Monday, July 27, 2009
The human body is comprised of an intricate network of energetic pathways, which are responsible for unifying the body’s organs to work together as a whole. These meridians work much like an electric circuit in that they supply vital energy, or Qi, to the body’s systems in order to attain proper functioning. For optimum health, the Qi must flow smoothly. It is when there is a disruption in the flow that disease occurs. Innately, the body is able to heal itself. It is this innate ability which Traditional Chinese Medicine helps to restore.
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is one of the oldest, most commonly used systems of healing in the world. Originating in China some 3,500 years ago, only in the last three decades has it become popular in the United States. In 1993, the Food and Drug Administration estimated that Americans made up to 12 million visits per year to acupuncture practitioners and spent upwards of half a billion dollars on acupuncture treatments.
Traditional Chinese medicine holds that there are as many as 2,000 acupuncture points on the human body, which are connected by 20 pathways called meridians. These meridians conduct energy, or qi (pronounced "chi"), between the surface of the body and its internal organs. Each point has a different effect on the qi that passes through it.
Qi is believed to help regulate balance in the body. It is influenced by the opposing forces of yin and yang, which are complementary forces in the universe. These complementary forces are therefore present in the human body. Acupuncture harmonizes yin and yang, promotes the normal flow of qi throughout the body and restores health to the mind and body.
How does it work?
Acupuncture restores the body’s bio-electric energy and smooth flow of Qi by inserting and manipulating fine, hair-like needles at specific points along the meridians. As the flow of Qi is balanced, one gradually returns to an optimum state of vitality and health.
Scientific studies have shown that the insertion of acupuncture needles may stimulate the release of endorphins, a class of opiates naturally produced in the brain. These substances are potent, innate, natural painkillers and sedatives which may explain some of the pain reducing properties of acupuncture.
Does it hurt?
Unlike hypodermic needles, acupuncture needles are hair-thin, and they are not designed to cut the skin. They are also inserted to much more shallow levels than hypodermic needles, generally no more than a half-inch to an inch depending on the type of treatment being delivered.
While each person experiences acupuncture differently, most people feel only a minimal amount of pain as the needles are inserted. If there is pricking or pain during initial insertion, it should go away quickly. If it does not, a patient should communicate to the practitioner so that the needle can be readjusted. There may be a heavy or dull achy sensation. There may be no sensation. In fact, the same patient may have a different experience with each treatment. Some people reportedly feel energized while others feel relaxed. If you experience significant pain from the needles, it may be a sign that the procedure is being done improperly.
Is it safe?
When practiced by a licensed, trained acupuncturist, acupuncture is extremely safe. As a system of health care, acupuncture already has some inherent safeguards. Because the treatment is drug-free, patients do not have to worry about taking several doses of a medication or its side effects.
Properly administered, acupuncture does no harm. However, there are certain conditions you should notify an acupuncturist about before undergoing treatment. If you have a pacemaker, for instance, you should not receive electroacupuncture due to the possibility of electromagnetic interference with the pacemaker. Similarly, if you have a tendency to bleed or bruise easily, or if you are a hemophiliac, you may want to consider a different type of care.
What conditions does it treat?
In the late 1970s, the World Health Organization recognized the ability of acupuncture and Oriental medicine to treat nearly four dozen common ailments, including:
- Neuromusculoskeletal Conditions: arthritis, neuralgia, insomnia, dizziness, neck/shoulder pain
- Emotional and Psychological Disorders: depression and anxiety
- Circulatory Disorders: hypertension, angina pectoris, arteriosclerosis and anemia
- Addictions: alcohol, nicotine and other drugs
- Respiratory Disorders: emphysema, sinusitis, allergies and bronchitis
- Gastrointestinal Conditions: food allergies, ulcers, chronic diarrhea, constipation, indigestion, intestinal weakness, anorexia and gastritis
In 1997, a consensus statement released by the National Institutes of Health found that acupuncture could be useful by itself or in combination with other therapies to treat:
- menstrual cramps
- tennis elbow
- myofascial pain
- lower back pain
- carpal tunnel syndrome
Other studies have demonstrated that acupuncture may help in the rehabilitation of stroke patients and can relieve nausea in patients recovering from surgery.
What should I expect on my first visit?
Your first visit to the acupuncturist is exciting and fascinating. Above all, it is very thorough. You may be a bit surprised at first when your practitioner asks questions that seem unrelated to your condition. Inquiries consist of dietary habits, bowel movement regularity and consistency, sleep habits, and your ability to tolerate hot or cold, just to name a few. These questions are necessary for your practitioner to examine your condition from the proper perspective in order to develop an adequate treatment protocol.
Depending on the seriousness and the duration of your condition, your first consultation may take between 30-60 minutes and may be followed by a treatment that usually does not exceed 30-40 minutes. As with most other health practitioners, the first visit to an acupuncturist begins with the practitioner taking your detailed history. But you may be surprised at the amount of detail that is significant to your acupuncturist. This approach ensures a treatment that is personalized. Depending on your condition, you may be subjected to an examination of the tongue, as well as an examination of the pulse. This is a major diagnostic technique in traditional Chinese medicine.
After an appropriate diagnosis is made, your practitioner will ask you to lie down in a comfortable position that you can maintain throughout the treatment. He or she will then insert hair-thin needles into specific acupoints indicated for your condition. Then you will be asked to relax for a period of time that usually does not exceed 30 to 40 minutes. Many people drift off into a peaceful sleep while the needles guide the body through its own regulating and rebalancing.
It may take several visits to see significant improvement or to alleviate your condition. As with any treatment plan, however, make sure that your questions are answered completely, and that the treatment plan seems reasonable. If you don't understand a particular technique or type of treatment, make sure to ask.