What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a natural medical technique used to treat a variety of conditions. The technique involves inserting fine, solid, metal needles into the body through the skin. Needles are left in place for varying periods of time and manipulated by hand or electrical stimulation to treat any condition.
Acupuncture has an influence on most of the body’s systems – the nervous system, circulation, muscle tone, hormone outputs, antibody production and allergic responses, and the respiratory, urinary, digestive, and reproductive systems.
The major benefits of Acupuncture are:
- Drug-free pain relief
- Disease prevention
- Treats the cause as well as the symptoms
- Holistic approach to illness, linking body, mind, and emotions
- Effectively treats many common ailments
As an effective painkiller
Acupuncture stimulates the nerves in skin and muscle tissue and increases the body’s release of endorphins (natural painkillers) in the pain pathways of the spinal cord and brain. Acupuncture is therefore frequently used to treat musculoskeletal pain such as back, shoulder, neck, and leg. It is also successfully used to treat:
- trapped nerves
- chronic muscle strains
- sport injuries
- arthritic and rheumatic pain
Western Medical vs Traditional Chinese Acupuncture
Known as a safe and effective natural therapy, acupuncture has become an increasingly popular form of treatment for a wide range of cultural and social backgrounds. However, it is important to note that there are two varying explanations. These are the Traditional Chinese Medicine Explanation and the Western Scientific Explanation.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an integrated system, which has been used for thousands of years to treat injury and illness. Acupuncture forms one of the key components of the TCM approach to curing disease and disorders of the body.
In the TCM system of medicine, the body is seen as a delicate balance of two opposing and inseparable forces: yin and yang. Yin represents the cold, slow, or passive principle, while yang represents the hot, excited, or active principle.
TCM likens the human body to a highly complex electrical circuit. Like any electrical circuit, it must be kept in good working order if it is to function effectively, and if the circuit breaks down the result is illness. Among the major assumptions in TCM are that health is achieved by maintaining the body in a “balanced state” and that disease is due to an internal imbalance of yin and yang. This imbalance leads to blockage in the flow of qi (pronounced “chee,” meaning vital energy) along pathways known as meridians.
TCM theorizes that it is essential for qi, as well as blood to circulate in a continuous and unobstructed manner for good health of the mind and body. Acupuncture meridians or channels are the pathways through which the energy flows throughout the body. Acupuncture points lie along the meridians and are the holes that allow entry into the acupuncture meridians. The acupuncture points provide gateways to influence, redirect, increase, or decrease body’s vital substances, qi (energy) & blood, thus correcting many of the body’s imbalances.
The theoretical concepts on which Traditional Chinese Medicine is based can be divided into five areas:
- Philosophical – The Yin & Yang Theory & the 5 Element Theory
- Morphological – Zang Fu (Organ) Theory, Meridian Theory & Theory of Fundamental Substances.
- Pathological – Theory of Exogenous Pathogenic Factors & Theory of Internal Pathology from imbalances in yin & yang caused by lifestyle or emotions.
- Diagnostic – Observation, Questioning, Palpation
- Therapeutic – Needling techniques, Moxibustion & Herbs.
Western Scientific Explanation
The Western Medical acupuncture approach is an adaptation of Chinese acupuncture using current knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and pathology, as well as the principles of evidence-based medicine. While Western medical acupuncture has evolved from Chinese acupuncture, its practitioners no longer adhere to concepts such as Yin/Yang and circulation of qi, and regard acupuncture as part of conventional medicine rather than a complete “alternative medical system.”
Currently, there is not one western scientific theory that collaboratively explains all of the physiological mechanisms underlying the effects of Acupuncture. This is because Acupuncture has a variety of therapeutic effects on the body thus the action must vary depending on the type of pathology. However, it is proposed that acupuncture primarily produces its effects through regulating the nervous system. Regulation of the nervous system aids the activity of pain-killing biochemicals such as endorphins and immune system cells at specific sites in the body. Also, studies have shown that acupuncture may alter brain chemistry by changing the release of neurotransmitters and neurohormones. These affect the parts of the central nervous system related to sensation and involuntary body functions, such as immune reactions and processes that regulate a person’s blood pressure, blood flow, and body temperature.
In summary, scientists have deduced a number of theories from observing some individual clinical effects of acupuncture treatment. These theories and the observed clinical effects on which the theories are based can be summarized as the following:
- Augmentation of Immunity Theory – Increased Immune Function & Resistance to Disease
- Endorphin Theory – Reduction of Pain
- Neurotransmitter Theory – Inflammation Reduction & Promotion of Feelings of Well Being
- Circulatory Theory – Improved Circulation & Smooth Muscle Relaxation
- Gate Control Theory – Increased Pain Tolerance
- Motor Gate Theory – Hasten Motor Recovery from Paralysis
- Homeostatic or Regulatory Effect – Regulation of Body’s Homeostasis to Disease or Abnormal Conditions
- Bioelectric Theory – Stimulation of cells of tissue growth & repair
- Nervous System Theories – Central nervous system, spinal & peripheral nerve stimulation, resulting in some of the effects mentioned above.
Medical Acupuncture Use in Modern Medicine
Acupuncture is provided by an ever-increasing number of medical professionals in private and hospital clinics.
It is used by physiotherapists and doctors in an orthodox medical setting, having made a medical diagnosis first. The extensive medical training of doctors and physios play a vital role in establishing the effectiveness and safety of acupuncture use as one of many therapeutic tools in the treatment of a range of defined conditions.
Acupuncture is a powerful therapy and is generally considered safer than most conventional treatments. Serious adverse effects can happen if it is used without due care. Acupuncture should only be used by trained practitioners who can adequately assess the risks and benefits of applying the therapy to specific medical conditions.
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