Acupuncture is an ancient medical practice that is now making a difference to chronic pain sufferers in the Western world. It has been accepted as a drug-free treatment and method of pain and stress relief. Practiced in China for more than 2,000 years, acupuncture is a therapeutic system that makes use of sterilized needles for the purpose of restoring the body’s equilibrium. It is one of the oldest medical procedures in the world.
Acupuncture is a basic foundation practice in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which is based on the belief that there are two opposing and inseparable forces within our body. They are known as the Yin and Yang of a person. The Yin is representative of the cold, slow, or passive principle, and yang represents the hot, excited or active principle. A healthy state is achieved by maintaining a balanced state of the yin and yang. This balancing is done through vital pathways or meridians that allow for the flow of qi, or vital energy. Therefore, vital energy flow occurs along inner body pathways known as meridians.
These meridians connect over 2,000 acupuncture points along the body. There are 12 main meridians and 8 secondary meridians. Although traditional western medicine does not completely understand how acupuncture works, the proof that it does work has been shown in studies conducted by western medical facilities.
In short, this is a family of procedures that stimulates the anatomy of the body and helps to balance the energy flow throughout the body. The acupuncture practiced in the United States today is through the use of tiny, metallic needles placed in affected areas and manipulated by hand or by electrical stimulation.
Now, let’s move to the question of – does it work?
According to the National Institute of Health, the answer is yes. Acupuncture has been shown to be effective in many areas such as chronic pain, postoperative nausea, chemotherapy side effects, osteoarthritis, low-back pain, headache, menstrual cramps, addiction, carpal tunnel syndrome, and asthma, just to name a few.
Studies have revealed that acupuncture provides pain relief, improve function and mobility of joints due to arthritis inflammation, and is useful in providing complement standard care.
Although many Americans would doubt the effectiveness of acupuncture, once they are a patient, they usually become believers. Acupuncture works and produces its effects through regulating the nervous system. But it does not work for everyone the same because individuals are different and the practitioners are varied.
Since acupuncture produces its effect through regulation of the nervous system, it induces the release of endorphins and immune system cells at specific sites on the body. There is also the theory that acupuncture alters the brain chemistry by changing the neurotransmitters in the brain.
The needles are inserted at specific vital points that correspond to a specific internal organ. The light insertion of the needle into a vital point is supposed to free the flow of internal energy or “chi.” According to Chinese medical theory, any blockage in the flow of chi in the body’s “energy streams” or meridians can affect an imbalance in the body — resulting in an illness. The natural flow of chi ensures a person’s general state of health. The focus of acupuncture is on restoring harmony in the flow of the chi throughout the body and, in the process, balancing the metaphysical concepts of yin and yang.
Can acupuncture provide a benefit to healthy people?
Absolutely. Because acupuncture works by maintaining the balance of our vital energy flow in order to remain healthy, acupuncture serves as a tool for realignment. Even when our vital energy flow can be out of balance, and we still feel and appear quite healthy. It is in this capacity that acupuncture serves as a sort of preventive medicine.
Checking and balancing the flow of energy on the meridian points in your body is like your car receiving a tune-up before it is in need of a repair.
Ancient Chinese texts claim that acupuncture treats minor mental and emotional problems such as anxiety disorder. For this reason, some practitioners compare the Traditional Chinese Medicine method of acupuncture to the Western medical discipline of psychology. Both are seen as similar disciplines or therapy methods that have a positive effect on the mental health of patients.
The true benefits of acupuncture are found in its efficacy as a non-invasive, drug-free means of alleviating a number of physical ailments. It is also used in conjunction with traditional Chinese herbal cures that are perceived to be as effective as modern pills and medication. Acupuncture is concerned not only with providing cure to specific ailments. It is also used to determine the causes of physical discomforts and illnesses. Acupuncture practitioners make use of body charts that show the meridians or channels where internal energy flows to different parts of the body. These meridians correspond to the Western medicine layout of the central nervous system and circulatory system.
Studies are still being conducted by Chinese & Western doctors and other scientists to determine the efficacy of this form of healing. Even if acupuncture has already been accepted in different parts of the West as an alternative healing method, some in the healthcare industry are still skeptical about its long-term effects.
While there is still little research that make the curative claims about acupuncture absolutely undisputable, it is interesting to note the depth of understanding that the Chinese had about the inner workings of the human body thousands of years before the formal organization and practice of Western medicine. Perhaps researchers will prove in the future that the differences between Eastern and Western medicine is found mostly in culture and terminology.
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Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, et al. Acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2009;(1):CD 001218.
Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, et al. Acupuncture for tension-type headache. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2009;(1):CD007587.
Manheimer E, Cheng K, Linde K, et al. Acupuncture for peripheral joint osteoarthritis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2010;(1):CD001977.
Vickers AJ, Cronin AM, Maschino AC, et al. Acupuncture for chronic pain: individual patient data meta-analysis. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2012;172(19):1444–1453.
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Vickers AJ, Linde K. Acupuncture for chronic pain. JAMA. 2014;311(9):955–956