- Complementary Health Practices
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a medical practice from China that involves stimulating certain points on the body with very small needles.
The practice functions under the assumption that there is energy, called chi, circulating through every living thing, and when this energy is blocked or disturbed, pain and illness arise.
Acupuncturists use small, solid metallic needles to penetrate specific pathways within the body where chi flows to restore harmony and wellbeing to the client.
What is the history of acupuncture?
Acupuncture originated in China over 2,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest and most commonly used medical practices in the world. It is mentioned in the Huang-ti Nei-Ching (The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine), written between 2697 and 2595 B.C. The Huang-ti Nei-Ching is still used as one of the primary reference manuals for acupuncturists, and the practice has remained virtually unchanged.
Acupuncture gradually spread throughout neighboring Asian countries and to Europe before finally reaching the United States around the 1970s.
Today, it is estimated by the National Institute of Health that around 8.2 million people in the United States have used acupuncture.
How does it work?
Acupuncture is based on the theory of yin and yang, or that the universe can be described in terms of dualistic forces that must be in balance to create harmony and health.
Yin is cold, slow and dark, while yang is warm, dry and light. When these two forces are out of balance, the flow of chi is disrupted and blockages occur along pathways known as meridians, causing illness and pain throughout the body.
Acupuncturists believe there are twelve meridians, or energy pathways, that flow through the body and are related to various organs and bodily functions. Along these meridians are hundreds of specific acupuncture points that, when penetrated by an acupuncturist's needle, can be stimulated to either increase or decrease the flow of chi, restoring balance to the body. Practitioners also use heat, cold and electrical pressure to stimulate these points.
Medical theories that explain why acupuncture works:
Opioid Release states that endorphins, which are part of the body's natural pain relieving system, are released into the central nervous system during acupuncture and therefore act like a painkiller.
Spinal chord stimulation is a theory that believes that during acupuncture, nerves in the spinal cord are stimulated to release pain-suppressing neuron-transmitters.
Blood flow changes is a theory stating that blood flow is increased around acupuncture points when needles are inserted, supplying nutrients and removing toxins.
Does it hurt?
If properly performed, acupuncture does not cause pain to the client. The needles are very thin and small and patients feel little to no sensation of pain. Most clients report feeling either relaxed or energized after a treatment.
What are the benefits of acupuncture?
Acupuncture is mostly known for it's pain-relieving properties, but it is also used for stress management, asthma, impotence, tendonitis, arthritis, migraines and post-chemotherapy nausea. Because it is an alternative medical system, meaning that many people use it instead of conventional practices, it is used to promote general health and wellness, from physical and psychological issues, to emotional problems.
Is acupuncture safe?
There are many regulations and precautionary measures in place to ensure that only licensed professionals practice acupuncture, with sterile, non-toxic needles. The United States Food and Drug Association (FDA) has approved the use of acupuncture needles by qualified practitioners.5
Where can I find a practitioner?
It is important to find a fully qualified, experienced practitioner. Ask your primary care provider or ask friends and relatives who have had successful treatments for a referral. More and more medical doctors are becoming trained in acupuncture, and many can offer reliable recommendations. There are also a number of national acupuncture organizations with websites that have listings of practitioners in your area.
1 Mark Kastner, L.Ac., Dipl.Ac., and Hugh Burroughs. Alternative Healing: The Complete A-Z Guide to more than 150 Alternative Therapies. Henry Holt and Company: 1996.
2 National Institute of Health Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
5 U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
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