Acupuncture: History, Treatment, Benefits, Side Effects, Points

Acupuncture 

Acupuncture: History, Treatment, Benefits, Side Effects, Points


What is acupuncture?


Acupuncture is a component of the health care system of China that can be traced back at least 2,500 years. The general theory of acupuncture is based on the premise that there are patterns of energy flow (Qi) through the body that are essential for health. Disruptions of this flow are believed to be responsible for disease. Acupuncture may, it has been theorized, correct imbalances of flow at identifiable points close to the skin.


Acupuncture History, Treatment, Benefits, Side Effects, Points

The practice of acupuncture to treat identifiable pathophysiological (disease) conditions in American medicine was rare until the visit of President Richard M. Nixon to China in 1972. Since that time, there has been an explosion of interest in the United States and Europe in the application of the technique of acupuncture to Western medicine.

Many Western practitioners view the acupuncture points as places to stimulate nerves, muscles and connective tissue. This stimulation appears to boost the activity of your body's natural painkillers and increase blood flow.

Acupuncture is a family of procedures involving stimulation of anatomical locations on or in the skin by a variety of techniques. There are a variety of approaches to diagnosis and treatment in American acupuncture that incorporate medical traditions from China, Japan, Korea, and other countries. The most thoroughly studied mechanism of stimulation of acupuncture points employs penetration of the skin by thin, solid, metallic needles, which are manipulated manually or by electrical stimulation.

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What conditions are treated with acupuncture?


Although acupuncture is not a “cure-all” treatment, it is very effective in treating several diseases and conditions. Acupuncture is most effective at treating chronic pain, such as headaches, menstrual cramps and low back, neck or muscle pain. It can also be used to treat osteoarthritis, facial pain, spastic colon, and repetitive strain conditions. Acupuncture also can improve the functioning of the immune system (the body’s defense system against diseases).

For certain conditions, such as cancer, acupuncture should be performed in combination with other treatments.

How often should I be treated with acupuncture?


The number of treatments required depends on each person’s condition and response to acupuncture. One acupuncture session does not usually result in relief of pain. One or two sessions a week for five to six weeks is the normal course of treatment. Your physician will discuss with you how many treatments you should have and how often you should have them.

What happens during acupuncture treatment?


After your condition is discussed, the acupuncturist will examine you for reactive areas to determine which points to use. Acupuncture needles are sterile, pre-packaged, disposable, and hair-thin. The needles are placed at various depths, ranging from a fraction of an inch to two inches. Wear loose fitting clothing (gowns are provided), as you will have to partially disrobe in order to receive acupuncture. Exercise good hygiene but don’t come heavily perfumed as many patients have chemical sensitivities. After the needles are inserted and stimulated, they stay in place from a few minutes up to 20 minutes.

In a treatment series, the acupuncturist will use different combinations of points and different needling techniques. These combinations help stimulate new sources of healing as the patient’s response to treatment is observed.

What are the possible side effects of acupuncture?


The most common serious injury reported from the needles of acupuncture has been accidental puncture of the lung. This results in a partial collapse of the lung called pneumothorax. The most common infection reported from acupuncture treatments is viral hepatitis, a potentially serious infection of the liver. Other side effects include bacterial infections locally at the site of needle insertion in the skin and elsewhere in the body. Generally, side effects seem to relate to poor hygiene and training of the acupuncturist.

What should I do after an acupuncture treatment?


It is best to bring someone with you on your first acupuncture treatment so that you will have transportation home. This is because acupuncture has a very calming effect. You may feel overly relaxed after the treatment and shouldn’t drive. No matter how good you feel after the treatment, it is important not to overextend yourself. You should take it easy for a few days after the treatment. In addition, it is important to continue taking your prescribed medications.

How does acupuncture work?


Acupuncture stimulates the body’s ability to resist or overcome illnesses and conditions by correcting imbalances. Acupuncture also prompts the body to produce chemicals that decrease or eliminate painful sensations.

There are hundreds of acupuncture points (called acu-points) along the body’s 14 major meridians, or energy-carrying channels. Sixteenth century Chinese doctors used the term “Qi” (pronounced “chee”) to describe the energy that circulates through meridians. The belief is that illness is caused by a disruption of Qi, which leads to an imbalance of energy. Acupuncture can correct this energy disruption.

There are many theories as to how acupuncture actually works. When acupuncture points are stimulated, it causes a dull ache or other sensations in the muscle. One theory holds that the stimulated muscle and sensory neurons send a message to the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), causing the release of endorphins (naturally produced pain killers) and other neurotransmitters (body chemicals that modify nerve impulses), which help block the message of pain from being delivered to the brain and have other regulatory effects as well.

Other experts believe that acupuncture works by transmitting signals via the fascia. Fascia is like a thin sheath that surrounds all of the body’s muscles. Some acupuncturists consider the meridians to represent myofascial chains – which helps explain why stimulating an acupuncture point in the lower leg can affect the back or other areas. Interestingly, research shows that acupuncture points have a lower electrical resistivity than surrounding areas. In a practical sense, the meridian system provides a navigable energetic map of the body for acupuncturists to locate and treat many conditions.

What you can expect during acupuncture


Acupuncture points are located in all areas of the body. Sometimes the appropriate points are far removed from the area of your pain. Your acupuncture practitioner will tell you the general location of the planned treatment and if articles of clothing need to be removed. If appropriate, a gown, towel or sheet will be provided to preserve your modesty. After you lie down on a padded table, the treatment begins.

Needle insertion. Acupuncture needles are very thin, so insertion usually causes very little discomfort. Between five and 20 needles are used in a typical treatment. You may feel a deep, aching sensation when a needle reaches the correct depth.

Needle manipulation. Your practitioner may gently move or twirl the needles after they've been placed. Another option is to apply heat or mild electrical pulses to the needles.

Needle removal. In most cases, the needles will remain in place for 10 to 20 minutes while you lie still and relax. There is usually no sensation of discomfort when the needles are removed. Your acupuncture practitioner should discard the needles after removal — reusable needles can spread infection.

Is acupuncture safe?


When acupuncture is performed with disposable needles under clean, sterile conditions, it is highly unusual to have any complications.

One of the advantages of acupuncture is that the incidence of adverse effects is substantially lower than that of many drugs or accepted medical procedures used for the same conditions.