What Is Acupuncture?
Firstly welcome to our beginners guide on Acupuncture and thank you for joining me as we embark on a quick journey of discovery into this sometimes mysterious art. In this first introductory chapter, we will be going over a few key points of Acupuncture and exactly what you need to know, upon which we will delve deeper into in the coming chapters. Let’s get started…
First and foremost, Acupuncture is a well-known alternative to mainstream medicine that originated from China. It is a branch of traditional Chinese medicine that dates back thousands of years and is a widely accepted alternative form of medicine in the Western healthcare industry.
Today, it is widely used to treat different specific ailments such as a chronic backache and headaches, osteoarthritis, postoperative pain and vomiting, allergies, cancer-related conditions, stroke, and even infertility. It is a common substitute for patients that are looking for less aggressive types of treatment but is not recommended to be used as the primary treatment in any kind of illness. Most places that practice acupuncture are found in the US, UK, and Asia, and are mostly done by private practitioners.
How Acupuncture Works?
The word acupuncture comes from the Latin words acus and punctura, the former meaning needle, and the latter meaning to puncture. The procedure is literally the act of puncturing the skin with the use of fine needles with the aim of stimulating the body’s acupuncture points.
The needles may vary in size depending on the area it will be placed, and patients are asked to lie down as the needles are carefully positioned allowing it to penetrate the skin. The penetration, however, will not be deep enough to permanently damage the skin. The procedure may last for a couple of minutes to a few hours depending on the severity of your health concern. Although it may seem painful and scary at a glance, most practitioners guarantee that there will only be minimal pain much similar to a buzzing or stinging sensation, and patients who have undergone this treatment will be able to attest to the relaxing sensation it provides.
The Principles of Acupuncture
The traditional form of acupuncture is firmly based on the principles of traditional Chinese medicine.
According to their beliefs, our bodies are filled with Qi, a life force that circulates through our body through the main organs. This same energy is then distributed to the entirety of our bodies, including the tissues, bones, nerves, and veins through channels known as meridians. These meridians can be likened to railways that easily transport Qi energy from one major organ to the other. The proper flow of Qi in our system creates a balanced environment in our bodies thus keeping us healthy. In line with this, traditional Chinese medicine believes that all diseases are caused by a certain form of imbalance whether caused by our environment or changes in our body.
In the modern age, the existences of both Qi and meridians have still not been proven by science. This has caused acupuncturists to take a different approach in explaining the process of acupuncture in relation to the treatment of pain.
A more acceptable explanation in the scientific field about how acupuncture works is the body’s release of endorphins and adenosine whenever a needle penetrates the skin. The said releases of these chemicals have been found to relieve pain and make patients feel better. The use of acupuncture can temporarily alleviate pain without having to take medication or undergo surgery. There is, however, no medical or scientific proof in its efficacy in eliminating major health conditions.
Add what you are comfortable with at your own pace. For some, that’s a lot of changes right away. For others, it’s one at a time. Only you truly know the answer to which way is best for you.
Well, that’s a basic introduction to the world of Acupuncture, over the next few chapters we will take a more in-depth look at some of the aspects mentioned above. Are you ready? Let’s go…
The History Of Acupuncture & How It Affects You
Long before the emergence of Western medicine, the Chinese have already established their own form of medicine and healing. For thousands of years, Chinese healers have continuously refined their system resulting in complex and elaborate processes aimed at channeling the proper flow of energy in our bodies to combat certain illnesses.
In this beginning chapter, we will be looking at how Acupuncture came into existence from its inception to current use and then into the future.
The Roots of Acupuncture
Although the specific date when acupuncture was first used cannot be determined, it was first introduced in the “Classic of Internal Medicine of the Yellow Emperor”, China’s earliest book on Chinese medicine dating back from 1st century BC. It is said that the teachings on this book make up the foundation of the techniques currently practiced in acupuncture today.
The Rise & Fall of Traditional Chinese Medicine
When modern medicine emerged and became widely used around the world, acupuncture and other forms of traditional Chinese medicine became out of place and lost its popularity, especially with its lack of scientific basis.
The 20th century became a slow time for acupuncture due to new healthcare treatments introduced by the Westerners. Many doctors educated and trained under western medicine pushed to ban acupuncture as well other branches of traditional Chinese medicine because of its unconventionality and lack of scientific basis.
The call to put an end to traditional Chinese medicine was stopped by the National Medical Assembly on the 17th of March, 1929. The protesters failed and their call was rejected. Even so, acupuncture and other methods of Chinese healing became overshadowed by western medicine. This continued on until 1934, at the onset of the Long March, a time of political unrest where the Communists had to flee their base due to attacks led by the Nationalists.
During this time many soldiers died due to lack of medicine, and aesthetics. Surgery became impossible without the proper equipment and drugs needed. This became an opportunity for traditional Chinese doctors to revive their profession in light of the chaos caused by the war. They were able to save numerous lives with the help of acupuncture and other traditional forms of Chinese healing.
Although Western medicine may not recognize acupuncture as a science due to it being rooted in the existences of Qi and meridians (which have no scientific proof), it is hard to discount the fact the many scholars have discovered as much about the human body and its functions, as well as its reaction to stimulation and stress through the use of acupuncture.
The period of the Long March paved the way for traditional Chinese medicine to make its way back into regular medical practices in China. Alongside western medicine, acupuncture and other traditional Chinese methods gave patients more options when it came to finding proper and effective treatments for their illnesses.
In 1948, upon the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, all divisions of traditional Chinese medicine were encouraged to be continuously cultivated and practiced by healthcare practitioners in China. Because of this, traditional Chinese medicine found its way back into hospitals by 1978, where research departments were devoted to the improvement of the many branches of traditional Chinese healing.
Today, because of the long history of traditional Chinese medicine and its eventual success in the modern age, all of its branches, especially acupuncture is now widely practiced and accepted as a form of medical treatment all over the world.
The Concepts Of Qi & Meridians
Before we delve further into the actual treatment of Acupuncture, it is also good to know about the concepts behind it and the terminology that you will hear from your acupuncturist from time to time. Getting to know the vital information about the process will be able to prepare your mind and body for what is to come.
Acupuncture is believed to help regulate the flow of Qi in the body, an important energy that aids in maintaining its natural balance and connection to the universe.
The main goal of traditional Chinese medicine is to help the body achieve harmony in relation to the major organs and harmony with the body’s external surroundings.
Zang-Fu Organs, Qi, and Meridians Defined
Although Qi may have different names in different parts of the world, the belief that it is an important energy that balances all living things is one and the same.
In traditional Chinese medicine, Qi is considered to be an important bodily substance along with blood and plasma, and are considered vital components that allow human life to flourish. These three important elements are what comprise the foundations that allow the “zang-fu” organs, tissues and meridians to function properly.
The term zang-fu is a collective term pertaining to the twelve major organs of the body. The first six being the Zang organs which include the heart, lungs, kidney, liver, spleen and pericardium, while the remaining six are called the fu organs which include the stomach, gallbladder, small and large intestine bladder, and the san jiao – a term unique to traditional Chinese medicine which pertains to a mechanism responsible for the body’s regulation of temperature .
Each Zang organ has a specific fu organ that complements its function. Any disharmony between the organs will greatly affect the body’s Qi and could eventually lead to sickness.
Qi circulates the body through pathways known as meridians. The regular flow of Qi in our organs and tissues is the main reason why we become healthy and illness-free. An accumulation of Qi in a certain organ or area of the body could possibly lead to blockages or masses that may have an adverse effect on the whole body’s balance.
The Meridian Connection
Meridians make it possible for every vital organ in the body to receive the right amount of Qi it needs to function properly and sustain human life. There are twelve primary meridians (zang-fu organs) and are divided into pairs as mentioned earlier.
The meridian pairings are 1) Lungs & Large intestine, 2) Stomach
& Spleen, 3) Heart & Small Intestine, 4) Bladder & Kidneys, 5) Liver & Gall Bladder, and 6) Pericardium and San Jiao. Primary meridians flow throughout the body, while a separate meridian connection also flows through each zang and fu organ pair.
Traditional Chinese medicine has been around for thousands of years and these terms are still being used in different branches of Chinese healing today. Scientific back-up or none, these concepts are important in understanding how various treatments work, eventually aiding you in choosing whether it’s right for you.
Is Acupuncture Safe & Is It Right For Me?
Much like any other form of medical treatment, patients are advised to make sure if they are choosing a procedure that is right for their body. Before anything else, it is important to educate yourself of the advantages and disadvantages, as well as the possible health risks and side effects of your desired procedure.
If you are looking into traditional Chinese medicine, and are considering acupuncture as a form of treatment, it is also a good prerequisite to check with your healthcare provider if you are a good candidate for it. It is generally safe for everyone because it is non-invasive and painless, but what types of patients will greatly benefit from this kind of treatment and could it have negative effects on the body?
To review, acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that is still applied in mainstream medicine today. The main goal of acupuncture is to stimulate the body’s major acupoints to properly regulate the distribution of Qi or vital energy in the body. These acupoints are said to be linked to the 12 major organs known as zang-fu organs in traditional Chinese medicine. The said Qi is known to be a very important substance that sustains and maintains the balance of life. An imbalance or unwanted accumulation of Qi in the body might lead to discomfort and pain and eventually illness.
Before undergoing any form of treatment, it is best to know exactly what you will be getting yourself into. Acupuncture will require the insertion of very fine, pre-sterilized needles, therefore if you have a very low tolerance for pain or are afraid of needles, then this will not be the right mode of treatment for you. There are still a lot of other available alternative forms of medicine that might be more suitable for you.
Who are the best candidates for acupuncture?
Acupuncture has been said to help correct or alleviate a number of health concerns such as infertility, obesity, headaches, muscle pain, and many more. It can range from the most common and simple to more severe ailments. It is also said to help alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy such as nausea and vomiting.
Although many patients and practitioners attest to its efficacy, it still cannot be considered as a major form of treatment that will give positive results overnight. Remember that acupuncture also entails time and effort, and will give better results if you “recalibrate” regularly.
Many people have resorted to acupuncture to help in the improvement of their general health. Since the treatment helps in harmonizing the body, it is great for anyone looking to improve their well-being and energy levels.
It is also best for men and women who are having problems with fertility. For men, it may aid your body in increasing the production of sperm. Acupuncture can also help women regulate their menstruation and correct hormonal imbalances that cause PCOS and other menstrual problems.
This treatment is also advisable for people who are over-fatigued and who are constantly experiencing pain in different parts of the body.
Conditions That Can Be Treated With Acupuncture
Acupuncture, as well as other forms of traditional Chinese medicine provides a holistic approach in combating sickness and ailments. Their methods pay close detail to the whole body, the major organs, the energy called Qi that allows it to function properly, and the connections that distribute this energy to the entirety of the body. The process of acupuncture is deeply based on the importance of balance and harmony inside the body.
The process of acupuncture directly affects the 12 major organs of the body as described in Chinese medicine. It improves overall health and correct imbalances that result to sickness.
There are a wide variety of conditions that can be treated with acupuncture starting from the simplest to the most complicated. Listed below are just some ailments that can be treated with this unconventional mode of medicine.
Acupuncture has been proven to provide relief for headaches especially migraines. According to Prevention.com, 20 sessions of electro acupuncture within a span of at least a month, can reduce the number of migraines that could be experienced monthly.
If antihistamines no longer prove to be effective, those who suffer seasonal allergies may opt to undergo acupuncture. A minimum of 12 acupuncture sessions may help to relieve the problem, allowing you to lessen the intake of medication.
Mood Swing or Imbalances
Acupuncture does not only focus on the physical aspects of healing. It may also positively affect a patient’s mood, aiding in the treatment of depression within a span of three months. It has done wonders in improving a person’s overall emotional health, by stimulating the proper channels to produce the right amount of endorphins in the body.
Acid Reflux and Heartburn
The treatment may also help in aiding digestion and regulating our body’s acid secretion. Constant visits to your acupuncturist in a course of a month, may help you find relief from acid reflux and heartburn. Acupuncture is a soothing alternative compared to taking medication.
Aside from exercise and healthy eating habits, regular acupuncture sessions have been proven to help alleviate stress, lower cholesterol and regulate blood pressure.
Stimulation of the acupoints help the body release chemicals that can aid the body‘s relaxation process. It also allows the body to increase the production of neurotransmitters that help in ward off insomnia and other sleep problems.
Other Conditions and Disorders
The World Health Organization (WHO) has also released a list of conditions that may be treated with acupuncture. WHO tested the efficacy of this procedure using controlled clinical trials, however, patients are still advised to not rely on acupuncture as a primary form of medicine, but only as supportive treatment or temporary relief.
Here are the health conditions determined by the WHO:
Muscular spasms and joint pain, sciatica, sprain, dental pain, nausea, vomiting, postoperative pain, stroke, hypertension, depression, as well as birthing complications, menstrual and fertility problems for women.
As we have learned, Acupuncture is a simple yet delicate process that involves pre-sterilized fine needles, inserted into the skin to stimulate the body’s primary acupuncture points.
Although the idea of needles may seem daunting, the procedure is definitely painless. The needles inserted are usually slightly thicker than the human hair, and may vary in thickness and size depending on which area it will be placed. The most common type of needle used has a length of 1.5 inches.
Basic Needle Insertion
There are various techniques that may be applied when performing acupuncture. Acupuncturists are well-trained in the insertion and removal of the needles. Needling techniques may vary depending on where the needle will be placed on the body.
In traditional acupuncture practices, needles are inserted with both hands placing it at an angle of 15 degrees or more. The skin surface may also be stretched to guide the entrance of the needle into the skin, using the right amount of speed and force.
For easier insertion, a guide tube may be used. Acupuncturists place the needle in the tube to position it exactly where it should penetrate the skin. After which, the practitioner taps the tube so that the needle smoothly slides onto the skin without any pain. Once the needle is inserted, patients are asked to look out for any feelings of heaviness, tingling, or electrical sensation in the point of insertion.
This is actually a good thing and is called “de qi” or “the arrival of qi” in acupuncture. This needling sensation may vary from patient to patient, but extreme and intense pain is a rare occurrence.
Whatever sensation a patient may experience will also depend heavily on the health condition and the location of the acupoint. Some acupoints may exhibit a bit of pain when stimulated by the needle.
Needle insertion is the fundamental skill used in acupuncture, but there are also a variety of techniques that make use of other materials and elements. This may depend on the ailment to be treated and the comfort level of the patient. Below are just a few other forms of acupuncture.
Acupressure is a technique that does not employ the use of needles. Acupoints are stimulated using the hands and fingers, similar to a massage. This technique may be used to alleviate muscle pain and tightness while stimulating the overall flow of Qi in the body. This treatment is best for children and those with a low tolerance for pain.
Moxabustion and Cupping
These techniques are also very popular and are oftentimes provided as services in massage parlors and spas. This technique uses heat to stimulate the acupuncture points. Moxabustion uses heated needles while cupping uses small glass cups to increase the flow of Qi in a certain area of the body. These are best in relieving muscle pain and spams and eliminating body waste.
Things To Consider Before Getting Treatment
The efficacy of acupuncture, just like other forms of medications and treatments, may vary from person to person.
Its effectiveness will depend on a number of factors, so it will be best to consult a physician and do your research before choosing a specific form of medical treatment no matter what health condition you have. Also remember that acupuncture will not have immediate results compared to surgery or other medications, and it is not advised to consider it as your primary medical treatment.
If you’re interested in traditional Chinese medicine, it is important to familiarize yourself with the available modes of treatment and the concepts and guidelines that govern it. Acupuncture is a widely accepted form of treatment for many kinds of health problems. Although there are rare reports of it having adverse effects on the body, it is still important to weigh the pros and cons to see if it will be a good fit for your health needs.
Firstly, Acupuncture promises lots of benefits including an overall improvement to your general well-being, but before you start treatment, it is important to understand that acupuncture will not provide results at a snap of a finger. You should be prepared to commit yourself to more than a couple of sessions to fully reap the benefits of this form of treatment. The number of sessions will vary on the condition being treated and its severity.
You should also be prepared for the changes the will happen to your body. Since acupuncture affects the balance of the whole body, you should be ready to handle sensations and side effects that are often associated with this kind of treatment.
Do not be alarmed when you experience fatigue, lightheadedness, or even an outburst of emotions. These are proof that your treatment is working for you and are experiencing what is called “de qi” or the arrival of Qi in your body. Unusual side effects or pain after treatment should be consulted to your acupuncturist immediately.
Once your body’s Qi has been re-balanced, know that it is the most opportune time for you to make other healthy changes in your life. Regular sessions will help you in achieving not just one specific health goal, but many others because acupuncture helps improve your body holistically. Mentally prepare yourself to rid your body and environment of junk and negativity that greatly contribute to the imbalances in your Qi that often eventually manifest as sickness.
It will be normal to have doubts when deciding to go for acupuncture or not, so it is important to consider the points mentioned above. There will always be no guarantee that any kind of treatment will work for one person the way it did for the other. It is still best to consult an expert and licensed acupuncturist so that you will be sure you are in good hands.
After Treatment…Now What?
So you’ve decided to go with acupuncture as a treatment plan for your ailment. You went through the motions and now you’re finally out of the clinic.
Once the procedure is over, there are important guidelines to keep in mind to prolong the effects of the session you just had. Consider your acupuncture experience an important chapter in your health improvement. It is advisable to go through a couple more sessions, as you won’t really get lasting results overnight.
Right after treatment, there are a few important things to do and avoid, and a number of side effects, which are usually common. Note that serious complications due to acupuncture rarely happen. Side effects such as dizziness, headaches, as well as tiredness and being overly emotional are usually considered positive effects that signify an improvement to the flow of Qi in your body.
Right After Treatment
There are a few easy things that can be done right after treatment, but the most important thing is to relax. Make sure to allow a couple of hours of downtime to allow your body to slowly take in the effects of your acupuncture session. Remember that your system has just been refreshed. It would all be in vain if you subject yourself to something that could negatively affect your mood or health.
It is also best to avoid doing strenuous activities that could give your body to stress. After your rest period, opt for activities that do not require much effort and energy. If you’d like to work out, go for something light like walking or yoga.
If you’re feeling a bit of discomfort or tingling in your skin, you may apply heat. This will add to your relaxation and will provide relief from the leftover sensation you’re feeling. You should also look out for other side effects which may tell you more about your body’s reaction to the experience.
Normal Side Effects To Look Out For
Soreness & Fatigue
Remember, your body has just gone through a sort of recalibration or re-harmonization. Better take it easy to avoid straining your body and wearing out the positive effects of the treatment easily. Normal side effects of acupuncture are fatigue and soreness. It will be usual for areas of your body where the needles have been placed to be sore.
Contact your acupuncturist or health care provider when you experience unexpected soreness in parts of the body that have not been touched by the needle. This soreness may be a symptom of other underlying illnesses that might need medical attention immediately.
Fatigue usually indicates that the treatment is indeed taking effect, So it is advised for you to rest immediately after. It would be best to refrain from driving.
Emotional outbursts or overwhelming emotions might suddenly flow out from you after the acupuncture session. This may be manifestations of negative emotions that are now being flushed from your system due to the stimulation of certain acupoints. This is a good thing and further treatments will help you totally improve not your physical health, but your emotional well-being as well.
Well, we have reached the pinnacle of our beginners guide on Acupuncture and I want to congratulate you on making it this far. In this final part we will be summarizing the main points we have covered so far and hopefully put to ease any questions or doubts you may have.
Using needles to adjust bodily functions to optimum levels is the principle behind acupuncture. Both ancient Chinese and modern Western practitioners have used this technique to relieve many sufferers of chronic disease.
Needling is a relatively safe, beneficial treatment strategy that can be used to reduce pain, improve healing, and increase general well-being.
Procedure for Needle Puncture
There are two broad categories of acupuncture practice today, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and medical acupuncture. Both have their merits, so the choice is individual. The decision for most people hinges upon which philosophy appeals more to them and which technique holds the least apprehension.
In TCM, practitioners adhere to the concept of Qi, or energy flow, and the meridians in which they travel. They use longer needles and insert them deeper in order to reach the acupuncture points. Modern science has found little evidence to prove the existence of these energy channels, but this is the technique that has been used effectively for thousands of years.
In medical acupuncture, the practitioners are graduates of western medical schools. Their application of needles is not based on the traditional acupuncture points, but on anatomic data. These acupuncturists use shorter needles and the insertions are shallower. They also tend to use fewer needles and leave them inserted for shorter periods of time. Adherents to TCM feel this is a watered-down version of the real thing. Nevertheless, many patients have felt the relief of symptoms through this method.
Conditions for Puncture Application
There is a broad and extensive list of ailments which can be treated with acupuncture. The conditions run the gamut from asthma to constipation, anxiety to weight loss. Most TCM practitioners believe that any health condition results from an imbalance in Qi flow, therefore amenable to needle therapy. Western acupuncturists tend to have a more limited list of indications, the most common of which is undoubtedly control of pain.
Control of pain is the most well researched of all of the indications for acupuncture. There is a definite beneficial effect for a majority of patients using this method. Migraines, premenstrual syndrome, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and neuralgias are but a few examples. The theory behind its effectiveness is also medically accepted and well researched, called the gate-control theory of pain. It states that the needles can stimulate nerves so that they block the impulses from pain triggers.
Expected Puncture Session Result
It is important to emphasize that acupuncture is used only on top of existing medical therapy. At no time should a patient discontinue medication or ignore medical instructions in favor of needle puncture. After undergoing a needle puncture regimen, the primary care physician can make an evaluation with regards to decreasing dependence on other therapies.
A course of acupuncture therapy will last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. This depends upon the complexity of the particular medical condition. Results also vary, so it is important to have a frank discussion with the acupuncturist regarding expected results and their time frame. In general, the patient will begin to feel beneficial effects after three or four sessions. Certain specific conditions will actually get a little worse before improving so keeping informed is key.
In modern medicine, the use of traditional techniques with proven results has become a widely accepted practice. Acupuncture has proven its worth time and again. Modern practice guidelines make it effective, reproducible, and safe. It is a gift of healing from ancient sages that has the potential to bring relief to millions of people.
“Thank God for Acupuncture, it’s been around for 2000 years. It’s not going anyplace and people use it all of the time for a variety of cures and to avoid illnesses” Tim Daly