Acupuncture is an ancient art of healing of Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM) that originated from China more than 2,000 years ago. It involves inserting fine, sterile, disposable needles into specific anatomical points(called acupuncture points) on the body by a variety of techniques to elicit a healing response including stimulation of the body’s immune and healing systems. The acupuncture points are mostly located along pathways(called meridians) of concentrated energy or Qi. Qi is a Chinese term for vital energy or life force. In TCM, Qi is believed to regulate a person's spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical balance, and to be influenced by the opposing forces of Yin and Yang. Acupuncture regulates this energy (Qi) by techniques that produces ascending or descending, reinforcing, reducing, warming or clearing actions with the goal to move the Qi appropriately to create the right physical and emotional response.
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, yang represents the hot, excited, or active principle. In TCM, 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 (vital energy) along the meridians of which there are 12 main meridians and 8 secondary meridians. It is believed that more than 2,000 acupuncture points on the human body that connect with them.
The mechanisms of acupuncture, though not solidly proven, have exhibited several commonly accepted effects to the body. Most notable is that acupuncture stimulates the central nervous system—the brain and spinal cord, thus aiding the activity of pain-killing biochemicals such as endorphins and immune system cells at specific sites in the body. In addition, studies have shown that acupuncture may alter brain chemistry by changing the release of neurotransmitters and neurohormones and, thus, affecting 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.
Specifically, acupuncture is thought to operate by:
Release of opioid peptides
Opioids are naturally occurring chemicals in the brain that have an analgesic effect. The release of these opioids plays a significant role in the reduction of pain. There has been considerable evidence to support that acupuncture stimulates the central nervous system, releasing these chemicals.
Alteration in the secretion of neurotransmitters and neurohormones
Acupuncture is said to activate the hypothalamus and pituitary gland and thereby alter secretion of these chemicals. These particular chemicals play a direct role in the sensation of pain as well as the activity of an organ or organs. Evidence has shown that acupuncture alters this secretion in a manner that reduces pain. Research also shows that acupuncture positively affects immune functions in the body.
Stimulation of electromagnetic points on the body
The 2,000 points of the body that acupuncture focuses on are theorized to be strategic conductors of electromagnetic signals. Stimulation of these areas is believed to start the flow of endorphins—the body's natural painkillers.
In 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a review and analysis of controlled clinical trials on acupuncture. They listed the following as "Diseases, symptoms or conditions for which acupuncture has been proved - through controlled trials - to be an effective treatment", viz:
Adverse reactions to radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy
Allergic rhinitis (including hay fever)
Depression (including depressive neurosis and depression followingstroke)
Dysentery, acute bacillary
Epigastralgia, acute (in peptic ulcer, acute and chronic gastritis, and gastrospasm)
Pain in dentistry (including dental pain and temporomandibulardysfunction)
Periarthritis of shoulder
In addition, the US National Institute of Health Consensus Statement on Acupuncture states:
"Acupuncture as a therapeutic intervention is widely practised in the United States. While there have been many studies of its potential usefulness, many of these studies provide equivocal results because of design, sample size, and other factors. The issue is further complicated by inherent difficulties in the use of appropriate controls, such as placebos and sham acupuncture groups. However, promising results have emerged, for example, showing efficacy of acupuncture in adult postoperative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting and in postoperative dental pain. There are other situations such as addiction, stroke rehabilitation, headache, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and asthma, in which acupuncture may be useful as an adjunct treatment or an acceptable alternative or be included in a comprehensive management program. Further research is likely to uncover additional areas where acupuncture interventions will be useful."
Increasingly, acupuncture is complementing conventional therapies. For example, doctors may combine acupuncture and drugs to control surgery-related pain in their patients. By providing both acupuncture and certain conventional anaesthetic drugs, some doctors have found it possible to achieve a state of complete pain relief for some patients. They also have found that using acupuncture lowers the need for conventional pain-killing drugs and thus reduces the risk of side effects for patients who take the drugs.
During an acupuncture treatment session, anywhere from 1 to 20 disposable metallic needles are inserted into the body, ranging from just breaking the surface to up to 1 to 3 inches long , depending on what is being treated and the required depth or penetration. Only sterile, one-time use needles (that are sealed prior to use) are utilised. After use, the acupuncture needles must be disposed in a proper hazardous waste receptacle.
The acupuncture needles are often left in for approximately 20 to 30 minutes. Some practitioners insert needles, turn them either in one direction or the other or both, depending on what they are attempting to achieve, and these needles are inserted for perhaps 10 seconds only, removed and the same needle is used for treatment of other points on that same patient. In certain instances, needles are warmed or electrically charged after insertion. The electrical acupuncture can be used with needles or through the use of a non-penetrating probe.
People experience acupuncture differently, and rarely do they describe it as 'painful'. Most people feel no or minimal pain. Unlike needles used for injections, the tip of an acupuncture needle comes smoothly to a point, instead of by way of a sharp edge. Acupuncture needles are also extremely hair-thin—about 20 times thinner than a typical hypodermic needle used for injections. The acupuncture needles are solid and do not remove tissue as would occur with a hypodermic needle, making them safer. Some practitioners also use moxibustion and burn this on the needles during insertion. This is an herb compound that is often used.
In fact, some people are energized by treatment, while others feel relaxed. Improper needle placement, movement of the patient, or a defect in the needle can cause soreness and pain during treatment. This is why it is important to seek treatment from a qualified TCM physician or acupuncturist.
Acupuncture is considered a safe medical treatment. For this reason, many physicians and practitioners believe that acupuncture is a beneficial treatment as an adjunct to other medical treatments, and/or as an alternative to medical treatments. In certain situations, acupuncture may be used in combination with conventional painkillers, or to replace them all together. When practised properly, acupuncture is safe.
Relatively few complications from the use of acupuncture have been reported to the US FDA -in light of the millions of people treated each year and the number of acupuncture needles used. Still, complications can arise from inadequate sterilization of needles and from improper delivery of treatments. Practitioners should use a new set of disposable needles taken from a sealed package for each patient and should swab treatment sites with alcohol or another disinfectant before inserting needles.
When performed by a properly trained and licensed TCM physician or acupuncturist, acupuncture is safe and effective, free from adverse or addictive side effects. Quite often, a sense of relaxation and well-being occurs during and after treatments. While undergoing therapy for one ailment, other problems may resolve concurrently. This is a common side benefit that again demonstrates the value of balancing the quality and quantity of "vital energy" within the entire person.