WHAT IS ACUPUNCTURE?
Acupuncture is a complete system of health care that is used to diagnose and treat disease, prevent illness, and improve well-being. It is effective for physical, psychological, and emotional problems. Acupuncture originated in China more than 3,000 years ago and has been embraced throughout the world. It is based on the principle of “Qi” (pronounced Chee), a natural vital energy inherent within all living things that promotes the body’s ability to heal itself. Historians have stated, “More people have benefited from Acupuncture over the course of thirty centuries than the combined total of all other healing sciences, both ancient and modern.”
HOW DOES ACUPUNCTURE WORK?
There are numerous theories proposed to explain how acupuncture works. Studies have shown that acupuncture points correspond with areas with a greater density of free nerve endings and cutaneous nerve branches. In the case of pain, needling an area needle stimulates a sensory nerve, triggering electrical impulses to the spinal cord which signals nerve cells to release endorphins (a chemical that is effective in pain control), the midbrain to discharge neurotransmitters that block pain pathways, and the pituitary gland to deliver endorphins and anti-inflammatory chemicals into surrounding brain tissue and the bloodstream. It also stimulates the release of ACTH which fights inflammation, prostaglandins to help wounds heal faster, and other substances that may promote nerve regeneration. It has additional effects on regulating sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels in the blood; the functioning of the gastrointestinal system; the activity of the endocrine system; and boosting the immune system. Acupuncture also improves circulation, allowing the body to heal itself more quickly and more completely.
Chinese medical theory explains this mechanism using a poetic, metaphoric “language.” The vital energy, Qi, circulates throughout the body along well-defined pathways, called meridians. Points on the skin, located along these pathways, are energetically connected to specific organs, body structures, and systems. Pain and illness are the result of a disruption of this circulation of Qi. Acupuncture points are stimulated to balance the circulation of Qi, which influences the health of the entire being.
IS ACUPUNCTURE SAFE? PAINFUL?
One of the advantages of acupuncture is the virtual absence of serious side effects. The acupuncture points are stimulated with hair-thin needles to bring about the therapeutic effect. All needles used are sterile and disposed of after use, eliminating the risk of infection. In most cases, insertion of the needles is performed with a minimum of discomfort. Most patients find the treatments very relaxing and experience a feeling of well being after the treatment. Some people even go to sleep during the treatment. For those who absolutely hate needles, there are other methods such as acupressure, tuning forks, and moxibustion that can be used that do not require the use of needles.
FREQUENCY AND NUMBER OF TREATMENTS
Each person is unique with an individualized treatment plan. The length of treatment depends on the type, severity, and duration of the condition, and the physical state at the time of the treatment. Acute problems can sometimes be resolved in only a few treatments. Chronic problems generally require more treatment. Some patients notice an immediate improvement after the first treatment, whereas others may not notice any effect until the seventh or eighth visit. Researchers internationally agree the usual number of treatments is between eight and sixteen. Some patients with chronic conditions may require more than 20 treatments. Many people also use acupuncture as part of their health maintenance program. Regular “tune-ups” prevent illness and promote health, as well as add to the vitality of the body and mind.
Since acupuncture promotes the body’s natural healing ability, most conditions can be corrected or improved. Studies have clearly demonstrated that acupuncture is effective for far more than pain management. Many athletes have discovered that acupuncture helps them train at optimum performance levels and recover faster from injury. Acupuncture has a long tradition of use as a system for preventive health care in addition to treating disease.