner, can correct improper Qi flow. Acupuncture points are associated with specific meridians and functions. When points are used in combination, a multitude of disorders can be addressed.
Traditionally, acupuncture has been used to treat many ailments, including, but not limited to acne, allergies, anxiety, lower back pain, asthma, infertility, migraines, musculoskeletal issues and stroke. Today, acupuncture is being applied to new diagnoses such as postoperative and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, gastroparesis (delayed gastric emptying), osteoarthritis, heroin addiction, dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing), depression and anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia, xerostomia (dry mouth), carpal tunnel syndrome and menstrual disorders like dysmenorrhea.
A traditional acupuncturist will create a treatment protocol based upon diagnostic methods that include a series of questions that involve symptoms and health concerns, inspection of tongue characteristics and palpation of pulses and tender “A-shi” points that indicate stagnation of Qi. In addition to using needles, TCM can utilize other techniques to address specific health concerns if the patient consents, including cupping, (a method of using cups to create suction on the skin to remove stagnant blood or Qi); Tui Na (a form of medical massage that addresses the connective tissues, muscles, and joints); moxibustion (burning a specific herb to warm stagnant tissue); electroacupuncture (a form of acupuncture in which acupuncture needles are attached to a minute electric pulse to stimulate muscle growth or release muscle pain) and guasha (a scraping technique that can remove toxins that stagnate in the tissues).
Acupuncture is generally not a very painful experience; in fact, people usually find it very relaxing. Acupuncture can be coupled with many other types of treatment including Naturopathic consultation and colon hydrotherapy.