What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture was initially based on the ancient concept of ‘qi’ or life force which flows through the body’s meridians or pathways. It was practiced by inserting very thin needles into specific points along those pathways on the surface of the skin. The theory behind the therapy was that this would affect the life force or qi and rebalance the energy flow of the body, thereby treating the patient.

The traditional views of acupuncture have been studied and worked on over thousands of years. The current thinking or modern explanation is that acupuncture works by stimulating nerve endings, muscles, and connective tissues. Students of acupuncture have noted the similarity with pain referral patterns known as the Travell trigger points and the pathways or meridians described by acupuncturists. Some researchers wonder if acupuncture stimulates the body’s natural pain relief system.

History of acupuncture

Acupuncture is a system of diagnosis and treatment which began in ancient China. Stone tools and instruments that date from thousands of years ago are considered by some archeologists and historians to be instruments of acupuncture. Others think they were instruments for drawing blood or treating abscesses. Acupuncture was used along with massage, heat therapy, known as moxibustion, diet modifications, and medicinal herbs as a form of medical treatment.

The earliest written record of acupuncture that we know of was in the Chinese medical text called Huang Di Nei Jing. This translates into the Yellow Emperors Classic of Internal Medicine. The systems and theories of acupuncture were developed and recorded over the centuries, and it was exported to Korea, Japan, and other nearby localities. Acupuncture reached the West in the 20th century and has since found a place as a treatment for chronic pain conditions such as arthritis. Today acupuncture is a branch of a codified system of medicine known as Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Processes and treatments that are similar to acupuncture include moxibustion, sonopressure, cupping therapy, and fire needle acupuncture. Electroacupuncture and Tui Na are also practices that are related to acupuncture.

Contemporary acupuncture

Acupuncture still needs to undergo extensive research with the use of a placebo control group. Many people have refuted the available research into acupuncture as lacking objective analysis, for example, having publication bias or lacking effective research methodology. Acupuncture is still in use as an alternative therapy or treatment, especially to alleviate pain.

Acupuncture is often used along with other forms of treatment and may be used in cases of chronic pain and has been found to be effective in treating some kinds of arthritis, headaches, dental pain, and back pain. It is also used by some as stress management and general wellness therapy. The uses and limitations of acupuncture are still being studied with more research needed into its efficiency.

Acupuncture has been found to have some efficiency in the management of osteoarthritis, lower back pain and knee pain, lateral elbow pain, or tennis elbow. Acupuncture was also studied as an effective remedy to improve sleep patterns in menopausal women. The results show that it has some positive effects on those sleep patterns. Acupuncture was investigated and found wanting as a pain relief method for fibromyalgia and other kinds of rheumatoid arthritis. It is not recommended as a treatment for most kinds of rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia.

How is acupuncture performed?

The first step in getting acupuncture involves finding a trusted and experienced practitioner. The training and credentials of the practitioner should be valid and up to date. Find out the style of acupuncture that is done by the practitioner.

An initial assessment is performed when the practitioner will let you know the efficiency rates of acupuncture for the kind of pain you are experiencing. He or She will check which parts of the body are painful, the color of the face and tongue, and the strength and quality of your pulse. A typical treatment plan may involve two half-hour visits a week. Treatment may require six to eight visits.

The actual procedure involves the insertion of the fine thin needles in the body. The needles used will be thick enough to avoid breakage and thin enough to prevent pain to the patient. The needles are applied to a particular dept on many points of the body. These points may not necessarily be the point at which pain is being felt. A mild aching sensation is felt on needle insertion.

Needle manipulation involves the practitioners gently moving the needles in place or applying very mild bursts of electric current or heat to the needles. The needle removal will occur after ten to twenty minutes after manipulation. Removal or insertion of needles does not cause pain.

Why is acupuncture performed?

Acupuncture is mostly performed to alleviate pain, especially cases of chronic pain where other treatment methods are not effective in pain management. It is considered an option of pain management because of the relatively low risks to the patient and because it has been found to have some limited success.

Acupuncture may be performed in cases of chemotherapy or operation induced nausea. It is also used as a pain management therapy for migraine and tension headaches, menstrual pain, and labor pain. Acupuncture has been shown to have some efficiency in alleviating pain symptoms of low back pain, neck pain, and osteoarthritis.

Risks of acupuncture

Most of the risks of acupuncture revolve around the use of needles that had not been adequately disinfected. These days it is the law in most states to have single-use needles that are disposed of after each use. This has eliminated most of the risk from acupuncture.

Acupuncture does not have many side effects. However, some people should get medical advice before trying acupuncture. Caution should be applied by people with bleeding disorders and by people who are taking blood thinners as part of their medical treatment. Heart patients with pacemakers should be cautious about kinds of acupuncture that involve applying light electrical impulses into the needles. Some types of acupuncture are thought to stimulate labor, so a pregnant woman should receive acupuncture with caution.