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Acupuncture : What is it?
Acupuncture is a method of encouraging the body to promote natural healing and to improve functioning. This
is done by inserting needles and applying heat or electrical stimulation at very precise acupuncture points.
How does Accupuncture work?
The classical Chinese explanation is that channels of energy run in regular patterns through the body and over
its surface. These energy channels, called meridians, are like rivers flowing through the body to irrigate and
nourish the tissues. An obstruction in the movement of these energy rivers is like a dam that backs up in others.
The meridians can be influenced by needling the acupuncture points; the acupuncture needles unblock the
obstructions at the dams, and reestablish the regular flow through the meridians. Acupuncture treatments can
therefore help the body's internal organs to correct imbalances in their digestion, absorption, and energy
production activities, and in the circulation of their energy through the meridians.
The modern scientific explanation is that needling the acupuncture points stimulates the nervous system to
release chemicals in the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. These chemicals will either change the experience
of pain, or they will trigger the release of other chemicals and hormones which influence the body's own internal
The improved energy and biochemical balance produced by acupuncture results in stimulating the body's
natural healing abilities, and in promoting physical and emotional well-being.
What is the Scope of Medical Acupuncture?
Medical acupuncture is a system which can influence three areas of health care:
• promotion of health and well-being,
• prevention of illness,
• treatment of various medical conditions.
While acupuncture is often associated with pain control, in the hands of a well-trained practitioner it has much
broader applications. Acupuncture can be effective as the only treatment used, or as the support or adjunct to
other medial treatment forms in many medical and surgical disorders.The World Health Organization recog-
nizes the use of acupuncture in the treatment of a wide range of medical problems, including:
• Digestive disorders: gastritis and hyperacidity, spastic colon, constipation, diarrhea.
• Respiratory disorders: sinusitis, sore throat, bronchitis, asthma, recurrent chest infections.
• Neurological and muscular disorders: headaches, facial tics, neck pain, rib neuritis, frozen shoulder,
tennis elbow, various forms of tendinitis, low back pain, sciatica, osteoarthritis.
• Urinary, menstrual, and reproductive problems.
Acupuncture is particularly useful in resolving physical problems related to tension and stress and emotional conditions.
Conditions Recommended for Acupuncture by the World Health Organization (W.H.O.)
• Acute sinusitis
• Acute rhinitis
• Common cold
• Acute tonsillitis
• Acute bronchitis
• Bronchial asthma
• Acute conjuctivitis
• Cataract (without complications)
• Central retinitis
Disorders of the Mouth Cavity
• Pain after tooth extraction
• Periarthritis humeroscapularis
• Tennis elbow
• Low back pain
• Rheumatoid arthritis
• Spasm of the esophagus and cardia
• Acute and chronic gastritis
• Gastric hyperacidity
• Chronic duodenal ulcer
• Acute and chronic colitis
• Acute bacterial dysentery
• Paralytic ileus
• Trigeminal neuralgia
• Facial paralysis
• Paralysis after apoplectic fit
• Nerve pains and weakness (Peripheral neuropathy)
• Paralysis caused by poliomyelitis
• Vertigo (Meniere's syndrome)
• Neurogenic bladder dysfunction
• Nocturnal enuresis
• Intercostal neuralgia
How many treatments will I need?
The number of treatments needed differs from person to person. For complex or long-standing conditions,
one or two treatments a week for several months may be recommended. For acute problems, usually fewer
visits are required, and for health
Are there any side effects to the treatment?
Usually not. As energy is redirected in the body, internal chemicals and hormones are stimulated and healing
begins to take place. Occasionally the original symptoms worsen for a few days, or other general changes in
appetite, sleep, bowel or urination patterns, or emotional state may be triggered. These should not cause
concern, as they are simply indications that the acupuncture is starting to work. It is quite common with the
first one or two treatments to have a sensation of deep relaxation or even mild disorientation immediately
following the treatment. These pass within a short time, and never require anything more than a bit of rest to
All modern acupuncture needles are disposable to prevent transmission of HIV. In experienced hands, compli-
cations from needling are rare and never serious. If you are pregnant, acupuncture can still be used, although
caution will be exercised with the use of certain points. Laser acupuncture has no unwanted side effects.
What does treatment involve?
After a detailed history and clinical examination, the practitioner will discuss treatment options.
While lying down the needles are inserted in selected acupuncture points; then the patient is left to relax for
about 30 minutes. Electrical stimulation or moxa may also be applied. Alternatively, treatment with a low
energy laser may be preferred. With the laser, each point only needs to be stimulated for 30 seconds.
Are there any "Do's and Dont's" for me on the day of a treatment?
Yes. To enhance the value of a treatment, the following guidelines are important:
• Do not eat an unusually large meal immediately before or after your treatment.
• Do not over-exercise, engage in sexual activity, or consume alcoholic beverages within 6 hours before or
after the treatment.
• Plan your activities so that after the treatment you can get some rest, or at least not have to be working at
top performance. This is especially important for the first few visits.
• Continue to take any prescription medicines as directed by your regular doctor. Substance abuse (drugs and
alcohol) especially in the week prior to treatment, will seriously interfere with the effectiveness of acupuncture
• Remember to keep good mental or written notes of what your response is to the treatment. This is important
for your doctor to know so that the follow-up treatments can be designed to best help you and your problem
What can one expect from acupuncture treatments?
In general, most people should see some benefit within one to four treatments. Often there will be an aggra-
vation or worsening of symptoms after the first or second treatment, which should cause alarm. This quickly
gives way to improvement as the treatments continue. At first, the benefits may only be short-lived, but quickly
As the benefits of acupuncture are not only symptomatic, any perceived improvement is a real improvement,
equivalent to the tuning of a car engine. Depending on the cause of the problem, it may take a shorter or a
longer time to become out of tune again, which may require booster treatments from time-to-time. It is impor-
tant to understand that acupuncture can only improve function; but it cannot effect structural changes. For
example, it can reduce the pain and stiffness associated with a pinched sciatic nerve, but it cannot replace or
repair the damaged intervertebral disk.
What are the advantages of acupuncture?
As acupuncture is so safe, it is always worth trying, before resorting to drugs and surgery, which themselves
often have side effects. Anti-inflammatory drugs are the conventional mainstay of treatment for musculo-skeletal
conditions, but are notorious for causing unwanted irritation of the stomach and intestines.
Excessive painkillers can also damage the kidneys. In many instances, surgery can be avoided with acupunc-
ture, or at least the condition can be improved to the point where fewer drugs are needed to obtain relief.
On the other hand, many conditions that have failed to respond to conventional treatment can be eased [thus
enabling a reduction in drug therapy] or cured.
Contrary to popular belief, there has been a lot of scientific research into acupuncture over the last 20 years.
The ancient principles, which where hard to understand, have now been largely validated by scientific methods.
[a] Bio-energetic: There is much evidence to show that the nature of Qi is electro-magnetic. Acupuncture
points have a lower electro-magnetic potential, which can easily be demonstrated with a sensitive ohmmeter.
Disturbances in bio-energy cause biochemical changes, which in turn cause anatomical changes in the body.
[b] Neurological: Although meridians do not correlate with nerve or circulatory pathways, it has been shown
that acupuncture has an inhibitory effect on nerve pain transmission. It also has a direct effect on parts of the
brain by increasing the blood flow to the medulla, which relays pain message.
[c] Chemical: The body, in response to acupuncture stimulation, releases various chemical substances.
These include endorphins, bradykinins and prostaglandins. Endorphins are pain relieving and mood elevating
and are probably responsible for the euphoria that is often experienced after a treatment. Bradykinins are also
pain relieving, and prostaglandins have anti-inflammatory effects.
[d] Placebo effect: Proponents of acupuncture often argue that the benefits are all in the mind. The scientific
term for this concept is the placebo effect. It is generally accepted that in any healing, the placebo or psycho-
logical effect accounts for about 30% of the benefit, and that one's state of mind can affect the outcome of any
treatment. Despite this benefit, one does not have to believe in acupuncture for it to work; notably, acupuncture
works in children and animals, which are not subject to the preconceptions of the placebo effect.
Acupuncture does not work any more effectively in one racial group compared to others, nor does it form part
of any religion, Eastern or otherwise.
In summary, acupuncture by any means, can be very effective and safe in so many conditions, therefore it is
always worth trying.
What are the needles like? Do they hurt?
People experience acupuncture needling differently. Most patients feel only minimal pain as the needles are
inserted; some feel no pain at all. Once the needles are in place, there is no pain felt. Acupuncture needles
are very thin and solid and are made from stainless steel. The point is smooth (not hollow with cuttingedges
like a hypodermic needle) and insertion through the skin is not as painful as injections or blood sampling.
The risk of bruising and skin irritation is less than when using a hollow needle.
Because your doctor carefully sterilizes the needles using the same techniques as for surgical instruments,
or uses disposable needles, there is no risk of infection from the treatments.
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